Hosted by the School for Cultural & Social Transformation, University of Utah, Intersectionality Here & Now webinar is part of a 3-year focus on Intersectionality funded by the Mellon Foundation. The webinar is a virtual conversation with Dr. Andrea Baldwin, Dr. Christy Glass, and Dr. Mecca Sullivan moderated by Dr. Wanda S. Pillow.
It has been 33 years since Kimberlé Crenshaw first introduced “intersectionality” as a necessary analytic to understand the imbrications—the intersecting impacts—of race, gender, and sexuality and it could be argued no other concept has been more utilized, misunderstood, and maligned in academia and politics. Intersectionality Here and Now reflects on this history to think with the debates about and the challenges of intersectionality. Specifically, where, when, and how are we doing this concept? How are we teaching it, practicing it? What can intersectionality do? What is required to do the doing of intersectionality? And how does intersectionality align with or contribute to transformative decolonial feminisms?
The panelists offered extraordinary depth into intersectionality theory by delving into topics such as centering indigenous and transnational thinkers, (re)shaping freedom and liberation, and activists deploying the theory to imagine new community strategies. Overall, the webinar paid homage to the collective contributions to intersectionality theory and a vision of what is to come.
Dr. Baldwin, Dr. Sullivan, and Dr. Glass are scholars who are doing the work of intersectional praxis. Today’s webinar, Intersectionality Here and Now, highlights how we are thinking with intersectionality in the here, and the now, while also considering where intersectionality has been and where it can go. Intersectionality I think maybe one of the most widely used, yet misunderstood concepts. Kimberlé Crenshaw first laid out a theory of intersectionality in 1989 in the paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.” Published in the University of Chicago Legal Forum, the essay describes the interconnections of structural racism and sexism, and Black women’s experiences, and demonstrates the failure of any single-axis framework to account for those experiences.
In Crenshaw’s words, “Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combined to create different modes of discrimination and privilege.” Within 15 years Crenshaw’s intersectionality traveled outside of law, and feminist and ethnic studies proliferating across fields and genres. Yet as powerful as Crenshaw’s writings are, by the early 2000s intersectionality was often used as a placeholder term, devoid of deep engagement, sometimes even lacking citation of Crenshaw, or any of the Black feminist and queer women of color writings that influence intersectionality. By the 2010s, intersectionality became part of a political cultural landscape in the US, sparking the intersectionality wars. Whether described as dangerous identity politics, included on a list of banned concepts, or as a necessary analytic of activism, intersectionality has erupted into viral disputes and memes.
The here and now of intersectionality is Crenshaw notes urgent. This webinar was planned admits this urgent context and with a commitment to recognize the presence of intersectionality and queer Black Indigenous and women of color feminism’s. From the 1977 Combahee River collective statement describing the specificity of interconnectedness oppressions to the writings of for example, Audre Lorde, and Lee Maracle and the impactful 1981 anthology, This Bridge Called My Back, edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa. As Jacqui M. Alexander reminds us, “any reclaiming of the past to the present cannot simply be linear. We consider where we have been, in order to be present truly present for the here and now that are also always about futures.”
So this is the first time the panelists and I have been in discussion together. So you all are truly going to witness this live. We will start with each panelist individually addressing the question, what is intersectionality to you, and then shift to about a 30 minute group conversation. And then we’ll take attendee questions, you can submit questions on the q&a tab Kilo Zamora, faculty and Gender Studies, and Intersectionality Collective co-facilitator will be helping with the q&a. Thank you very much, Kilo. And before beginning, we just need to do a special shout out to Estela Hernandez, Transform’s Assistant Dean, who organized all of the infrastructure for this webinar. Thank you so very much Estela, we could not do this without you. And I also want to acknowledge and thank our live transcription interpreters and our sign language interpreters with us today. Okay, so let’s begin with our first question. What is intersectionality to you? And we’re going to go in the following order Andrea, Mecca, and then Christy.
All right. Thank you, everyone, for joining us today. Thank you, Wanda. Thank you for Transform for inviting me to be a part of this webinar. I’m truly grateful for this opportunity. And so to your question, what does intersectionality mean to me? Um, I think about this question, and I think it is important for me to state that the legacy of intersectionality as you rightly mentioned, as a concept, there’s these preceding tenets before its coining by Professor Crenshaw, such that when I think about what intersectionality means to me, and how I as a Black woman, a Caribbean immigrant from a working poor family, and deeply indebted to this history, and yet also not, and also not neatly implicated in it, at least in the ways that folks in the US often tell it and this is important.
And so what this means for me is that I think about the importance of Black women and other women of color, including from the Caribbean, and from the third world women, Women’s Alliance, who were all integral to intersectionalities conceptual development and activist roots very, very early on. And for, I’m thinking, for example, acknowledging scholars in the US, myself included because I’m here, who traced the concept as far back as Maria Stewart in 1830, or Anna Julia Cooper’s 1892 was publication of Voice from the Souls or Harriet Jacobs, 1860s narrative Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Or Sojourner Truth, Ain’t I a Woman, which is to say that Black women in the US have been theorizing about intersectionality conceptually for a long, long time. Whether calling it double jeopardy, as with Frances Beal, and a number of other terms, including interlocking oppressions or simultaneity, for example, long before the term itself was coined.
Um, however, in terms of my own reflections about the historical legacies of intersectionality, and what it means to me, I think about how Nina Lykke calls, what she calls the nodal points along the theoretical trajectory of intersectionality. And how these hold a personal connection to me and my own feminist praxis and being and I’m particularly conscious of the epistemological and practical inflections and reflections of women who, like me are immigrant women, and who come from immigrant families, and are writing and expressing vividly how White supremacy, anti-Black racism, patriarchy, classism, heterosexism and also nativism impacts us. And finding connections across all across all types of difference, while also respecting difference, right. Um, and so while I’m thinking about the legacy of intersectionality through the theoretical interventions of folks I have mentioned previously, and also folks like Angela Davis and the Combahee River collective that you mentioned, Wanda, Pat Hill Collins, for example, also very important to me also our works from Audre Lorde and Shirley Chisholm, Gloria Anzaldúa, Maria Lugones and Jackie Alexander, who you mentioned. But also Caribbean feminists like Eudine Barriteau and Kamala Kempadoo and Carole Boyce Davies, and Denise Ferreira da Silva, and Rinaldo Walcott and others, who really provide the context in which intersectionality becomes a concept that has wider geographical resonances. Whose work allows the concept to travel, and to influence and be influenced by feminists from the Caribbean and feminist globally who are doing their own and similar theorizing such that there is what I might venture to say, a Creolization of the concept that applies to my full experience, right. And so when I’m writing up my dissertation in 2012, using the term that Kimberlé Crenshaw coined, I was writing about intersectionality in the context where it has to be in conversation with Eudine Barriteau’s Caribbean gender systems, it has to be in conversation with Edward Kamau Brathwaite’s work on interculturalation and acculturation. And the works, for instance, Rhoda Reddock and Pat Muhammad and Andaiye, and many more Caribbean feminist theorists.
