Approaching the Limits of Intersectional Identities

Reading Crenshaw’s and Davis’s works this week brought to the forefront the shortcomings of both critical studies and identity polemics when trying to broaden their scopes in order to be “more inclusive”—yet leaving out or eclipsing the experiences and identities of specific minorities in the process. Fortuitously, the TV series Black-ish had an episode devoted entirely to illustrating this phenomenon. Here’s a clip of the scene that jump-starts the conversation regarding “The Talk” that Black parents in the U.S. have to give their children:

Later in the episode, Andre learns about other “talks” his non-black co-workers had as children too: (white) mother to daughter about the dangers of being female and how to behave in such a world, and (white) father to son about their being not-wealthy and nomadic. Sadly and funnily enough, only the privileged/wealthy white co-worker happens to be free from the burden of “the talk”—whichever version that may be except that of “people will use you for your money”. The plotline served as a reminder for both Andre and the audience that the plights of one non-privileged group don’t diminish or erase the plights of another, though they may eclipse them to Others.

This may mean that intersectionality, in order to be executed or appreciated the best it can be, requires a certain level of hermeneutical (not to say phenomenological) exploration on behalf of those advocating for it. In other words, a little empathic imagination may go a long way in bringing critical studies closer to the “limit” of intersectional identities before practical problems reveal the gaps, as Crenshaw pointed out in the legal field.

For instance, in the case of Black women (as established in Crenshaw’s work), one could apply a hermeneutic approach and realize that such an intersectional identity would eclipse immigrant/non-American Black women, and this “sub”-classification would probably eclipse Yoruba and Muslims (so, non-Christians) among immigrant/non-American Black women; and then that label would probably eclipse veterans, then those with disabilities, and so on.

Ultimately, perhaps the ideal in the case of identity formation and consideration means using hermeneutics to always keep testing and acknowledging the limits of intersectionality.

References:

  • Crenshaw, Kimberle. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” U. Chi. Legal F., 139.
  • Davis, Lennard J. 1995. Enforcing Normalcy: Disability, Deafness, and the Body. Verso.
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