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If we look at identity politics, a lot has changed since the 1960s. While the American Left rhetoric was all about color blindness and national unity back then, it’s now changed to group-based rhetoric, and intersectionality is no exception. In current political discourse, intersectionality divides Americans along a sharp line, as it receives many criticisms – not only from the conservative side.
The idea of interaction effects is nothing new, as it has always been studied in the fields of statistics and psychology, even before Kimberlé Crenshaw first used her version as a political term. As David French, an American constitutional lawyer explains, the foundation of intersectionality lies on the common-sense, fundamental truth that people do have personal traits that would place them in one or more minority groups (French, 2019). Interestingly, in intersectional theory, the focus tends to primarily be on a few characteristics, such as race, gender, class, and sexual orientation and disregards others, like age, looks, ability, etc.
People, however, are at an advantage and disadvantage based on all these factors (and more), and essentially, one of the more important criticisms voiced is that intersectionality oversimplifies and undermines the complexity of human experience and issues. In a review on Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge’s Intersectionality, Christian A. Gonzalez points it out that even though intersectionality aims to explain inequalities and prejudice in society, it seems to ignore non-structural roots to these issues; he says: “[…] intersectionality views inequality in simple-minded terms, invariably attributing all inequality to a conspiracy of systemic oppression. Nowhere in Intersectionality’s 200-plus pages is any mention made of the internal causes of inequality.” (Gonzalez, 2018) Due to the absence of a clear definition, there is an apparent trend of intersectionality evolving into an ideology that people follow and act upon. Not so much as a theory, but as an ideology, it receives much more attention and criticism.
Helen Pluckrose states in her essay: “On the level of its ideology […] to be intersectional is to focus on many different categories of marginalized identity at once, be convinced that they are marginalized and be concerned about them all. It is not enough to be a woman or even to be a feminist. One must also subscribe to critical race theory, queer theory, trans equality, and anti-ableism discourses.” (Pluckrose, 2017) Once intersectionality turns into an ideology, it implies that true intersectionality needs to be aware of all marginalized groups, as all of them are linked in some way or another through the intertwining system of oppression. For instance, one cannot fight for social inclusion and equality for the LGBT community without including and talking about African-American or disabled minorities within the community. As intersectionality fosters inter-group unity, several combination groups are born, such as intersectional feminism, but the Black Lives Matter website has also changed its description to represent a much broader purpose than combating police brutality; “We affirm the lives of Black queer and trans folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, folks with records, women, and all Black lives along the gender spectrum. Our network centers those who have been marginalized within Black liberation movements.” (Black Lives Matter, n.d) Chloe Valdary, writer and political activist, and Christian A. Gonzalez both warn about the “dangerous” claims and language employed in intersectionality discussions. Chloe in an interview with Dave Rubin, says: “[…] (according to intersectionality) the primary motivator behind all human interaction is power, and by that, they mean power to oppress.” (The Rubin Report, 2018) The core of the framework is indeed the idea of oppression. More specifically, instead of discussing disadvantage, discrimination, or inequality, intersectionality addresses all these social phenomena as a form or consequence of oppression.
The language used implies that in society there are oppressors and many victim groups (even though oppressors never got specifically named). It may also suggest that there’s a hierarchy among victims of oppression. Those who are part of several minority groups are facing more kinds of oppression, therefore acquiring a victim status ranking higher than those who are in fewer groups. An immediate consequence is how personal achievements are being invalidated according to this ranking. Andrew Sullivan, a conservative author takes the entire controversy one step further, with a bold comparison between intersectionality and religion. After witnessing a video on Middlebury College students protesting a lecture by Dr. Charles Murray by pre-practiced chanting and restraining discussion, he could draw parallels between the manifestation of intersectionality effects and religion. Intersectionality is actually a doctrine that could explain all human experiences. “Its version of original sin is the power of some identity groups over others.” (Sullivan, 2017) People practicing this religion first “need to check their privileges” (Sullivan, 2017) (in the ranking mentioned above) and live and act accordingly. Furthermore, as intersectionality flows into the postmodern worldview, it is increasingly difficult to debate over it, as believers tend to reject scientific, empirical reasoning and favor whatever truth aligns with their values.
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