To judge by the ‘liberal’ media, you’d think the Women’s March on Washington is riven with squabbling…. (More)
“Contentious conversations about race”
For example, the New York Times ran a big article about a woman who decided to skip the march because she didn’t like someone’s Facebook post:
Many thousands of women are expected to converge on the nation’s capital for the Women’s March on Washington the day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. Jennifer Willis no longer plans to be one of them.
Ms. Willis, a 50-year-old wedding minister from South Carolina, had looked forward to taking her daughters to the march. Then she read a post on the Facebook page for the march that made her feel unwelcome because she is white.
The post, written by a black activist from Brooklyn who is a march volunteer, advised “white allies” to listen more and talk less. It also chided those who, it said, were only now waking up to racism because of the election.
Stung by the tone, Ms. Willis canceled her trip.
“This is a women’s march,” she said. “We’re supposed to be allies in equal pay, marriage, adoption. Why is it now about, ‘White women don’t understand black women’?”
If all goes as planned, the Jan. 21 march will be a momentous display of unity in protest of a president whose treatment of women came to dominate the campaign’s final weeks. But long before the first buses roll to Washington and sister demonstrations take place in other cities, contentious conversations about race have erupted nearly every day among marchers, exhilarating some and alienating others.
The National Review played off the Times article with the headline “Women’s March Morphs into Intersectional Torture Chamber” and columnist Heather Wilhelm concluded: “It sounds like one of the reasons why we got Donald Trump.”
Oh dear. We mustn’t have “contentious conversations about race.”
And if that weren’t enough, the Times followed up with a piece a forced-birth woman who feels excluded:
As a self-described feminist and law student who wants to correct racial wrongs in the criminal justice system, Maria Lyon agrees with Hillary Clinton that “women’s rights are human rights.” But when thousands of women march on the capital the day after Donald J. Trump is inaugurated as president, she will not be there.
The reason: She opposes abortion.
“It’s hard, because right now it feels like if you’re pro-life, you’re anti-woman,” said Ms. Lyon, 23, who studies law at the University of Wisconsin. “That’s kind of the traditional rhetoric. It’s like if you care about women and you care about women’s rights then you should be pro-choice.”
Conspicuously absent in the Times’ coverage: stories highlighting the hundreds of thousands – including women of color, LGBTs, and other multiply-marginalized women – who will indeed “march together in unity.”
“And those parts – race, gender, sexuality, and religion, and ability – are not incidental or auxiliary. They matter politically.”
And by “women’s rights,” organizers have taken care to make it clear that they mean all women of all backgrounds: The official platform the Women’s March on Washington released Friday places the demonstration in the context of not only suffragists and abolitionists but the civil right movement, the American Indian movement, and Black Lives Matter.
Just two paragraphs into the four-page document, they note that “women have intersecting identities and are therefore impacted by a multitude of social justice and human rights issues.” Examples of this, including the especially urgent need for equal pay among women of color and the way they’re uniquely victimized by the criminal justice system, follow in the rest of the platform.
Sounds reasonable, right? But it’s that idea of “intersecting identities” that’s been at the core of criticism of the march, both by would-be participants and by conservative critics.
Because white whining dominates pretty much any issue:
Critics of the concept often seem to conflate the principle itself with the personal and emotional fallouts that can occur when nonwhite women jump into the debate and push for feminist activists and organizations to include their perspectives.
Other popular anti-intersectionality arguments may sound familiar: that it promotes victimhood, that it causes infighting, or that it’s no more than an invention of out-of-touch, whiny people on college campuses. That’s because they’re the very same criticisms that could be made, and have been made, about feminism itself – or anti-racism, or any other push for equality. In each of these contexts, the pushback tends to come from those who’ve been included all along and think efforts to include others aren’t worth the messiness and fuss. [Emphasis added]
But as Desmond-Harris reports, the concept of intersectionality was created to fill a legal gap:
Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at both UCLA and Columbia, is credited with coining the term intersectionality. She did this in her 1989 paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics.”
In that article, she talked about the way black women were excluded from both mainstream anti-racist theory and feminist theory. She made clear that this exclusion couldn’t be remedied “simply by including Black women in an already established analytical structure.” Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, she said, “any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”
Crenshaw also pointed out that she came up with intersectionality to address a specific legal problem: As she put it, “To capture the applicability of black feminism to anti-discrimination law.” An example she frequently cites in explaining the need for intersectionality is the 1976 case Degraffenreid v. General Motors, in which five black women sued General Motors for both race and gender discrimination. The law was inadequate to address this, Crenshaw said, explaining, “The particular challenge in the law was one that was grounded in the fact that anti-discrimination law looks at race and gender separately.”
The consequence, she said, is that “when African-American women or any other women of color experience either compound or overlapping discrimination, the law initially just was not there to come to their defense.” Intersectionality, she said, was a way of addressing the court’s blind spot.
Desmond-Harris quotes two elegant definitions:
“Intersectionality simply means that there are lots of different parts to our womanhood,” Brittney Cooper, an assistant professor of women’s and gender studies and Africana studies at Rutgers University, explained. “And those parts – race, gender, sexuality, and religion, and ability – are not incidental or auxiliary. They matter politically.”
Lehigh University’s Monica Miller defined it in an unpublished 2014 interview with Vox: “An intersectional feminist approach understands that categories of identity and difference cannot be separated and doesn’t abandon one category of analysis such as gender, or sexuality in favor of (over)analyzing others such as race, and class.”
Her article is worth reading in full, but I’ll highlight this passage:
The word “Intersectionality” itself isn’t important – but the concept behind it is. Without it, there’s no way to talk about the experience of people who belong to more than one oppressed group. At its most simple, in the feminist context, it means recognizing that not all women are white, and some LGBTQ people and people of color are women. That’s not controversial, really – it’s just reality.
This helps explain why it mostly comes up in public debates when it’s missing, and when this missing analysis means some people (normally women of color) have been ignored. This is similar to the way we often hear about feminist critiques in response to examples of misogyny flares up or when efforts to make things equal for women fall short.
Similarly, we most often see protests against racism when racism flares up, such as when police gun down black men. And yet again, a common white response is to claim the protestors are “playing the race card” by talking about race at all, ever … an expression of what sociologist Robin DiAngelo dubbed white fragility.
Desmond-Harris notes that the ‘divisions’ within Women’s March organizers exist, in part, because much of the organizing has been done on social media, where women of color, LGBTs, and other multiply-marginalized women can express their concerns on an equal footing with more well-known (mostly white) feminist leaders. Even a decade ago, those well-known (mostly white) leaders would have planned such an event amongst themselves … and the ‘other’ voices would never have been heard.
The critiques of ‘mainstream’ feminism raised by women of color, LGBTs, and other multiply-marginalized women have existed for decades. What’s new is that we hear about those legitimate concerns … and ‘mainstream’ feminism is (slowly) growing more responsive to them.
The Women’s March marks another step toward a feminism that recognizes issues that matter to multiply-marginalized women. And while even the ‘liberal’ (read: white-dominated) Times frames it as “infighting,” in Realworldia that’s called progress.
If that means some white women won’t attend the march because she was offended by a Facebook post – or because a woman’s right to control her own health care is fundamental to feminism – then they can sit home and sulk.
And whine to the New York Times….
Image Credit: Women’s March on Washington
Good day and good nuts