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

Yet more noodling on intersectionality (the 1%, the 20%, and the 80%)

Last post we developed a notation for classifying or categorizing people into classes (sets) using a set membership function; because it's so ubiquitous, we translated "white working class male" into an instance of the set membership function f(x; R, C, G) by "filling in the blanks" (parameters) for R (race), C (class) and G (gender) for our individual person, "J," thus: f(x; "white", "80%", "male") . If this notation is a good idea, or at least useful, we ought to be able to apply it to other examples, so let's take one: My academic informants tell me this is the classic "Intersectionality" paper, from Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, "Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color." It's great, tough-minded stuff and here's an excerpt:

I observed the dynamics of structural intersectionality during a brief field study of battered women's shelters located in minority communities in Los Angeles. In most cases, the physical assault that leads women to these shelters is merely the most immediate manifestation of the subordination they experience. Many 'women who seek protection are unemployed or underemployed, and a good number of them are poor. Shelters serving these women cannot afford to address only the violence inflicted by the batterer; they must also confront the other multilayered and routinized forms of domination that often converge in these women's lives, hindering their ability to create alternatives to the abusive relation-ships that brought them to shelters in the first place. Many women of color, for example, are burdened by poverty, child-care responsibilities, and the lack of job skills. These burdens, largely the consequence of gender and class oppression, are then compounded by the racially discriminatory employment and housing practices women of color often face. Women of color are burdened as well by the disproportionately high unemployment among people of color that make battered women of color less able to depend on the support of friends and relatives for temporary shelter. These observations reveal how intersectionality shapes the experiences of many women of color. Economic considerations-access to employment, housing, and wealth-confirm that class structures play an important part in defining the experience of women of color vis-à-vis battering. But it would be a mistake to conclude from these observations that it is simply the fact of poverty that is at issue here. Rather, their experiences reveal how diverse structures intersect, since even the class dimension is not independent from race and gender.

Or, to visualize:

This time around, I didn't do a Venn diagram. Rather, I placed "J" at the, er, intersection of three lines: Black, 80%, Woman (as the legend shows). Here again I had visualization problems, as you see from the color; more centrally, it's not clear to me how to represent "the set of all J's" with this style of drawing, as opposed to the Venn diagrams; there, we have a plane, a "locus of points," as my High School math teacher used to say; using this approach, we have only a point. That said, if we go to the notation, Crenshaw's data structure snaps into focus with perfect clarity: We use the very same set membership function f(x; R, C, G) from before, but supply the parameters for R (race), C (class) and G (gender) for "J," thus: f(x; "black", "80%", "woman") .

So let me add another ton of caveats:

1) My only concern is the data structure and the notation; of course, I would be, since my professional skill set before I became downwardly mobile included these tools;

2) That said, I think that any data structure plus notation that can represent intersectionality is bound to be A Good Thing;

3) I only read as far into Crenshaw as I needed to find a useful illustration; and there are probably more sophisticated and challenging examples further on. For example, I drew this example from the "Structural Intersectionality" section, and there is a "Political Intersectionality" section yet to come.

4) I am -- though I have views -- not making any attempt to weight the parameters, that is to say (for example) G > R > C or C > R > G or whatever. My only concern is representing "J," and the set of all "J"s, and not trying to set them in motion in time.

* * *

At this point I should probably expose my hidden agenda (again; I'm sure I've done this before).

There is nothing new about this style of thinking, either on the left (Crenshaw) or in machinations of legacy party loyalists; I honestly never did see much difference between the tiny slices that Penn divided the electorate into, and the tiny slices that Axelrod did the same with. Or whichever operatives do the same work for the Republicans. For example, we might consider a set membership function like this:

f(x; C, R, G, A, B, Z) Equation 3
f("J"; black, "pillars of the regime", male, >50 65<, "BMW", 90210)

A = Age
B = Brands
Z = Zip

For Black male "pillars of the regime" from Beverly Hills, between the ages of 50 and 65, who drive BMWs.

Now, with no evidence at all -- there was a whole "they're not really seeking more than a bare majority" thread some years ago -- I think both legacy parties, or at least their leadership, want to keep the game (the kayfabe) going. Therefore, neither really seeks to destroy the other. So what we get, in essence, is both parties seeking 50% plus one of whatever is needed to win. And they do that by piling up these little chunks of the electorate. In terms of set membership functions, there's not a lot of difference between "Hispanic working class DREAMer" and "White Christian gun-owner," no matter which "J" in each category we might find more congenial.