So I guess what I’m saying here is that I came to intersectionality through the works of these Caribbean feminists such that intersectionality, for me, is about a deeper and a more expansive collaboration and understanding of my own feminist self, and my own communities. All of these things, whether in all of my all of my positionalities, whether in the Caribbean, or in the US, or elsewhere, and really intersectionality for me is about this requirement, and this deeper commitment to transnationality in my own scholarship, and a commitment to transnational feminist connections. And so I’ll stop there.
So I’ll just jump in first of all, you know, echoing Andrea and offering thanks to Wanda to Kilo to Estela. And also I want to thank Andrea and Christy as co-panelists, and of course, the interpreters. Very excited to be here and excited about this conversation. And I’ve got, I’ve already I already want to just kind of like jump in and start chit chatting. But I also think for me, it’s important, I would like to kind of ground my exploration of this question, what is intersectionality to you in the work of Audre Lorde for a lot of the reasons, in fact that both Wanda and Andrea have just mentioned. So I’m going to start with a quote from Audre Lorde’s biomythography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, which comes out of 1982. “Being women together was not enough. We were different. Being gay girls together was not enough. We were different. Being Black together was not enough. We were different. Being Black women together was not enough. We were different. Being Black dikes together was not enough. We were different. It was a while before we came to realize that our place was the very house of difference.”
So as Wanda said, right, coined in 1989 by legal studies scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe specific simultaneous impacts of racism and sexism on Black women’s legal, civic, sociopolitical experiences in the US. The term intersectionality has been taken up in academic activist and cultural discourses as a signifier of multiple difference. In these conversations, the intersection has served as a way of naming the simultaneous concurrent and mutually implicating functions of several power structures, including racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, homophobia, pseu-sexism, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism, and Eurocentrism. As well as the sociopolitical locations of subjects and communities that are impacted by multiple forms of oppression. As Andrea has pointed out, right, the history of intersectionality begins long before the terms coining. So I really appreciate the implication of writers like Anna Julia Cooper, you know, Lorde, in fact, right, even sort of before this moment of intersectionality is pointing at you and I, Harriet Jacobs.
You know, Black women writers have been narrating speaking and singing from the intersection since long before 1989. The works of writers like Lorde, June Jordan, Pat Parker and Ntozake Shange, Gwendolyn Brooks, Bessie Head, and many others have long theorize what the Combahee River Collective in 1977 statement calls the “interlocking vectors of oppression,” that shaped Black women’s experiences of difference. Illuminate the larger workings of power, and shape the conditions of possibility for our radical visions of freedom. So following these writers, then I see intersectionality as a way of describing Black woman’s multiple relationships to difference in power, and using those languages to explore the complex implications of power at large. And I say it’s a way of describing difference in power, precisely because the writers that I’m most kind of animated by are really invested in animate- or in highlighting and revealing the crucial place of linguistic and artistic expression in intersectionality theorizing.
For Lorde, standard legible languages of identity are quote, “not enough” to describe the locations of her difference, right? And we get that in the repetition of that passage, that I read, so in 1982, she invents the biomythography as a new language. Literally, the subtitle is “A New Spelling of My Name.” It’s a new language for naming her multiple subjectivities, a textual location that can quote “house representations and interrogations of her place within social power structures.” And so the genre of the biomythography for those who haven’t read and I encourage you to do so, posthaste like run out and read it now. It is rooted in memoir autobiography, but it incorporates aspects of fiction, poetry, lists, song lyrics, myth, you know, and mythology and several other textual forms, in order to tell her story of Black lesbian becoming in which differences of not only race, gender, class and sexuality, but also disability, reproductive status, immigration status, health status, fatness and many others are a crucial part.
We can also think about Ntozake Shange’s 1975 choreopoem For Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Wasn’t Enough, right. Where Shange sort of uses the invents the genre of the choreopoem to meld stage forms, dramatic forms, poetry forms, musical forms, dance forms, and several others to talk about Black woman’s experiences of sexual assault, sexual autonomy and desire.
So, for me in my work, especially in the poetics of difference, queer feminist forms in the African diaspora, I’m thinking about how these sort of new and Vintage honors that I read a sort of linguistic rearticulations of intersectionality how they connect with, you know, subtler and perhaps, you know, differently nuanced, expressive forms and kind of destabilizations of form of genre in Black and Afro diasporic, feminist and queer cultural practice at large, right. And so in other words, those writers who are not sort of naming and inventing new genres, like the biomythography, the choreopoem, but who are using intersectionality as a guiding principle in their creative practices, and who asked readers, viewers, listeners to do the same as an interpretive strategy, right. What happens when the center intersectionality as we’re engaging language in any aspect of our cultural experience? And so here I’m thinking about Black feminist forms of experimentalism by Canadian Trinbagonian Poet Dionne Brand, Nourbese Philip, South African lesbian photographers Zanele Muholi, queer Afro Cuban hip hop group Krudas Cubensi, and American rapper Missy Elliott, all of whom invite readers into an intersectional reading strategy, asking us to participate in multiple forms of difference and in fact, to navigate multiple forms of difference in the form of properties of their texts.
Reading these writers for their intersectional engagements reveals that intersectionality is, among other things, a language and that’s what it is, for me. I see intersectionality as not only a metaphorical spatial location, right, the intersection of race and gender, for example, but also as an artistic tool and a reading strategy. It offers what I call in the voice of difference, I’m sorry, it offers what I call in my writing a poetics of difference and approach to creating, arranging and interpreting expressions of both difference and power. That allow us to examine the overlaps and simultaneity is right that often get lost in normative modes of expression. These poetics and interpretive tools ask us to touch difference in new ways, and acting forms of radical creative visioning, that can express experiences, the multiplicity and complexity and simultaneity in ways that normative English probes cannot reach.
Well, thank you so much, Mecca and Andrea, and thank you, Wanda for facilitating this conversation. And thanks to Kilo, and Estela, and our interpreters, and captioners for making this event accessible. I’m humbled and honored to be part of this conversation. And before we began, we were talking about how hungry we all are to be in conversation about important things. And this feels really important. So for me, intersectionality is a critical lens for understanding how power works. Patricia Hill Collins says that intersectionalities requires an attentiveness to power relations and social inequalities in their relationship. So it’s a lens through which we can understand how race, niativity, disability, gender, class and sexuality are reciprocal, reciprocally constructing phenomenon.
