The Intersectionality of the Oppressed

8 Oct

The negative effects of normalization:

images michael-scoggins-all-american-family-commissioned-portrait-of-the-robbins-family

American society has had a longstanding complicated relationship with people who do not fit into the standard mold of what it means to be an “American.” As a society, when we think of American, we think of white. And expanding on that, our thoughts specifically move to white, heterosexual, middle class individuals. With the creation of race in the United States, the economic, political and social institutions have foundations stemming out of white supremacy (Wise). im-from-driftwoodIn developing this false belief that Americans have to look a certain way and act a certain way, anyone not fitting into this mold is then seen as different, and is therefore marginalized for their “otherness” (Hooks 167). In upholding this belief in there being an “either/or,” society falls victim to maintaining an, “entire way of thinking about race and culture, one that upholds stereotypic racial and cultural inferiority… (which then) maintains white supremacy” (Chang and Au 21). In understanding that there are numerous intersections within our lives that continue to complicate what it means to be an “American” in today’s society, we must understand that seeing Americans within a one dimensional spectrum, promotes and encourages the oppression of individuals. Additionally, due to the underrepresentation of oppressed groups throughout our society, it then becomes the norm to marginalize those who do not look like the socially constructed “American.”

intersectionalityJennifer Nash’s, Re-thinking Intersectionality, outlines the various interpretations of the term intersectionality, including its strengths and its flaws. She offers some scholarly interpretations of the term, pitting them against one another as a way to engage in a critical discussion of what intersectionality means, verses what it is truly representing. This disconnect within what intersectionality really means, explains the continued tension between issues surrounding race, gender, class, sexuality, and other areas of oppression. Feminist theorists and anti-racist theorists are at the heart of this debate. By accepting and challenging the variations within intersectionality through its theoretical, political and methodological frameworks, Nash seeks to re-educate scholars on the problems stemming from “inclusive theorizing” (Nash 4).

9468d1e5e5d1a99fd5ed8c631004ce0aThe term intersectionality was originally created by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the late 80s as a way to explain the various aspects of a person’s life, which attempt to maintain some kind of oppression. She focuses specifically on the intersection of race and gender, and the ways in which they interact to shape black women’s experiences. Despite intersectionality typically addressing the intersection of race and gender, later scholars have proposed the idea that oppression can be maintained through other oppressive aspects besides race and gender, like one’s sexuality. With these new inclusions present, the goals of intersectionality now look to: dismantle the perception of a race/gender binary; include sexuality as a valid means of oppression; reject the social construction of gender, including the male/female binary system; as well as speak for those whose voices have been silenced in society.

Historically, Black women have always upheld an inferior position in society. It is the intersectionality between class, gender and race, which has caused Black women to maintain this inferior position. Not only are Black women oppressed by Black men, through sexism; they are also oppressed by White women, through racism. Therefore as a result, Black women are labeled as “multiply burdened” or doubly damned individuals (7). According to Maria W. Stewart, a Black female orator from the 1830s, this oppression has staunch consequences for Black women from both the race and gender angle. She claims that “let our girls possess whatever amiable qualities of soul they may… it is impossible for scarce an individual of them to rise above the condition of servants” (Hill Collins 46). Stewart is basically making claim that because of the oppressive social conditions that plague Black women in society, it is nearly impossible for them to elevate themselves economically. As a result of America’s capitalist patriarchal system, favoring male labor, women are paid less than men for work. Women are also typically relegated to the domestic work space, specifically women of color, which pays a lot less money than any other field of work. Due to women’s “disadvantaged” economic position in society, she finds herself at a greater risk for becoming poor, and becoming dependent on the welfare system (Lord 2). It is because of this that Black women are typically forced into poverty, since they have even less of an advantage than White women. Patriarchal normativity, through anti-racist theorists (composed of black men), and racial normativity, through feminist theorists (composed of white women), still exclude and marginalize Black women.

feminism-is-intersectional

The erasure of Black women in history has been and still is a huge problem within the interdisciplinary fields, including cultural and women’s studies (Diawara 259). This is why the creation of Black feminism and womanism has been and still is, a very important component in ending oppression for all oppressed people in our society. Black feminists are committed to achieving “human solidarity,” not just equality among a certain type of individual (Hill Collins 42). Contemporary feminists Karen Bass and Charlotta Bass, are committed to obtaining “collective liberation” among all oppressed groups (Abdullah 325). Black feminism works across color lines, sexuality, and class, in an attempt to touch any type of person that has been marginalized within our society. In achieving equality and equity for the most oppressed people, equality will then be obtained by all because all identities are intersectional, and that’s what makes each and every one of us unique (Nash 6). intersectionality-2