However, again with very little evidence, I feel -- based on the Tahrir Square events -- that it takes 80% of the population to accomplish regime change, not 50% plus one. And since I believe that, I believe that there's only one set membership function to accomplish that: f(x:C) with f(x:"working class"). I don't see how the math works any other way, let alone the politics. Hence the attempt, in the 12-Point Platform, to craft an appealing set of concrete material benefits to get to that point.

And if you look carefully, you will see -- some might argue necessarily -- that these policies chosen to benefit the entire 80%, that subsets of the 80% get benefits as well. For example, while it is most certainly true that "even the class dimension is not independent from race and gender," as Crenshaw put it, I would also urge that Crenshaws battered woman seeking shelter would also benefit greatly from measures implemented to help their class: #8 Post Office Bank will give that woman a bank account that's not dependent on the spouse she's seeking shelter from, and #4 Job and Income Guarantee will solve her unemployment program.

In other words, if the 12 Points describe "What you should get with a basic life in America" that will go a long way to solving other problems we see as intractable or only worthy of palliation.

crenshaw.jpg40.68 KB
No votes yet


marxmarv's picture
Submitted by marxmarv on

You have 12 bins, each representing one combination of the traits of interest: 1% white males, 20% black females (where I would plot Ms. Crenshaw, being a prof at a private university and all), 80% white males (Ms. Clinton's problem area). Stack them in a neat cube, and highlight (or don't) the bins of interest in illustrations, perhaps even merge their volumes. Not exactly easy to sketch freehand, mind you, but there's a lot that could be illustrated in that format if you have a good 3-D drafting tool.

I think both legacy parties, or at least their leadership, want to keep the game (the kayfabe) going.

Yves quoted Emerson the other day: "If you strike a king, you must kill him." That they don't even appear to be trying to do so suggests they have no intention of it, doesn't it?

In terms of set membership functions, there's not a lot of difference between "Hispanic working class DREAMer" and "White Christian gun-owner," no matter which "J" in each category we might find more congenial.

"Given a set of items, each with a mass and a value, determine the number of each item to include in a collection so that the total weight is less than or equal to a given limit and the total value is as large as possible." And thus they reduce the matter of coalition-building to the knapsack problem.

Submitted by lambert on

I'm really only trying to clean up the language with a simplifying notation. I'm explicitly not trying to model or prove anything formally.

That said, the cubes concept could work, though you've seen my sketches -- it would be hard for me.

Build a platform that appeals to the 80%, and you don't have to worry about the fucking cubes.

marxmarv's picture
Submitted by marxmarv on

I think the set membership notation is reasonable in text, but I come from an engineering background so may have more developed abilities to work with that shite. The "x", as don't-care from Boolean algebra or variable from linear algebra, might be useful too, as it has seeped into the vernacular.

Without belittling the identities being trafficked in the politics, I'm thinking of consumed identities as tags -- blog tags, hang tags, employee badges, asset tags (but I repeat myself), law tags on mattresses, support magnets on cars... charms on a bracelet. That model might help you factor the persons out of the set of social contexts in which they perform their role. For instance I could see a big disk with (class, race, gender) little disks hanging off like a string of beads to represent a person and their memberships. Or huge circle, filled with a bunch of big disks, with the color-code(s) hanging off the big circle, to denote (all/some) members of all of a set of classes. If you keep the beads in a consistent order within a series of diagrams and put in "spacers" (or just don't draw) where no identity is indicated, it seems you could have a fairly rich visual language for illustrating group memberships and all levels of relationships without busting your agates on fancy artwork or exhausting your color palette.

You could even, say, indicate un-consumed identities or unrealized group/class memberships as hollow beads, whether by stippling, opacity or just drawing the outline. I think the utility is plain in the instant case, a nation that would sooner acknowledge relations with ducks than with production.

Submitted by lambert on

And I see how this represents the data structure. I am accustomed to thinking of subjects of interest (any subject) as being represented by proxies composed of sets of properties made up of name/value pairs (where values can themselves be proxies) and so you will see why I find this framework so useful for "identity politics," since identity is a special case of overlap between property sets.

* * *

I think the visualization of "charms bracelet" is great but I wonder if we could come up with a non-gendered equivalent?