And for me, it takes as a starting point, the questions about who was left in the margins who was rendered invisible? And what does this rendering reveal about how power works? Jennifer Nash writes “that to think intersectionally is to consider how gender is made through race, class and sexuality and vice versa. And to theorize how gender is inhabited, lived and negotiated, in particular distinctive and varied ways.” Now, I just want to echo the incredible complexity of the history of this concept. And I want to be sensitive to Jennifer Nash’s caution about trying to distill the complex genealogies of intersectional thought into a single story, which I think happens often, but I do think it’s really vital to note that intersectionality was born out of social movements and activism. Kimberlé Crenshaw writes that intersectionality was live was a lived reality before it was a term. So intersectional knowledge and intersectionality as an analytic framework, is rooted in the lived experience right emerged out of a community of Black women activists across history, including many queer Black women, thinking deeply about their lives and their social location, and the systems and structures that shaped their lives. And through the sense making, building community and organizing for liberation. And for me, this this history is important because out of this history, comes some of the most significant qualities of intersectional thought, right. The theory of power that centers knowledge, garnered through lived experience. And the praxis that emerges from that. The centered on movement building, and radical social transformation. So the history for me reveals some of those most important constitutive elements of intersectional thought. And as a social scientist who studies organizations, I joke that you know, my work, I’m trying to make organizations sexy again, whatever but, this as an analytic framework, intersectionality informs my work in important ways, because it requires complexity and nuance, when approaching questions about inequality and power.
So Patricia Hill Collins argues that an intersectional analysis requires us to approach the world in at least two levels, right, the biography, the personal lived experience, and the, you know, experience of confronting institutions that render oppression or privilege. And so to account for this complexity, right as both an incredible challenge, but also, I think, the power and the urgency, of intersectional thought, and for me, one of the things that’s really influenced my thinking about the world at these two levels is the metaphors that Kimberlé Crenshaw used in kind of bringing this concept into the academy. And it was the metaphors of the intersection in the basement right because both of these metaphors, the intersection and the basement require us to hold these multiple scales at once the institution, institutional arrangement of power, and the lived experience within the institution or within institutions. For me, these metaphors are vital because they reveal the complexity of intersectional thinking and, in particular, the example that Crenshaw used in her early work of Emma DeGraffenreid who was one of the plaintiffs in a legal case that she selected to illustrate the concept of intersectionality. And what Crenshaw did with the story of Emma DeGraffenreid, right, is to track the ways in which the experience of, interlocking experiences of Blackness and womanhood rendered Emma De Graffenreid invisible within the legal frameworks. And so by starting with the biography of Emma DeGraffenreid, the lived experience, Crenshaw was able to reveal the failure of the systems. First, her exclusion within the workplace. And second, the ways in which the legal system render that exclusion invisible. And this informs my own work on workplace justice in a lot of ways.
I study organizations as key sites of power and for me, organizations are critical sites where cultural, economic and political systems are translated in ways that reproduce hierarchies of status, race and gender. I study the ways in which Audre Lorde’s concept of the mythical norm of the ideal worker is produced and reproduced through formal policies and informal practices in the workplace. So through my work I try to make visible or legible, how unearned racial class and gender privileges come to be viewed as natural as skill or talent. And then on the other side, right, the embodied labor that outsiders have to perform to negotiate identity and belonging in the face of everyday mundane forms of racial and gender violence. So for me, an intersectional lens provides this vital insight and language for understanding and describing why and how systems support and ease the progression of some bodies, and not others. I’ll stop there.
Okay, I want to take the class that has all of the readings, right, and music references, because maybe that’s a piece of what I know. I would get so frustrated, sitting on dissertations or master’s theses, even just like 15 years ago, and people would just drop the term intersectionality, maybe Crenshaw would be cited, sometimes Crenshaw would even be as cited. But what I’m hearing here is that how we’re coming into intersectionality really matters, right? And if someone’s introduction or knowledge about intersectionality is two essays by Crenshaw, we’re all saying you’re missing a whole depth, right? That is, like necessary, right?
In order to really understand and put to work, even the type of intersectionality that Crenshaw, right, was defining. So, I want the syllabus. I want this class. When I’ve taught intersectionality, I do sometimes, I start with the Crenshaw piece because that’s what people are expecting, right? But then we go back, right, to earlier feminism, most– some of which have most of which have been named already today. And sometimes students are like, “well, why are we reading this work? The term intersectionality is never even mentioned.” And it’s for exactly the reasons that have been stated right here today, I think that maybe helps understand. Or let me ask it this way. So if Crenshaw’s work, you know, some people say, well, Crenshaw was speaking to a legal structure, context. So can it be extrapolated into other ways of doing analysis? I think we’ve already spoken to that. But I don’t know if you have an initial response to that.
I’ll jump in, I think this is why I really appreciate to see you know, bring us back to the story of Crenshaw’s coining of that term, right? The story of Emma DeGraffenreid is a narrative account. And in fact, there’s an interesting history of legal storytelling as sort of political practice. So of course, for me as a literary scholar, and as a fiction writer, right, I’m thinking, well, this really sort of, it gives us a direct route into thinking about the history of intersectionality as something that’s actually already beyond legal studies, right? It happens to be that it’s the term is coined in Legal Studies publications, and I would even go so far as to say that it might even just might even be at least the fact of that particular publishing venue, right. Where this word starts to emerge in academic discourse, that, you know, might create a false sense of sort of direct origination, right? And I think, you know, Crenshaw is, of course, very clear that she’s actually sort of interpreting a story a narrative account, part of sort of history of legal storytelling, that is also building on several other narrative expressions of lived experience, as we’ve all said. So I guess that’s all to say, I think, in some ways, it’s the institutional sort of aspect of our engagement, I think that sometimes pretends or confuses the longer sort of more complex histories, right, that it’s not about taking the legal studies term and applying it elsewhere. It’s just noticing that the term sort of originates, you know, in Legal Studies in a way that’s most legible to us, but actually, it’s got this whole longer lineage and a broader lineage and legacy as well.
And some of the other terms that we’ve talked about, sometimes intersectionality is picked up and talked about is interlocking impressions, right? And that focus that I was hearing across each of you this focus on, on lived realities, right? This is a theory and an analytic that is coming out of lived realities, is coming out of activism is coming out of a desire for change and need for change to occur. And I like also thinking about intersectionality as a way to read power and to read power arrangements. Sometimes I think what causes confusion when I’m, you know, teaching a class on intersectionality, or when working with students about how to use intersectionality. I guess that really becomes part of the issue is like, how do we do intersectionality in a way that’s actually intersectional? Because sometimes it ends up being taught, or we even have, you know, some figures out there we can use in our teaching, that make intersectionality look like an additive model. Right? I take this, I take, for example, disability, plus gender plus race. So and I’ve even seen it quite often written about is more of an additive model versus an intersectional model.
