Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Dueling intersectionalities, Hillary Clinton, and a little Racefail 09

I would love to write a big formal essay about this, but life's short, so you're getting the letter-from-a-friend version. I recently saw two articles with bits that struck me:

From Bernie Sanders Is Winning Feminists, Even at Hillary Clinton’s Alma Mater | TIME:
... younger feminists are more likely to eschew traditional feminism in favor of “intersectionality“– the idea that social identities like race, gender and class are so intertwined that it’s impossible to prioritize one lens over another. In other words, a middle-class straight white woman would have very different concerns than a poor trans woman of color, and it’s unfair to assume that both would have the same priorities just because they’re women. And some young feminists say that in this context, Clinton’s gender seems less important than all the other ways she is privileged.

...Over and over, Wellesley students reiterated that intersectionality, not feminism, is their priority. For Sanders supporters, the Senator’s policies on poverty and inequality are more important than the symbolic win of seeing a woman President. For Clinton supporters, her practical agenda and myriad accomplishments — which her supporters say have often benefited poor women and people of color — are more appealing than her gender.

Yet Sanders appears to have the upper hand so far. “The only person who’s addressing intersectionality is Bernie Sanders,” says Katherine Gao, a first-year, noting that she sees a “generational divide” about the future of feminism. “Women’s rights is an important issue to me, but it’s not the most important issue to me,” agreed first-year Netanya Perluss.
Pie-in-the-sky Sanders more realistic than Clinton: Kirsten Powers:
The New York Times reported that Clinton’s flailing campaign is trying out a new line: that Sanders is a “one-note” candidate who is captive to an obsession with Wall Street and campaign spending. Clinton is determined to prove that Sanders is not ready for office, but that she is. “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow,” Clinton asked a group of union members, “would that end racism? Would that end sexism? Would that end discrimination against the LGBT community?”

...  Just so we’re clear: Sanders is an unserious pie-in-the-sky candidate because he wants to rein in campaign spending and institute a health care system that is commonplace in Europe. Clinton, on the other hand, will eradicate sexism and racism in America. Who’s the dreamer here? After all, Clinton can’t even keep her own campaign surrogates —Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright— from taking sexist swipes at young female Bernie supporters.
Being a socialist, I've long been critical of "intersectionality"—see the links below. The word was originally coined by KimberlĂ© Crenshaw to explain the importance of race to feminists who prioritize gender. Unfortunately, Crenshaw was a Critical Race Theorist who studied with people who prioritize race, so intersectionality in its first incarnation had no room for class—it was only a way for privileged feminists and anti-racists to discuss the obstacles they faced within the upper class. But the word opened an important door at the expensive schools where it was taught: it acknowledged that when you are trying to decide what matters most, there are more factors than race or gender alone.

The identitarian reluctance to discuss class was still strong in 2009 when the flamewar called Racefail 09 broke out in scifi fandom—"class issue" was a square on their racist bingo card, and Coffeeandink, the Ivy League white woman who launched the war, reluctantly made what may have been her only comment about class:
"...I do think class is a significant axis of oppression separate from but interacting with race and gender. I just don't think it's the root oppression that is the basis of all other oppression, or that eliminating class injustice will magically cause other forms of prejudice and injustice to fade away."
Coffeeandink and Hillary Clinton love fighting strawmen: Socialists have never said sexism and racism will magically disappear by fighting for economic justice. Though identitarians dismiss them as "class reductionists", socialists have always been at the front of the battles against sexism and racism. A socialist, Charles Fourier, gave feminism its name. Karl Marx said, “Labor in the white skin can never free itself as long as labor in the black skin is branded.” At the height of Jim Crow, the Communist Party USA nominated a black man, James W. Ford, as their vice-presidential candidate. The USSR sent a woman into space two decades before the USA did.

Today, two schools of intersectionalists are fighting in places like Wellesley. For one, economic class trumps social identity. I love those feminists. I suspect I will start using "intersectionality" freely now.

Relevant: The problem with the middle-class feminist theory of intersectionality

The Man Who Changed Middle-Class Feminism, or Derrick Bell and Critical Race Theory, Where Racism and Anti-Racism Intersect

PS. Hillary Clinton's take reminds me of the conclusion of a short piece by Adolph Reed that I love to quote:
From this perspective even the “left” antiracist line that we must fight both economic inequality and racial inequality, which seems always in practice to give priority to “fighting racism” (often theorized as a necessary precondition for doing anything else), looks suspiciously like only another version of the evasive “we’ll come back for you” (after we do all the business-friendly stuff) politics that the Democrats have so successfully employed to avoid addressing economic injustice.