by Chriss Sneed
In a community defined by identity politics, the spectrum of folks under the queer umbrella is forever expanding and so is our daily vocabulary. The importance of defining ourselves with both written and verbal language not only outlines the very unique aspects of our personal identities, but is imperative to our community’s survival. By writing down our stories, we boldly declare our existence, our affirmation of self-love despite our deviance from the “ordinary”, and the constant struggle and resistance we face in a less-than queer friendly society. However, as a community, especially one devoted to activism and social justice, we must also try to understand that the oppression we face as LGBTQ(& all other letters) folks isn’t the same for every queer. Everyone within the spectrum of queerness is affected by homophobia, xenophobia1, social injustice and discriminatory practices differently – race/ethnicity, class, gender and nationality all are some of the larger, overarching aspects of self that shapes our identities as queer folks and our relationship with oppression.
In the social sciences, the term to describe the overlapping and various identities we have is called Intersectionality2. This term, first coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in her critiques of mainstream feminism3, tries to take us into the direction of critical awareness of difference, rather than suppressing it for some conventional agenda proposed by a majority group. More directly, Intersectionality is about recognizing our own privileges4 within the world and realizing that mainstream agendas don’t help everyone. But instead of quoting theory at you, let’s get real:
IT’S NOT ALL RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS HERE
Queer spaces, often seen as ‘safe-spaces’, can be the perfect storm of awkward moments and unfortunately, offensive discussions. Although we have embraced the spectrum of colors created by ROY-G-BIV, we are a community that is color-blind5, we are consumers of pop-culture motifs and judges of those who can’t afford to play in the same sandboxes. Race/ethnicity, class, gender and nationality, all facets of identity, are often ignored or downplayed within the queer community. However, these intersecting identities affect all of us, especially those that are more likely to be marginalized by a racist and patriarchal society centered on capitalism.
Talking about race/ethnicity in America is hard enough, let alone in LGBTQ spaces. However, the discomfort one may feel about bringing it up is no excuse not to confront its obvious effects. Queer people of color face a disproportionate amount of discrimination because of their status as minorities and for their sexuality or gender expression. Being ‘color-blind’ doesn’t erase their life experiences, although it does take away the importance of their identity as a person of color, especially within the context of an organization like Queer Union. We are a community of difference and Racism is a Queer issue.
Class is another big elephant in the rainbow room. Some people can’t afford the party you want to go. Others can’t afford the housing they desperately need. Be critically aware of the influences that class privilege brings – a room full of ‘hip’ queers can be an awfully ostracizing place for someone struggling to get by. Creating policies, meetings and events that require financial means can often divide those who can attend into ‘the haves’ and the ‘have nots’. We all struggle together and Economic Justice is a Queer issue.
Sexism, which manifests is peculiar ways within the queer community, includes the policing of other people’s gender presentation and general discrimination or invalidation of one gender, marking it as subordinate to another. Usually, sexism intersects with race, class and other aspects of a person’s identity to make for a particularly ugly experience, and for queer folks, this is no different. The feminization of poverty, of violence and susceptibility to harassment is unacceptable – Sexism is a Queer issue.
I could outline ‘isms’ forever. The world is full of discrimination and unjust practices that we all know exist. What’s worse is that places seem perfect and safe, the queer spaces we use to unite us, are also filled with these biases. Crenshaw writes it perfectly: “The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend difference, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite-that it frequently conflates or ignores intragroup differences6.” The only way we can effectively create change in the world, is to ‘dismantle the Master’s house7’ with different tools like Audre Lorde challenges us to.
To those of us constantly battling with the world’s ableism, classist standards, racism, sexism and other senseless forms of oppression – I ask that you rise up. If we want to change the world, we have to change ourselves first, including the communities that we call home. Queer Union is a place for all of us, but we must define our needs to our allies, friends and lovers. We are powerless in our silence.
To those allies who see discriminatory practices and have the agency5 to confront those taking part in racist, classist, sexist, ablelist, and xenophobic rhetoric within our community, we need you. To survive, we need all queers to realize their privilege and use it for the common good. Your fellow queers will appreciate it.
Not all queers are treated equally. Perhaps your discomfort on an issue reflects some privilege you may have in the world and blasting another queer’s experiences isn’t the right move. Everyone has different experiences with oppression and we have to learn how to really listen to each other with love, respect and open ears.
Collectively, we need to address the monsters within ourselves. We all, at some level, have internalized racism & euro-centric ideals, sexist & misogyny, classism & capitalist ideology, ableism & fear of bodies different than our own. Let’s practice real inclusivity and realize the importance of Intersectionality within all of our lives. If we do that, as a collective, Queer Union would redefine solidarity and activism both within NYU as an institution and the queer community as a whole because:
“The goal of this activity should be to facilitate the inclusion of marginalized groups for whom it can be said: “when they enter, we all enter.” (Kimberle Crenshaw, in Demarginalizing the Intersection)
From Chriss Sneed, St. John’s University
Notes & References
1. Xenophobia is defined as “an unreasonable fear or hatred of foreigners or strangers, or of that which is foreign or strange.”
2. A succinct way to think of Intersectionality is as a way of understanding social location in terms of different systems of oppressions, emphasizing the mutuality and coexisting nature of these oppressions.
3. Crenshaw, K. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum . 139 – 67 (1989).
This includes the aforementioned work and her work entitled “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color”, Stanford Law Review, Vol 43. 6 (Jul. 1991) pp. 1241-1299.
4. For all purposes, ‘privilege’ is defined as unearned advantages people receive for belonging to a favored group within systems of oppression (white privilege in a racist system, wealthy people in a capitalist society, men in a patriarchal society, etc.)
5. The erasure and ignorance of racist narratives within society, leading to the minimization of the experiences that people of color face with racism. For more information, see http://cooley.libarts.wsu.edu/schwartj/pdf/Bonilla.pdf
6. Quote from second work cited in Note 3.
7. Reference to Audre Lorde’s work “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle The Master’s House.” You can find a plain text copy here: http://lists.econ.utah.edu/pipermail/margins-to-centre/2006-March/000794.html
Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist
Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum . 139 – 67 (1989).