If you have "no place to go," come here!

Intersectionality and identity politics

I'm told by a trusted academic that this by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is the key source. Here's a typeset PDF, and here's a web version, with less pretty footnotes, but with selectable text:

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color
The embrace of identity politics, however, has been in tension with dominant conceptions of social justice. Race, gender, and other identity categories are most often treated in mainstream liberal discourse as vestiges of bias or domination--that is, as intrinsically negative frameworks in which social power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different. According to this understanding, our liberatory objective should be to empty such categories of any social significance. Yet implicit in certain strands of feminist and racial liberation movements, for example, is the view that the social power in delineating difference need not be the power of domination; it can instead be the source of political empowerment and social reconstruction. The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend difference, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite--that it frequently conflates or ignores intra-group differences. In the context of violence against women, this elision of difference is problematic, fundamentally because the violence that many women experience is often shaped by other dimensions of their identities, such as race and class. Moreover, ignoring differences within groups frequently contributes to tension among groups, another problem of identity politics that frustrates efforts to politicize violence against women. Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color' have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices. And so, when the practices expound identity as "woman" or "person of color" as an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resists telling.

And a key caveat:

I should say at the outset that intersectionality is not being offered here as some new, totalizing theory of identity. Nor do I mean to suggest that violence against women of color can be explained only through the specific frameworks of race and gender considered here. Indeed, factors I address only in part or not at all, such as class or sexuality, are often as critical in shaping the experiences of women of color. My focus on the intersections of race and gender only highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of identity when considering how the social world is constructed.

To me, this is a data architecture; see on set membership functions.

No votes yet


quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

(Tangent about intersectionality. Not a comment on Crenshaw's work.)

There's another axis that needs exploration in intersectionality. I've seen it brought up fairly often in discussions of issues affecting primarily women when the objection is that people of color are insufficiently considered. I haven't seen discussions of racism where the objection is that the influence of misogyny is insufficiently considered.

I find that interesting. If the concern is intersectionality, it should intersect. If it doesn't, then it looks like there's something other than the stated agenda there.

Submitted by lambert on

And when I say "data structure," I mean to leverage the method, with looks to me to be powerful and general, as opposed to the Crenshaw's agenda -- and I don't really know what that is, since I haven't finished the article. However, Crenshaw comes out of the Critical Legal Studies movement, so is interesting right to start, and the book has a ton of footnotes, which I think is cool. (I asked my source for something with a lot of footnotes, and they obliged.

Here is a sample of what I mean by data structure from John Scalzi on white male privilege:

Okay: In the role playing game known as The Real World, “Straight White Male” is the lowest difficulty setting there is.

This means that the default behaviors for almost all the non-player characters in the game are easier on you than they would be otherwise. The default barriers for completions of quests are lower. Your leveling-up thresholds come more quickly. You automatically gain entry to some parts of the map that others have to work for. The game is easier to play, automatically, and when you need help, by default it’s easier to get.

Now, once you’ve selected the “Straight White Male” difficulty setting, you still have to create a character, and how many points you get to start — and how they are apportioned — will make a difference. Initially the computer will tell you how many points you get and how they are divided up. If you start with 25 points, and your dump stat is wealth, well, then you may be kind of screwed. If you start with 250 points and your dump stat is charisma, well, then you’re probably fine. Be aware the computer makes it difficult to start with more than 30 points; people on higher difficulty settings generally start with even fewer than that.

As the game progresses, your goal is to gain points, apportion them wisely, and level up. If you start with fewer points and fewer of them in critical stat categories, or choose poorly regarding the skills you decide to level up on, then the game will still be difficult for you. But because you’re playing on the “Straight White Male” setting, gaining points and leveling up will still by default be easier, all other things being equal, than for another player using a higher difficulty setting.

Likewise, it’s certainly possible someone playing at a higher difficulty setting is progressing more quickly than you are, because they had more points initially given to them by the computer and/or their highest stats are wealth, intelligence and constitution and/or simply because they play the game better than you do. It doesn’t change the fact you are still playing on the lowest difficulty setting.

You can lose playing on the lowest difficulty setting. The lowest difficulty setting is still the easiest setting to win on. The player who plays on the “Gay Minority Female” setting? Hardcore.

Note in "the real world (the name of the game) "Straight White Male" and "Gay Minority Female" are the products of settings at a lower level of granularity then three polarities listed here, if only (for example) because straight and gay are not binary oppositions but a continuum, and -- surprise!! -- Scalzi also ignores class, except as "wealth" which is not a social relation.

The game settings, and the bundling of settings, is the data structure, and the instantiaion of those "game settings" that is intersectionality -- in my so far brutally simplistic and ill-informed reading!