And I’m going to take us back to Audre Lorde. We’re not going to get enough of Audre Lorde today, but an Audre Lorde’s 1983 essay, there is no hierarchy of oppression, and Lorde states that she cannot separate her identities of woman, Black and lesbian, and that an attack on any of these identities is an attack on all of them. And then Lorde goes on to emphatically state, “I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only.” And when I teach this, right, this Audre Lorde essay, we’re very moved by it but then still left with the question of but how? How do we do intersectionality in ways that don’t create hierarchies of oppression, or don’t collapse into that additive model?
I’ll jump in, I think, I think one of the things that that, you know, like you, Wanda, in the labor of teaching I come up against is reducing intersectionality to rather superficial identity claims. And you know, you know kind of the identity Olympics model. And in Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor’s recent book, How We Get Free, she traces the use of identity politics to the Combahee River Collective statement. She says she writes it that was the first use of this term. And the term grew out of recognition that these overlapping identities, expose the members of the collective to unique forms of oppression, but also emerged out of recognition that their shared experience could serve as an entry point into activism.
So for the Combahee River Collective, that identity politics was part of the articulation of analysis of power, that sought to validate Black women’s experience and on the other hand, facilitate their engagement in radical political organizing. So inherent in the use of that term, was an analysis of a systemic critiques of colonialism and imperialism and capitalism. Right. So rather than narrowing the political vision to the individual and identity claims at the individual level, the term was recognition of the potential expansiveness of identity as a pathway to movement building, but I think that’s often lost. And part of I think, the work of ours is to explore why the political impulse of intersectionality is often deemphasized right? Why we often overlook the deep political and structural critique inherent in the analytic and move to more kind of superficial applications or understanding, I think that’s part of, you know, the hard work of doing intersectionality.
I would also like to respond by saying, I think that when we look at the whole, I think that actually the answer to the whole, I believe, is actually already happening, right? So when we read Lorde’s essay, and then we put the essay in conversation with works of contemporary social justice activists, who have been influenced by intersectionality, and the activists’ works that are using to frame the this new kind of vision of this social justice movements, it is evident that the folks, particularly the activists on the ground, are engaging with intersectionality, not simply as an analytical framework, but also a praxis right? And they’re– and so like Christy said, at the core of intersectionality, is an analysis and a critique of power structures. But what I think that these new these more contemporary activists are doing is that they’re saying that while there are multiple power structures that produce differences, and hence we have like, oppression based on gender, and race, and all of these other categories, they’re also saying that at the core of these structures, is a settler colonial system that is inherently anti-Black, patriarchal, and global. So if we start from this very basic premise, that there’s this settler colonial system that produces all of these other structures, we can see how we are all despite our differences implicated in a system and impacted in this structure. So when we remember that Audre Lorde also wrote in ’84, that in a society where the good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who through systematize oppression can be made to feel surplus and to occupy the place of the dehumanized, inferior. And so many of us, despite our differences, and the differential power relations between and among us, are still very much part of and make up this surplus dehumanized group, even though our oppression, like hits us differently, right?
And this it goes back to the work of, for instance, Sylvia Winter, who would refer to us as all belonging to this archipelago of human otherness, right. And so because for me, intersectionality is preoccupied not only with identifying social problems, but also with strategies for social movements that respond to the embodied and the dispersive and the hegemonic and the sociopolitical violence of White supremacy. Its dynamism and its analytical frame, and, and its praxis enables us to articulate and critique home multiple systems of power are enacted upon us, subordinating us as subjects who have these very different, but also very complex experiences and narratives. While developing these intervention strategies that are evident in many social justice movements today. So I’ll give you an example when we look at for instance, Charlene Carruthers work, when she’s writing about a Black queer feminist act– from the perspective of a Black queer, feminist activist, she writes that, “if our liberation movements has people on the sidelines, are absent altogether, then it is not really liberatory.” And this brief statement alone demonstrates for me how movements need to– that activist and folks who are really doing intersectional work, that they recognize that although we have these differences, that we they cannot be, they have to be non-hierarchical. So if we are to achieve some semblance of social justice, we need to make sure that we’re not leaving anybody on the sidelines. At the end of the day, we’re all screwed by this system, right?
And so when Kimberlé Crenshaw also explains that Black woman in that same article in 1989, that Black woman can experience discrimination in ways that are both similar to and different from White women and Black men. This is what she’s talking about. This is exactly what she’s talking about, and to a failure to recognize the similarities, but also a failure to recognize these differences Is a missed opportunity. And so going back and I know Wanda said we were going to keep talking about Lorde, but going back to Lorde because Lorde says this, she says, “a failure to recognize our differences is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson.” We cannot, like the power structure tries to do divide and conquer, but rather, she says, “we need to define and empower,” and this is the language that intersectionality allows us to do, it allows us to define and empower. And I’ll say one more thing, when I think about this, the whole of this whole, you know, differences and hierarchal differences, I think about I always have to go back to how I as a person who is from the so called Global self, is thought about through the Western lens, right? And so when I think about capitalism, and I think about colonialism, and White supremacy and how it produces conditions that are global, such that we’re all in our varying areas oppress.
I’m thinking, for example of the killing of Black people by the US state, not only by the US state, but by vigilantes, right? And I’m thinking about the #BlackLivesMatter. But I’m also thinking how this is connected to the whipping of Haitian folks at the US southern border. And I’m thinking about the experience of Caribbean women regarding sexual assault and the regional movement called #LifeInLeggings and I’m thinking how that is linked to #MeToo. These are very different people right? And I’m thinking how these two things are also linked to my experience and the #BlackAndTheIvory, right? And while these are all very different groups of people, all experience very similar and different oppressions in in very specific in particular ways. I’m thinking how our social justice movements and our liberation movements just cannot allow us to sideline any one of these schools. We’re all in our difference in our similarities necessary we cannot get to a system–a point of liberation if we pedestalize one movement over the other and I’ll stop there because I know I’ve said a lot.
Wanda Pillow: No, let’s keep it going. Go Mecca.
Yeah, I was just going to kind of jump in. I mean, I you know I couldn’t agree more. I also just I love that we’re all Audre Lorde fans in this space. This is great. I feel like you know, among my people, but yeah, I mean, I really appreciate, Andrea, your emphasis on the kind of the concept of intersectionality as practice, right. And it makes me think of the Combahee River Collective, you know, in their statement, right, the notion of an integrated analysis and practice. And that’s, that’s their definition of Black feminism. They see Black feminism as an integrated analysis and practice. And like you Wanda, you know, students, of course, are always sort of curious, well, how do we do intersectionality? How do we talk about intersectionality in a way that is sort of usable, practicable, right? And so I sort of, I always find myself and you know, for myself and leading them back to that notion, integrated analysis and practice, we are constantly always doing and thinking, thinking about what we’re doing, doing what we’re thinking about, right. And the notion that practice as a kind of perceptual imperative that we have to continue to do this work, even when it feels really difficult, and we don’t know how to do it.
