Monday, June 3, 2013

Recommended: Intersectionality and identity politics

Intersectionality and identity politics | Slave of the Passions:
I don’t agree with those who say that the problem with intersectionality is that it’s a difficult, academic concept that ordinary people can’t possibly be expected to understand. It’s true that I don’t much like the word ‘intersectionality’. It’s a big, new, difficult sounding word to describe something that is actually a remarkably straight-forward and common sense idea, and that always gets my hackles up, as I suspect it’s often done in an attempt to make the obvious and mundane seem complex and profound. But I’m not going to fight with anyone about that. It’s useful to have a phrase to describe this simple idea, and if intersectionality works for you, then that’s fine – and, for better or worse, it looks like we’re stuck with it now. (It also seems worth mentioning that in my time as an academic I have never heard or read the word. Perhaps other academic disciplines use it, but it is never used in my field, and I had never encountered it until I started reading feminist stuff online.) So while there may be some initial resistance or confusion when meeting the term for the first time, I don’t think the reason to object to the discourse of intersectionality is that it’s just far too academic and complicated for normal people to understand. It’s actually incredibly obvious and easy to comprehend that if you’re a non-white woman, you’re going to be subject to both sexism and racism, which is a different experience from being subject to only one of these, and so on and so on, for other forms of prejudice. 
So if this is what intersectionality is about, then I don’t believe many people on the left have any problem with it at all. I think the problem lies not with the idea of intersectionality itself, but with the identity politics that some of its proponents believe follows from it.