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Saturday, January 28, 2017

Why Intersectionality isn't working (but we desperately need it to!)

NOT MY ART. Sad Unicorn by Applejazz
Hello, Darlings. Long time, no Unicorn. May as well just jump straight in, eh?

So, here's something that sucks. This is part of the reason why 'intersectionality' is so difficult. We HAVE to make feminism intersectional if we want the movement to have any long-lasting positive outcome in today's sociopolitical environment. I don't know the exact number, but I heard it estimated that 94% of women of color felt disenfranchised by the Women's March on DC, that it didn't reflect their interests, or that they were unwelcome; that it was only a march by their white sisters FOR their white sisters, and no one else. Obviously, that's a huge problem, and a huge division. I also know that I am not the only white woman who feels that it's a huge problem, and who is looking for a way to bridge that divide.

Since the election, I've done a lot of Googling of what to do to try to mend the gap, for ways of trying to help the cause of WOC/POC by using my #whiteprivilege, since I can't get away from it. I may as well use it for good, if possible, right? Or at least try to learn how to stop using it to inadvertently harm.

You know what the overwhelming response was to my googling? Article after article exhorting white women to 'ask POC how they would like you to help'. To not assume that our help is needed or wanted, but rather to ask. To ASK, so as not to cause offense. That made sense to me.

I've been trying to do that. In person, on social occasions (I work from home, in a solitary fashion, and literally 'don't get out that often'), and on social media.I asked it at the March. Answers have been slow or nonexistent. I've been smiled at and told, "Whatever you do is great," with awkward smiles on both sides.

I started a Facebook page expressly for the purpose of creating a space for women of all races, creeds and sexual identities to come together and discuss ways of working together to support causes that are important to all of us - or to support causes that SHOULD be important to all of us, including racial justice and equality. In three days, over 110 people had joined the group, including a handful of WOC. So far, despite questions and encouragement, very few conversations are happening.

I've been looking for local chapters of Black Lives Matter and of Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ). The nearest SURJ is over an hour away; the nearest BLM is double that. When I reached out to the organizers to ask if they knew of any nearer groups, both responded enthusiastically that I should start one - a suggestion that was met with overwhelming silence when I asked if it would be positively viewed if a WW was leading it. In fact, when (again) Googling, I saw great derision leveled at WW who attempted to do just that in other communities, and I tend to agree myself - it seems like the height of presumption and condescension for a BLM or SURJ group to be 'led' by a white woman.

A friend of mine, another WW who is very interested in bringing feminism into something that works for all women, had the experience this week of being told off by another white woman - one who is by her own description 'raising brown children' - for fostering dissension and hate in a social group she takes part in. My friend's crime was sending an email to the members of the group after their first meeting letting them know that people of all backgrounds were welcome, whatever race, religion, belief system, sexuality, etc., and asking anyone who would come to future meetings to respect that. (There had been an uncomfortable conversation at the meeting where the majority of ladies there assumed everyone was of a Conservative bent, and some very ugly things were said of any who might not be.) Somehow, my friend had offended this person - by sticking up for dignity and equality. We are both baffled and not sure what happened.

I took to Twitter this morning and, when I saw a blogger and twitcelebrity that I follow was online and tweeting, I thought I'd ask her her opinion on the 'what can WW do to help intersectionality' issue. She's pretty vocal and straight up about giving her thoughts, so I hoped she might be able to toss me a bit of insight. In very short notice she did reply - but not in the way I had hoped. Her answer? Get on Google and try to look it up. One of her followers quickly followed suit. Clearly my question had been offensive, even though I had carefully couched it as sincerely as I could: How should WW work to help intersectionality, if there are no BLM or SURJ groups in my part of the country?

This person's follower, along with harshly criticizing me for 'asking WOC and femmes to do my work for me' also accused me of asking the person to 'work for me for free' - by which I can only assume she meant soliciting her opinion on whether it was appropriate for a WW to lead a BLM or SURJ group. I wasn't looking for a blog post, or a long, involved answer - only her opinion, which could quite likely have been a yes or no. I apologized. I walked away quite stung, but feeling as if I had painted a target on myself by mistake. Though sincere, the conversation felt as though my question was in itself an attack. I am unlikely to ask it again anytime soon.

Please note: I do NOT blame the twitcelebrity. It's absolutely not her job to provide her opinions to anyone who asks. In my wrongheaded WW way, I had thought it might be a welcome opportunity to tell WW how we could actually help. I also hoped it might be seen as one WW trying not to be whining #BeckyInThePinkHat. Instead, I felt I was seen as #DoublePlusBecky - by genuinely trying not to be. #viciouscircle #norightway

So, full circle: WW wants to know how to help without the offer of help being offensive in its implication that our help is needed - contrasted with the obvious need for intersectionality in feminism if the movement is to succeed and represent ALL women. Check Google: Google overwhelmingly says: "Ask WOC." WW asks POC, learns the question is offensive and unwelcome. WW feels duly humiliated (publicly, no less). WW has less idea than before of how to use a #privilege that I did not ask for to help further the cause of those who do not have that #privilege, and has learned that to ask if I can help is to invite humiliation and attack. I still want to help. I still want to learn. But how can I do that, if an attempt to learn is perceived as insulting or is in itself doing harm?

Obviously, I'm either (a) asking the wrong question, (b) asking the wrong people, or (c) fighting the wrong battle. I don't think it's (c) - I think intersectionality is achievable, and is worth fighting for. But (a) and (b) are probably true. But where do we find the right people, and how do I get them to tell me the questions it's OK to ask?

REAL QUESTION: How can we achieve intersectionality if this is the field upon which we have to play? Not only do I not know the rules, but the published rules are full of contradictions, and every move is presumed a foul.

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