So in some ways, and I think this is echoing what both Christy and Andrea have said, even as continuing to ask the question, how do we keep talking about these differences, as they seem to be proliferating? As there seem to be more and more differences to talk about? More and more languages for power structures to name? But I think for me, too, this is where a focus on storytelling literature and creative expression is very helpful. Because of course, if you, you know, if you’re looking at the story of a person there is there’s you’re never going to sort of assume that first they’re going to deal with their race, and then they’re going to deal with their gender, right? I mean, it’s intuitive, if we’re talking about actual lived experience of humans, to try and find ways to understand the kind of mutuality and simultaneity of these various forces that shape a life.
As a creative writer, this is, you know, in some ways, sort of like a strong character, a part of what what compels us about strong characters, is that very complexity, right? That we read into there multiple ways of navigating all of the dynamics that are impacting and shaping the circumstances in which they find themselves. And, you know, I say that to say, I recognize that on certain levels, the recourse to the poetic and to the narrative, is, you know, it sort of feels abstract in some ways, and it feels, you know, perhaps maybe separate from or adjacent to what we might think of as a theoretical or political praxis. But then, as folks have said, Lorde, and others remind us, that is a colonial logic, right? And it’s a gendered logic, the logic of where poetry is a luxury, right? We’re in poetry is something, you know, superfluous and inaccessible and unnecessary. But we have to sort of question, you know, that, that logic, and, you know, thinking about sort of how we understand knowledge, power and value, you know, in ways that can lead us back to the theoretical and political movement and action of some of these creative texts and of language more broadly.
And the last thing I’ll say about that is, so for me, you know, Lorde is also really interesting here to, right, the question of sort of how do we talk about specific differences and talk about difference more broadly, at the same time in ways that are affected. You know, in addition to all of her literary works, and of course, for me, the biomythography is one way of doing that. But also, we kind of move through Lorde’s, you know, view and her discussion of herself in interviews, and all of the different ways in which she describes her own difference in her own identity. And I’ll just read a few. So in Zami, as a child, she says that she’s grown up “fat, Black, nearly blind and ambidextrous, in a West Indian household.” Then in the essay Age, Race, Class and Sex, Women Redefining Difference, she identifies herself as a “49-year-old Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist mother of two, including one boy and member of an interracial couple.” And we can think of many other sort of catalogs of identity that Lorde offers us, Black, lesbian, feminist, warrior poet, Black lesbian poet, cancer survivor, right? That for Lorde in these catalogs of identity, she’s not only naming all of these specific differences in specific sort of locations within power, but also calling attention to difference itself, right, that’s a get any one part of this difference that she’s laying out.
First, we have to understand that it’s multiple, that it’s changing, that it changes multiple times over the long arc of her career. And I see that as a kind of instantiation of the integrated analysis and practice that the Combahee River Collective is asking us to take up, right? Sort of the work of that, that kind of thinking. And for me, you know, when I talk with students about this, you know, I always say, you know, it might seem abstract again, but we can all think of a poem we read or video we watch or you know, a song we heard, that made us feel something, that made us think something, that made us do something different in the world. And I think that’s a really helpful way of understanding the kind of power of intersectional creative and linguistic expression. That, you know, this new way, a different way of thinking a different way of speaking, is also deeply political, and has a lot of, it has a lot to offer us in terms of envisioning the liberatory features that we’ve been talking about.
I really like the turn that our conversation took from what does intersectionality do? And it became more about what does intersectionality require us to do? So, and I think that’s such a key point, like a key shift, right? If we’re talking about talking to other people about intersectionality, or how I’m incorporating it in my own life, or where I want to get pedagogically, right, within a classroom. So this this focus on, well, what is it that intersectionality actually requires me to do? And I thank you for taking us back Mecca to that integrative analysis. Right? I think that’s so key. And I, sometimes too with, with students, at first, when they’re just coming to this awareness, it’s like, well, part of what it requires me to do is to pay attention, right, and to be present in a whole nother kind of way. And this could be paying attention, also, you know, to a poem, to a narrative, to an interaction, to the kinds of structures of power and discourse, right, that I’m seeing around me. But maybe that’s the way to get into and think about intersectionality. As far as all the ask, what is it require us to do? What kinds of practices? Yeah, does it then yield?
I want to ask, and we can keep on with that question. And that focus for a bit more, too. But I also want to address what does intersectionality do to Whiteness? And what does intersectionality require of Whiteness? Because this has been part of right, the cultural, very political debate that’s occurring still within the United States. But it’s also a question that gets asked in all forms of activism, and it gets asked within our courses, too, so let’s take a few minutes and, and respond to that. What does intersectionality do to Whiteness? And what does intersectionality require of Whiteness?
I’m happy to start, Wanda. This question about what does it require of us? I think first as scholars and teachers, right, we have to ask hard questions. Mari Matsuda says that we have to ask the other question, right? When we’re, when we’re looking at the sexist discourse, we have to ask how, where, and with what consequence, race, or racism or able bodiness or heteronormativity are layered in? And I think, you know, to the, to the question of, you know, what to do with Whiteness, Sara Ahmed calls, refers to the concept of the labor of insistence, right, the labor required to gain insight into what is real. But also the labor of withdrawing our consent and complicity from a racialized gender system from White supremacy. I think part of what that requires of us is at least two things, you know, interrogate our institutions, universities, the places where we do the labor of intersectionality. Our sites that reproduced power, privilege and prestige and White supremacy, right. So but these are also the sites where deep intersectional thinking and community building as possible. So we have to kind of dwell in that contradiction that our institutions are complicit in reproducing a gender a racialized gender system. And these are sites where we can actually engage in this work.
I think one of the most important things going back to Andrea’s point that she made earlier. One of the most important things I think that intersectionality requires of us is to organize is to build an organize. I was socialized into academia through a union that was deeply integrated in a community, a coalition of unions and community organizations. And I find myself thinking more and more about that as a model. Because that experience taught me the importance of community and solidarity for advancing shared values in a powerful institution. And so I wonder, you know, I have more questions than answers, but I wonder how we can organize, right? How we can do the work of movement building, within our institutions and in partnership, partnership with others in our community, because, you know, I see organizing as a potential for creating space to study alternative models, right? Audre Lorde writes that we have to collectively examine the ways in which our world can be truly different.
