In September 2017, writer and social justice coordinator with the American Humanist Association, Sincere Kirabo, interviewed me about misunderstandings of intersectionality and the problems with the term “identity politics.” He writes:
…White identity politics go “undetected,” as we’re socialised to regard the sustaining of dominant culture as “what is expected” or “the way things ought to be.”
Dr. Zuleyka Zevallos, sociologist with Swinburne University, echoes this sentiment, stating:
‘If the phrase has any value at all — and it really doesn’t — “identity politics” calls attention to the ways that people from majority groups, especially White people, do not “see” how their identities are governed by politics.
This is how Whiteness works: White culture is embedded into all fields of public life, from education, to the media, to science, to religion and beyond. White culture is constructed as the norm, so it becomes the taken-for-granted ideal with which other cultures are judged against by White people.
‘Hence, White people do not recognise how their race shapes their understanding of politics, and their relationships with minority groups.’
Speaking to how intersectionality forces us to move beyond more simplistic notions of complex social matters, Zevallos says:
‘Intersectionality is not about “identity politics,” a term used to denigrate minorities’ contributions to activism, academia and other public discussions. Intersectionality is a framework used to illustrate how systems of discrimination are interconnected.
‘Black women struggled against industrial relations law as they experience co-occurring incidents of racism and sexism in the workplace. The law puts Black women into a tricky position by forcing them to focus workplace complaints in either the area of race discrimination or gender discrimination.
‘Professor Crenshaw’s use of intersectionality shines a light on how existing processes act as if individuals belong to discrete groups, when, in fact, Black women face multiple inequalities at the same time. Over the decades, theorists, including Professor Crenshaw, have further developed intersectionality to show how other relations of power structure inequality.
‘For example, a Black woman activist at a Black Lives Matter protest unfortunately could not expect the police to protect her safety, as we have seen all over the world — while a White woman activist at a Women’s March protest can expect the police to provide a peaceful environment for her to march across the city. Race offers a buffer for one gender group (White women), but not another (Black women); hence, interconnections of race, gender and other forms of disadvantage require concurrent attention.
Read more on The Establishment.