Intersectionality recognizes that oppression is not just marked by race and gender, but in contrast, it also recognizes that all women, including Black women, potentially have some form of privilege. For example, a heterosexual Black women will receive privilege and face less oppression than homosexual Black women. Some ongoing debates based on these interpretations include the need to incorporate the various connections between privilege and oppression, while acknowledging the variations within black women’s experiences. With the institutionalization of intersectionality, it is up to scholars to challenge essentialist ways of viewing race, gender, sexuality and all “complex identities,” in order to establish a successful theoretical and political future, while at the same time, not leaving anyone voiceless or powerless, as black women have become so accustomed to (Nash 6).

noThe construction of gender has always been heavily influenced by society and its ideas during a particular era. The “two-gender paradigm” that is upheld in society, takes on the role of assigning individuals “very stringent, socially constructed rules and regulations defining precisely what it means to be a man or a woman” (McQueen 1). It hasn’t been until recently, that the concept of gender has been questioned as not being strictly male or female. Unfortunately, due to what scholars call “heterosexism,” society has developed the mindset that everyone should be, or is heterosexual. This seeks to oppress and marginalize any homosexual, transgendered, or gender non-conforming individuals. This, “ideological system (of heterosexism) denies, denigrates and stigmatizes any non-heterosexual form of behavior, identity, relationship or community,” and plays out in ways similar to that of racism and sexism (2).

Through increased education and acceptance of what we might call “others,” there has been a rise of a LGBTQ community. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, (and queer) (Moore 188). However, with an increase in this acceptance for the LGBTQ community, there has been an extreme backlash in making this acceptance mainstream. For example, in 2008 California voters voted in favor of Proposition 8, which refused same sex couples the right to become married (188). So despite our liberalism in California, there are still a lot of people who aren’t as accepting of non-traditional couples and therefore help to maintain the marginalization of LGBTQ people. Although since 2008, same sex marriage has been legalized on paper, the negative sentiment has not completely dissipated. Hate crimes against Trans and gender non-conforming individuals is still a problem that is being swept under the legal rug.

051aa0c2671404178052fdd5ed36fae4b8537e-wmWithin numerous privatized institutions, such as community coalitions or church organizations, homosexuality and/or transgenderism is not accepted. Unfortunately, our lack of acceptance for these individuals, who are no different physically than you and I, tend to live lives of secrecy and guilt. They are not only sometimes rejected by their families, but they are also rejected per say by God, because the church teaches that homosexuality is a sin and is punishable by eternal damnation (203-204). This does nothing but feed into the idea that homosexuality is wrong and probably should be punishable by whoever sees fit, hence the increase in hate crimes against non-heterosexual people. Additionally, because of the pain and guilt felt by LGBTQ people, they will also tend to stay “closeted” and not tell people about who they really are, for fear of rejection and judgment by their peers (Ross 162). Honestly speaking, this just isn’t a healthy or normal way to live life.

tongues-untiedIn contrast to those LGBTQ people who can’t be open about their sexuality, there are others who are open about who they really are and embrace their “otherness.” In doing this however, a norm has been established for what homosexuality should really look like. This idea of “homonormativity” has been established, which essentially looks at homosexuality through the lens of White patriarchy (Fergueson 53). In doing this, the intersectionality of class, race, ethnicity, and gender are all left out of the equation and are then marginalized, as they don’t fit into the standard of White male homosexuality (53). This concept of homonormativity can be dangerous because it places more emphasis and importance on the issues surrounding White homosexual males, and minimizes any other group of people seen exclusively as the “others.” Additionally, it places Black homosexual men in the position to be viewed as “spectacles and spectators” within the gay community, because they do not meet the criteria upheld by society based on White male homosexuality (Moten 1). Marlon Riggs’ film Tongues Untied did a phenomenal job at outlining what this “other” looks like in a homonormative world. He touches on not only the absence of blackness in gay life, but also the silencing of Black homosexual men. Because of these color lines, Black homosexual men cannot fully assimilate into open homosexual lifestyles. Gay Black men are usually alienated and “seen unwanted” by other White homosexual men (Riggs).