And I feel like we’re all in such a moment of triage this kind of constant crisis mode, that actually having space and time and and and kind of mental capacity to ask the kinds of questions we need to be asking right? Space to explore the alternatives. What are the models that give us hope and sustenance? You know, what are the characteristics of an academy and economy a democracy? That doesn’t leave Black women and queer folks and disabled folks behind right? Space to discuss tactics. Who are allies? Who are potential allies? How can we strategically frame our vision in ways that resonate with powerful gatekeepers? How can we neutralize opposition, and of course, the work of organizing depends on building spaces where this work becomes possible. So spaces where the doing of intersectionality and where our thinking and doing can grow and evolve in new ways. Sara Ahmed writes that a movement is also a shelter. So I think, you know, for me, going back to Andrea’s point about praxis, right? How can we organize? What are those opportunities? What are the characteristics of those spaces that can nourish this kind of work, theoretically, but also very, very practically?
WANDA PILLOW: Nice. Andrea and Mecca, do you have anything you want to add?
I can. Unless you want to go, Andrea? Okay. Um, yeah, I mean, I, you know, I agree and Christy, what you’re saying, it makes me think about, again, for me, you know, part of the development of these kinds of collective collaborative political praxis right, those organizing, it also requires a reach beyond the forms of knowledge that we value, right, or that we are trained and taught to value for me. And so, you know, it makes me think about, I think, for me, one of the things that intersectionality asks of all of us is to kind of critique our understandings and our valuations of both knowledge and power. As I said, whose knowledges are valuable and viable, you know, once we sort of destabilize the primacy of academic knowledge, for example, or academic kind of circuits of knowledge, and suddenly, we’ve got access to these broader, you know, not only stories of power and difference, but also critiques, right of power and difference. And we’ve got, you know, access to stories of, you know, collaborative histories of organizing. Stories of sort of activist work, right, that perhaps don’t register as such, within the languages that the academy offers us or has offered us up until this point. And so for me, that then also speaks to the importance of, you know, sort of engaging from– engaging poetics in a different way engaging poetics as something that is about lived experience, within the you know, on the page, the stage, what have you, but also in our sort of broader experiences with culture. And that brings me to this notion of kind of the reading praxis, right. And so I spent a lot of time thinking about what a Black queer feminist reading praxis does for us, I do think it can, in fact, be a kind of a building block for a collective collaborative theorizing, if not organizing, right? Like the kind of the ideating right, the kind of dream work that has to happen before, you know, the kind of more legibly political movement building can happen. And that is something that I see happening in a lot of the forms we’ve talked about.
You know, Anzaldúa’s Borderlands, right, is another example for me where you know, she calls it an “alto historia” which is kind of translates maybe to autobiography, except it’s more like auto-history, right? What does that mean to Anzaldúa? What does it mean to for her as Chicana lesbian writer to speak to and for a broader history in multiple languages? So that’s an example of a text that literally requires intellectual labor of us, right? If we are– so she’s writing in multiple forms of both English and Spanish. If we are only English language speakers, then we have to either do the work, right, perform the labor of figuring out what is being said to the nearest, you know, possibility. Or sit with the relative powerlessness of not knowing, right? Suddenly it shifts the locus of power. And we as, as readers, you know, sort of trying to engage the meaning of the text, either have to be, you know, challenge ourselves to do that laborer, or, again, feel the relative powerlessness of unknowing. And I guess that is, in some ways, a way to think about the second part of the question, sort of, what is intersectionality ask of Whiteness or require a Whiteness? I want to think of it as what does it do to Whiteness? And I feel like what it does is it destabilizes it, right? I think it says Whiteness is actually not the center of this conversation. And it requires, you know, of those who identify with or depend on Whiteness in whatever way it requires them possibly, to do various forms of work, right, and perform various kinds of labor. And, for me, very importantly, to feel at least sort of briefly within the encounter with the text or with the moment to feel the relative powerlessness of not being at the center. And then to sort of do with that feeling and with that learning what they will. And so for me, that’s that these are all really important interventions that have to happen in order for the movement, you know, the kind of more legible movement work to take place.
Yes, yes, and more yes. So I kind of inverted the question. And I started with what does intersectionality do to Whiteness? And I wrote down “intersectionality makes Whiteness lose it’s damn mind,” like that’s what I wrote down. And, I mean, I’m constantly going back to settler colonialism and coloniality and decoloniality. Because for me, intersectionality has is a, it has this global resonances for me as a Caribbean woman. And so when I think about how coloniality has said, or has, has formed us into when we think about Black and Brown people and women and queer folks and Black folks, and folks with disabilities, how they how coloniality has signaled us and brought us into being as non-persons and as non-human. What with if we if what we’ve been saying for the last hour is that intersectionality is forcing us and calling us to, to critique and analyze this structure and these structures that are built in a colonialist system, then what intersectionality is doing to Whiteness, it’s is causing Whiteness to question itself, like Mecca said to decenter itself, right? And, White people are losing their mind.
That is, I mean, when you think about all the pushback right now, in terms of how intersectionality has made Whiteness so uncomfortable, that we are hearing things like intersectionality is a legal theory that has been applied. The same question that was asked earlier, as a lawyer, I’m saying that law does not occur in a vacuum, right. And so when we think about how Whiteness has become very downright combative, and dishonest, when it engages when we think about Nash, that’s what Nash is saying. In the academy, um, intersectionality is being used to oppress people, people who have been oppressed in the academy. And so that is what intersectionality I think, in the ways that we use it correctly. And we use it in the ways that it — and not co-opt it, that is what it is doing. Right? And so what does it what does it ask of us? What does intersectionality require us to do? It obviously requires the continued to directly challenge mainstream hegemonic dominant theories of knowledge, language, power and politics, right. But for me, personally, it allows it also requires me and I think us to think beyond intersectionality. And to think in decolonial ways, especially as the concept itself has been co-opted to use against those who are oppressed. And doing this also requires that we be reflexive. And to be reflexive, we need to be honest, and by honest, because what is happening is that there’s a lot of dishonesty happening right now around are theorizing and are and are doing, and by honest, I mean that we need to also interrogate the ways in which our individual and collective agency is bound up in a process and a system of colonialization. That is, how are we even as we talk about liberation, social justice, and intersectionality? How are we complicit in the processes and the systems that we are fighting against? And so what I’m saying here is not that we need to engage in any type of narrative that blames oppressed people for their oppression, but rather that we need to consider how for instance, Cydia Hartman is theorizing about a type of consenting agency that is happening when we engage with these systems and how being honest and open about discussing and addressing these can help us to get to a deeper place of consideration. And so what does it require of me? What does it of us? But I’m thinking more personally, what does it require of me?
