The most general statement of our politics at the present time would be that we are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As black women we see black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face. -The Combahee River Collective in A Black Feminist Statement
Many radical movement builders are well-versed in the theory of intersectionality. Feminists, queer theorists and activists, critical race scholars, progressive activists, and the like owe much to our Black feminist sisters, like The Combahee River Collective, who introduced us to the reality of simultaneity–as a framework for assessing the multitude of interlocking oppressions that impact the lives of women of color–in A Black Feminist Statement (1978). Their voices and politics presaged Kimberlé Crenshaw’s very useful theoretical contribution of “intersectionality” to the feminist toolkit of political interventions in 1989.
Since its inception, many have referenced the term—sometimes without attribution to the black feminist intellectual genealogy from which it emerged—as a form of en vogue progressive parlance. In fact, it seems to be the case that it is often referenced in progressive circles as a counterfeit license (as in, “I understand the ways that race, sexuality, class, and gender coalesce. I get it. I really do.”) to enter resistance work even if the person who declares to have a deep “understanding” of the connectedness of systemic matrices of oppression, themselves, have yet to discern and address their own complicity in the maintenance of the very oppressions they seek to name and demolish. I am certain that I am not the only person who has heard a person use language embedded with race, class, gender, or ability privilege follow-up with a reference to “intersectionality.”
My concern, then, has everything to do with the way that the fashioning of intersectionality as a political framework can lead toward the good work of analyzing ideological and material systems of oppression—as they function “out there”—and away from the great work of critical analyses of the ways in which we, ourselves, can function as actants in the narratives of counter-resistance that we rehearse. In other words, we might be missing the opportunity to read our complicities, our privileges, our accesses, our excesses, our excuses, our modes of oppressing—located “in here”—as they occupy each of us.
Crenshaw’s theorization has provided us with a useful lens to assess the problematics of the interrelated, interlocking apparatuses of power and privilege and their resulting epiphenomena of powerlessness and subjugation. Many have focused on the external dimensions of oppression and their material results manifested in the lives of the marginalized, but might our times be asking of us to deeply consider our own “stuff” that might instigate such oppressions?
What if we extended Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality by invoking what we might name “intralocality”? Borrowing from sociologists, the term “social location,” which broadly speaks to one’s context, highlights one’s standpoint(s)—the social spaces where s/he is positioned (i.e. race, class, gender, geographical, etc.). Intralocality, then, is concerned with the social locations that foreground our knowing and experiencing of our world and our relationships to the systems and people within our world. Intralocality is a call to theorize the self in relation to power and privilege, powerlessness and subjugation. It is work that requires the locating of the “I” in the intersection. And while it could be argued that such work is highly individualistic, I contend that it is at the very level of self-in-relation-to-community where communal transformation is made possible.
Might it be time to travel into the deep of our contexts? Might it be time for us—theorists/activists—to do the work of intersectionality (macro/system-analysis) in concert with the intra-local (micro/self-focused analysis)?
Intersectionality as an analysis, rightly, asks of us to examine systemic oppressions, but in these times of radical and spontaneous insurgencies—times when we should reflect on our need to unoccupy those sites of privilege (where they exist) in our own lives even as we occupy some other sites of domination—work must be done at the level of the self-in-community. We cannot—as a progressive community—rally around notions of “progression” and, yet, be complicit in the very homo/transphobias, racisms, sexisms, ableisms, etc. that violently terrorize the lives of so many others. If a more loving and just community is to be imagined and advanced, it seems to me that we would need to start at a different location than we might’ve expected: self.
*Image by Nayyirah Sabir, provided by The BlackLight Project.