82837d7e7840a8d6aae905e876d344d0 tumblr_inline_o3wts1pn5s1qf1vs9_500In reading and researching topics such as: “The Politics of Representation,” “Constructing the other,” and “Race, Gender, Sexuality and Belonging,” I have come to understand the harm in seeing oneself as “the norm.” Seeing the world through a binary lens is very harmful and seeks to prevent further education on culture and difference. As explained by Stuart Hall in Representation and the Media, culture is the way we make sense or give meaning to things, and we give meaning to things based on how it is represented. So for example, if we only see LGBTQ people through the lens of homonormativity, over half of this population is not being represented. So how can we fully understand the struggles and pain of these groups? We can’t.

intersectionalityThere is also disconnect between intersectionality as an idea and intersectionality as a reality, which allows for: the over-categorization of oppressions (while minimizing anything falling under multiple categories) and the inability to understand the oppressions of multiply marginalized groups (despite this being the initial focal point). It is these multiple interpretations that allow intersectionality to be misunderstood or misinterpreted, leaving out the marginalized groups that it initially sought to uplift. Consequently, any time you uplift and empower a certain group, someone is left as being marginalized and oppressed. Reflecting on the numerous inequalities that Black women, as well as Trans/homosexual/gender non-conforming Black men and women face just for being different, is absolutely appalling and heart breaking. These individuals are out casted and ostracized just because they don’t look or act like everyone else’s idea of the “norm.” This poses the question: Isn’t American society known for being different? It is these differences that make each of us special and unique. The supposed American melting pot justifies why it is so important to contest and confront oppression head on. Especially by going against these designated social norms. In understanding that we are all “others” it is important to note that: difference equals difference, not difference equals wrong. We are all a part of this constantly changing and educating society. So why complicate it with labels. Just because a person looks or acts different, does not mean that they deserve to be treated as less than.

 

 

Sources:

Abdullah, Melina and Regina Freer. “Bass to Bass: Relative Freedom and Womanist Leadership in Black Los Angeles.” Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities. New York and London: New York UP, 2010. 323-342. Print.

Chang, Benji and Wayne Au. “You’re Asian, How Could You Fail Math? Unmasking the Myth of the Model Minority.” Rethinking Schools, Vol. 22, No. 2 (2007-2008): 15-19. Print.

Diawara, Manthia. Black American Cinema. New York and Great Britain: Routledge, 1993. Print.

Fergueson, Roderick. “Race-ing Homonormativity: Citizenship, Sociology, and Gay Identity.” Johnson, E. Patrick and Mae G. Henderson (Eds.). Black Queer Studies: A Critical Anthology. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2005. 52-67. Print.

Hall, Stuart. Representation and the Media. Northampton, MA: Media Education Foundation, 1997. Film.

Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. New York: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Hooks, Bell. “Representations of Whiteness in the Black Imagination.” Hooks, Bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston, MS: South End Press, 1992. 165-178. Print.

Lord, Shirley A. Social Welfare and the Feminization of Poverty. New York: Garland, 1993. Print.

McQueen, Kand S. “Breaking the Gender Dichotomy: The Case for Transgender Education in School Curriculum.” Teachers College Record (2006): 1-5. Print.

Moore, Mignon R. “Black and Gay in L.A.: The Relationships Black Lesbians and Gay Men Have with their Racial and Religious Communities.” Hunt, D. Hunt and A. Ramon (Eds.). Black Los Angeles: American Dreams and Racial Realities. New York: New York UP, 2010. 188-212. Print.

Moten, Fred. “Resistence of the Object: Aunt Hester’s Scream.” Moten, Fred. In the Break. Minneapolis, MN: U of Minnesota, 2003. 1-24. Print.

Nash, Jennifer C. “Re-Thinking Intersectionality.” Feminist Review 89 (2008): 1-15. Print.

Riggs, Marlon. Tongues Untied. San Francisco, CA: Frameline, 2007. Film.

Ross, Marlon B. “Beyond the Closet as Raceless Paradigm.” Johnson, E. Patrick and Mae G. Henderson (Eds.). Black Queer Studies, A Critical Anthology. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2005. 161-189. Print.

Wise, Tim. Colorblind: The Rise of Post-Raial Politics and the Retreat from Racial Equity. Oakland, California: The Institute for Democratic Education and Culture, 2010. Film.

 

 

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