And for example, when I think about my situation, I think about how do I personally reflect on how I, as a Black woman, assistant professor, who was currently going through the tenure process, might hesitate to speak up about an issue that is unethical and unfair for other Black women who experienced university in similar in different ways. For example, Black women who experienced the university as contingent faculty, or graduate students are, I mean, at Virginia Tech right now, graduate students are currently fighting and being refused a living wage. Right? And how am I, if I’m using intersectionality, If I am, if I’m saying intersectionality require something from me, how do I also be honest and what I’m thinking in terms of if I speak up, does that have a chance of jeopardize it jeopardizing my getting tenure? And how I might be complicit because I’m, I’ve convinced myself that I need to get tenure to be able to speak later. Right? And this is just one example of my own personal question of what does an intersectional approach practice praxis require of me? I’m not saying that this is currently what is happening in my life. But these are just questions that I think are very important questions that we need to be honest, every time every single time we’re in a situation, particularly ones that require us to be in solidarity.
WANDA PILLOW: Hmm. Yes. I’m just thinking, what a first webinar conversation to kick off our three-year collective around what is intersectionality and what it’s requiring of us. And there’s been a theme coming up since we started this conversation. And I want to ask about and turn us to what intersectionality’s relationship with then? We’ve mentioned settler colonialism, coloniality. But what is intersectionality its relationship with decolonialism? Is that are you all saying, are we all saying that this is part of what if we are doing intersectionality we’re actually simpatico with decolonialism? Is that what we’re saying here? Because, you know, we’ve had quite a wealth of works published, I think, particularly over the past 10 or 15 years that have been looking at the nation-state, settler colonialism. But looking at it really through Indigenous Pacific Islander and Black diaspora lenses, right? Really exciting new work, and certainly, our earlier works — Audre Lorde included — and Indigenous feminisms, were always talking about the state, right? And always talking about colonialism. We’re not going to get to any of this, what can intersectionality do? Unless we are attending? Yep. To settler colonialism and the power dynamics of that. So, what are we saying about intersectionality and decolonialism? What is the relationship?
Oh I’ll go first. I mean, I think yes, I think intersectionality absolutely is, is anti-colonial and decolonial. Particularly given the kind of histories that that you’re charting, right. I mean, you know, again, if we’re thinking about intersectionality, as sort of one, one language, one iteration for a long standing discussion of the multiple relationships between power and difference, particularly as they impact race and gender subjects, let’s say, right, then I think absolutely. It has been, you know, it’s been transnational. It’s been anti-colonial, decolonial. I mean, even if we’re, even in the kind of collaborative history we’ve charted to together today, right, like, if we are thinking about intersectionality, as a term, you know, as a language that has a kind of etymology, extending from, for example, Harriet Jacobs. Well, that’s a transnational conversation then right, because we’re talking about transnational migrations through the American slave trade, right. So you know, that if we’re sort of tracing these histories as fully and complexly, as we can, that I would, you know, I would argue that absolutely, it’s always been, you know, anti-colonial decolonial has always been thinking about the nation. I will say, it’s also always been sort of interrogating the fixity of genders, right. I mean, you know, it’s also always been thinking about ability and disability, right in various forms of mobility, age, all of these things, I think, have always been part of, you know, what we are now for the moment terming “intersectional analysis.” And it brings me back to Andrea, your last point, which I really appreciate it that like, you know, intersectionality has to also sort of theorize, move beyond itself, right. That like what happens when the language of intersectionality doesn’t, you know, doesn’t serve us because it’s been sort of misconstrued and misread, right, and weaponized, maybe.
And I think that that’s, you know, if we go in that direction, I think it’s also important to recognize that this is one language in a long history of languages that, in fact, you know, perhaps the word doesn’t, because language changes, meaning perhaps the meaning of the word isn’t as legible, you know, in the ways that we would want it to be. But the the concept has been there, right, and will continue to grow. This is also, you know, from me, the Combahee River collective, they talked about a constant self-reflection, that we need to kind of take up as Black feminists or folks who are committed to a Black feminist praxis, right. That we’re constantly thinking about our multiple relationships to power. You know, June Jordan talks about this, especially in the context of labor and transnational engagement in her essay, Report from the Bahamas. But what does it mean to sort of think about my own relationships to power, the ways in which I might be a, quote, “monster” in the experiences of another person who was like, and unlike me, in perhaps another part of the world. All to say, I think that yes, this has absolutely been, you know, sort of transnational concerns and critiques of the state have always been part of intersectional analysis, whether we’re calling it “intersectional analysis” or not, the concept has always been there.
I would just add, for me this, this goes back to the points Andrea made in her in her opening comments, right, like, how can we be expansive, and our intellectual and practical linkages? And Jennifer Nash writes about this right, the policy, the possibilities and opportunities for linking intersectionality more intimately with transnational, transnationalism. And I would add critical, Indigenous and decolonial thought, including, as Andrea said, at the beginning, the work of Caribbean feminists and other non-western feminists.
Nash asked like, what, what if we embrace a vision of intersectionality that is capacious enough to center women of color generally, and that insists on the intimacies between transnationalism and intersectionality in terms of their construction, use in academia and in movement building? And how might this engender a generative feminist connections that, you know, allow our understanding of intersectionality to grow and expand and change in unpredictable ways. But I think I think to do that requires the centering of Indigenous, Black and anti-colonial knowledge and critiques that reflectiveness that both Mecca and Andrea have talked about. Legal Indigenous Scholar Sara Deer calls for, you know, presents a model of what this could look like for us. She argues for a tribal-centered analysis of knowledge, the development of research and research methods initiated by and for Native women, that kind of can supplant the legal bureaucratic knowledge that rejects and ignores and erases Indigenous approaches to data and data analysis. And she makes the case that these types, you know, as an example, these types of approaches, force us right, there’s guidance here for all of us, because it kind of forces us to critically evaluate what we are doing when we are doing research on what counts as evidence, right and what can collaboration look like — deep and meaningful collaboration — with each other with communities in the doing of research and work that reflects the lives and concerns of communities and, you know, how might rethinking how we approach our work. Help us also rethink fundamental questions about our disciplines and disciplinary boundaries and even the meaning of authorship and beyond.
ANDREA BALDWIN: Yeah, for me intersectionality cannot work unless it is decolonial. And I’m saying this as a Caribbean woman who was educated in the Caribbean, who has traveled to the US as a fully formed, well-made person who came to work here. All of my education up to my PhD is in the Caribbean, and you come to this space and this is a space that says that everything outside of this space is not fully formed and well-made, right? And so intersectionality in order for me to find usefulness in the term intersectionality, I have to believe I have to engage and I have to it has to be to decolonial otherwise, then it does not apply to my fully formed self, right? Because if if everyone in that archipelago of human otherness, including those who are formerly colonized, and in the Caribbean, we know they’re still colonized countries, right? It cannot make sense unless it is decolonial for me, it just can’t. And that’s the short answer. For those who are wanting to say that intersectionality, for instance, is a legal framework, or comes out of that critical legal framework, then it has to be decolonial, because the law is the state. I mean, if you are critiquing the law, you’re critiquing the state, you’re fundamentally saying that this is wrong. These laws are bad. They’re affecting these people who have always been seen and other and if this is if, and this is for people that I don’t, you know, like, if that is if this if you’re saying that intersectionality is just legal, and that is the hill that you’re going to die on, you’re also dying on the hill, that is decolonial. Period.
