Here is a great piece on intersectionality by our Baseline Coordinator.
To White Vermonters: Intersectionality
I have recently returned from the Women’s March in Washington, DC. It is not a simple matter to attend an event hundreds of miles away. But like many others, I felt so strongly that the country is headed in the wrong direction, however, that I was compelled to add my voice to those protesting the policies of the new administration. I consider peaceful protest to be a responsibility of citizenship, along with voting.
The marchers had signs addressing a range of issues.
Reproductive rights: My uterus is not your property.
Racism: On an infant carrier: Babies against white supremacy.
Gay rights: Love is love.
Women’s rights: Our rights are not up for grabs. Neither are we.
Immigrants: No human is illegal.
Native concerns: Water is life.
Religious and ethnic freedom: Japanese Americans against a Muslim registry.
Disability issues: I march for someone who cannot.
And direct reactions to Trump: Dump Trump.
In fact, the march was a clear demonstration of unity across a range of human rights concerns. Many signs spoke to this: “stronger together,” and “I’m with her” (with arrows pointing in all directions). This is intersectionality, and it is at the core of today’s push toward fairness and inclusion.
Historically, civil rights movements have mostly focused on one group at a time, although allies from other groups often supported a group’s efforts. This made sense as each group worked to create its own identity and to define its own priorities. Now, with much of that accomplished, many groups are recognizing how critical it is to band together and to support all social justice movements. Feminism has been at the forefront of this push and has made efforts to consider intersectionality for some years now, although there is much more work to do to make feminism truly inclusive. At a recent Justice for All (a Vermont group working for racial justice, particularly in policing and incarceration) meeting, a representative from a local advocacy group for the LGBTQIA community (Rainbow Umbrella) was there. It was a small start, but an important one.
One sign carried by an African American woman read “I hope all you white ladies will be at the next Black Lives Matter march.” It was a good reminder. An inclusive perspective about justice demands that we all address our own biases and discomforts. White people should indeed be at the next Black Lives Matter march. So should queer people. So should everyone who cares about justice.
Before the last election, my town had a candidates’ forum, and we had the opportunity to ask questions of those running for Vermont House seats. I asked what the candidates thought should be done about the racial disparity in incarceration rates in Vermont, since we are one of the worst states in the country in this area. Not a single candidate was aware of this. Not surprisingly, none had a considered response. When a problem does not affect you, it is easy to be unaware of it. When a problem does not affect you, it is easy not to act.
Social justice of all kinds is currently under profound threat in this country. We cannot afford to splinter into small groups working only for the matters that most concern us personally. We must band together. We must step away from the familiar and support the struggles of other people. The Women’s March offered a clear opportunity to see intersectionality because “women” is such a huge category, and it includes members of most other groups seeking inclusion and fairness. Let us take this as a model for our social justice thinking and action. All forms of justice are one struggle, whether for women or people of color or people with disabilities or queer people. At this point in history, no group can accomplish its goals in isolation; we need our allies. Will you be an ally?
Here are ways to begin. Educate yourself about one or two groups that are unlike you. Read or watch a movie about the Deaf community, or about Muslims, or Jews. Then broaden your education to add other groups. Do what you can to expand your circle of friends and acquaintances to include people unlike yourself. Are any of your friends queer? Non-white? Immigrants? Listen to the voices of people unlike yourself: follow their blogs or Twitter accounts. Finally, consider joining a group working for social justice as an ally, as someone who is not a member of the demographic in question but supports their efforts. For this, I would like to issue a particular challenge to straight white men. This is the group most underrepresented, in my experience, in social justice movements.
One final slogan seen at the Women’s March: “No one is free when others are oppressed.” We are one human family. If it is acceptable to treat any group of us badly, then we are all at risk of being treated badly. One family: one struggle for justice.