Social Justice 101: Intersectionality

intersectionality

So here is the beginning of my attempt to create a backstore of blog posts that I can whip out at a moment’s notice so I don’t have to go through the work of re-explaining privilege or intersectionality or institutional sexism again and again. I’m going to do my best to explain intersectionality in a nutshell, although it is an incredibly complex topic. I’m also going to try to link to a few articles that get into a bit more depth or explain particular aspects of it as well.

SO. Oftentimes when we think about social justice problems we think of them as separate. You might be a feminist, or an advocate for the rights of disabled individuals, or working on race issues, or fighting for GLBT rights. Most often we see these things separated out in the practical work that advocates do (at least partially because it’s really hard to tackle more than one thing at once). But this can also be a serious problem. In feminism in particular, there have been many instances throughout history and today in which feminists use certain kinds of power and privilege to oppress other women: in general, feminism has been for white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-class women, and for people who don’t fit those definitions it has been incredibly difficult to gain recognition in the feminist community and have their concerns heard.

And so out of this problem, the concept of intersectionality was born. Intersectionality is the idea that all of our kinds of privilege interact. It’s not a simple question of having privilege for one thing, and then getting part of your privilege pile taken away because you’re part of a different marginalized group. Different oppressions can build on each other, like trans-misogyny, or they can affect each other in really complicated ways (for example being black and having a mental health concern is very different from being white and having a mental health concern). In some cases, even though you have a lack of privilege, you may be using your other privileges to oppress others in the same marginalized category as you (white women do this to black women in feminism all the time by silencing their concerns).

Intersectionality is also about understanding that we exist in a variety of different systems, and sometimes one system is acting on us more strongly than another. For example if I enter into a conversation with a disabled individual about able-bodied privilege and I try to say that I understand because I have mental health concerns, or that it’s just like ____ or say that they’re ignoring my perspective because they’re talking about their own issues, I’ve just effectively used my oppression as a silencing technique for someone else’s oppression. Intersectionality requires a great deal of listening to all kinds of experiences, and yes, even respecting the one black, Jewish, lesbian, trans-gendered woman you know and understanding that her experience of privilege and oppression is different from other experiences of privilege and oppression.

While there is no time in our lives that oppression doesn’t exist for us because we are female or a person of color or disabled or fat or lower class, that doesn’t mean that all of those oppressions exist in the same ways at all times, or that they are pertinent to all other forms of oppression. Intersectionality asks us to examine what privileges we may be using at any given time, and how that interacts with our oppressions, as well as how it can create unique forms of oppression for other individuals.

For some more resources on intersectionality, I suggest Natalie Reed’s blog (although it may be taken down soon, so get over there while you can), or these websites:

http://blog.twowholecakes.com/2009/07/101-thoughts-on-intersectionality-or-why-theres-no-dark-skinned-fat-black-women-on-more-to-love/

http://www.reddit.com/r/SRSDiscussion/comments/p8k1z/effort_intersectionality_101/

http://lipmag.com/opinion/broadening-feminisms-intersectionality-101/

Pride

Pride_alone

Libby Anne and Dan Fincke at Patheos have a pretty fantastic series going that stresses engagement and civic thinking. They’re both part of the atheist/skeptical community (as am I), and have been putting out biweekly prompts that ask other bloggers to consider ethical and civic questions of importance.

This week’s prompt is about pride, the value of pride and the nature of pride.

I have a peculiar relationship to pride. I live in Minnesota, and here in the great Midwest, we don’t really do pride. Bragging is anathema. The humble brag rules, and being too proud is definitely considered weird. In general, I have fairly negative feelings towards pride, although I don’t view it as a sin or vice in the same way that I was raised to view it (in a Catholic school). In my mind, pride always has the ring of bragging or being overly self-involved. I realize that this is not the dictionary definition of pride, but it is always how I have considered pride. Being proud of someone else is completely acceptable, but being proud of yourself seems immodest.

I do think that something like positive pride is hugely important, but I would prefer to call it self-respect. This is the personal sense that you have done something well, and feel good about yourself. You can recognize your positives and accomplishments. That is great. That is something we need to cultivate more of, since the culture that I live in is one of “never good enough”. Pride involves showing it to others in my mind. And sometimes that’s ok. Sometimes you want to share, sometimes it’s healthy and wonderful to share. But the important kernel is the internal self-respect that says you acknowledge yourself as good.

In general, I think that some measure of modesty is great. It’s quite easy to put others down by bragging about your own accomplishments, it often makes you look foolish, and recognizing where you can improve is great. I think that modesty is 100% compatible with self-respect, because self-respect is internal, and modesty is about how you broadcast things to the outside world. But as always, there needs to be a balance between these two extremes. Modesty helps you to respect and care about others. It greases social wheels. It makes you more approachable. But self-respect (even sometimes branching into pride) helps you care for yourself by letting you acknowledge and honor the things that you have done, by allowing you to rest at times, and by giving you an emotional reward when you do well.

Sometimes pride does serve a social purpose, like pride in someone else or your group. Generally, I believe being proud of ‘your team’ or ‘your country’ is a little silly, since you have no actual ownership of whatever they have done. Being proud of someone else usually means to me that you respect them for it, that you feel they’ve done well. It’s more of a congratulations than anything else, but on a deep level, a level that says you feel happy to be associated with them. I wish that there was a word for this other than pride, because it seems to have a distinctly different flavor to it than personal pride. Where personal pride is about feeling good about yourself or telling others about what you’ve done, pride for someone else is about recognition of what they have done.

There is also group pride, particularly for marginalized groups. I really can’t speak to racial or ethnic pride, because I am not part of a marginalized racial group, but as a woman and as someone with mental illness I can’t understand feeling pride over those identities. Again, pride to me holds an element of boastfulness. There is nothing to boast about with these things. I cannot understand being proud of anything you have not achieved yourself. I do feel compassion, respect, care, and community for the other people in these groups and for my role in these groups. I feel that for many of these people I’m proud of them for surviving. But I am not proud of my status as a member of these groups, because for me pride is reserved for actions, and it is to be earned. However where an emotion plays a positive role in helping someone to deal with their marginalization, I certainly can’t speak against it. For other marginalized individuals, pride might be very important, and I have absolutely no right to take that away from them.

In general, I wish we had more words for pride, to distinguish the emotions that it contains. There are very valuable elements to pride; recognizing oneself, giving oneself permission to rest or recuperate after an accomplishment, feeling good about oneself, respecting oneself, or recognizing a good thing another person has done. In general, I feel that all of these things can be subsumed under respect, because I don’t see what in addition to respect there is about “positive pride”. The prideful element that seems to be added is the boastful, bragging, or raising yourself over others. I’ve never understood the importance of tooting our own horns. Whenever I see patriotism touted as positive, or ethnic pride, I’m simply left wondering what for? Can’t we illustrate our goodness through our actions instead of obsessively patting ourselves on the back? There’s got to be a way to feel good about yourself without throwing a parade.