WANDA PILLOW: I’m going to move us into some questions that are in the q&a. And do keep, attendees, do keep putting your questions in there. Let’s look at. Sorry, I lost track of which one I wanted to start with. There’s some questions in here around who determines whether something is intersectional or not? And who gets to say they’re doing intersectional intersectionality? Which has been a debate started within the academy, right? And has been in there’s a piece of this too. There’s some comments in the q&a about well, has an intersectionality been coopted, right, and Black women’s erasure within those lack of citational practices. Which then also means there’s a lack of attention to the labor, right, that goes into this theoretical, theoretically, mythologically, but also in praxis and in pedagogy. And as Andrea, as you were describing, what happens, right within the academy, but if we’re taking up a question of who gets to say what intersectionality is, what’s our advice on that?
Okay, this is not, this is a really interesting question. And so if this sort of, you know, me kind of thinking through this really kind of provocative question. My first thought is to kind of question the question, or the terms of the question, right? Sort of, you know, this search for authorization, there is, I think, maybe it is an indication of a different question, you know, kind of attendant question that’s about sort of, how do we know when intersectionality is being done effectively, right? Because I think, for my mind, at least in, you know, an intersectional perspective would say that this is not something that is externally sort of defined or again, authorized, right. And in fact, we want to sort of move away from that sort of colonial or at least potentially hegemonic logic, where in, you know, there’s a kind of central locust of power that gets to say, that is good, that is bad, or that is right, you know, that that does it, right, or that does it wrong, right, that seems to be very much sort of complicit with and I’m just thinking this through.
But that seems to echo I’ll say, some of the logics of lack of knowledge production that I think intersection analysis wants to kind of weed behind, right, or sort of expand. And so I think maybe another question that’s related is sort of, how do we know when we’re doing intersectional analysis? And I think that brings us back to the conversation that we’ve had right? Are we constantly attempting to navigate multiple structures of difference in power? Are we constantly challenging ourselves to you know, to be attentive to, listen to, learn from and center multiple voices, including the voices of race and gender subjects, for example. You know, that have we committed to and are we continually committing to that integrative practice and analysis? For me that maybe is a is a question that, for me, sort of calls me a little bit further in my thinking of what intersectionality can do, right? Because if it stops with, you’ve done it or you’ve not done it, then it’s not it isn’t intersectional analysis. You know, talking to students, I often talk about the language of ally, right. And the notion of ally as an identity. Well, you know, how far does that get us? If you fight? If it’s a static fixed identity, then are you actively doing the work of alliance. Are practicing the kind of solidarity that that that identity, that language of identity sort of purports to convey? Or confer? And I think there’s a similar logic at play here. So that’s just initial thoughts.
WANDA PILLOW: Yeah, okay. So I’m going to add in on that, and I do want to hear from Christy and Andrea on that, too. And, Andrea, I’m going to tack this other piece on for you just make it even more. But so there’s some conversation in the q&a too, about well, how do I support intersectionality? And I think pieces of that are also coming up in the q&a about, well, how would a person who is cis heteronormative and White, can that person be intersectional? And can they participate in intersectionality? And I think, pieces of this we’ve addressed but let’s return right, and hone in on some of those responses. And I guess there is another piece of this here, too, is can– can someone who is White be intersectional?
ANDREA BALDWIN: Okay that is a lot there. So, to the question about– there’s so many, um…
WANDA PILLOW: Deal with it how you want, Andrea.
Okay, so, I was gonna weigh in and say that, um, how do we know if who can do intersectionality? I think that’s the gist of the entire thing who can do it? Yeah, I’m from and how do you do intersectionality, I think, um, for me, as Mecca, put it so well, like, this is an ongoing type of work that we’re doing, right. And my– the ground like, you know, my son says that “the floor is lava,” like the bar is on the ground, for me is “do no harm.” That is that is what it is for me in terms of doing intersectionality where and again, like my really good friend Tanya Jean says, like, “no move– no movement, no one is innocent.” So even in Black feminisms, you know, is not an innocent like there, there are things that happen all the time. As we are learning as we’re growing, as we’re moving forward, we learn not to say things that we took for granted before. We learned not to do things that we took for granted before. But I think if we are constantly doing that reflexive work and thinking through this, in, in the vein of intersectionality, was created, and has this trajectory and this history and this activist history, which means to to do no harm. That’s basically the bars on the floor. And that’s it, do no harm.
Do not, you know, we’re not we’re trying to, the folks that have been throughout history have been seen as non human and nonpersons. We are trying to say that these people are human, too. These people deserve the things, right. And so intersectionality, as a practice should be that we’re always trying to be decent human beings. Again, that’s the bar on the floor. And so if White people can be intersectional, in terms of how they do work in practice, yes. But your intersectionality cannot be used against Black people. Your intersectionality cannot be used against queer people. Your intersectionality cannot be used against disabled people. If you engage in intersectionality, which is I do not want to harm folks in the way in which I’m doing this work. In terms of you know, I’m going to use intersectionality in the academy to say that we want this one Black feminist, and we’re going to work her to death because we just are doing it for show and performativity then that is doing harm that is not intersectionality. And so if we go from the from the very low bar of do no harm, then we can all do intersectional work.
CHRISTY GLASS: Yeah, I would only add going back to Andrea’s earlier point about reflexivity and honesty, right. We have to be honest about our place in the world and our complicity in the systems that do harm. And I think we have to do the really hard work of recognizing the way in which White women have been and continue to be gatekeepers in the academy. Right? Doing harm, you know, getting a little bit of access and privilege and then slamming the door behind you and you know, keep you holding it shut. I also the these questions also, again, bring up Jennifer Nash’s recent work where she, you know, talks about the ways in which we often expect Black women to do the labor of gatekeeping intersectional, purity, right, that, that Black women are often, you know, expected to tell us what intersectionality is, and to tell us what’s co-optation. And, you know, I hope we can, again, be reflexive and honest about those kinds of expectations. And she also makes the point that I think is worth mentioning, potentially here that we often think about intersectionality in really limited ways is kind of a critique or corrective of White feminism, as opposed to an incredibly, you know, dynamic and rigorous paradigm in its own right. And I think both of those moves, right, expecting Black women to kind of patrol the boundaries of intersectional thinking and, you know, limiting our understanding of intersectionality as a critique of White feminism, both of those are reductive and center Whiteness. I think both of those moves are in the business of centering Whiteness. And my hope is that we can, we can again, to Andrea’s point, be reflexive and honest about our tendencies to do that.
WANDA PILLOW: Great, yeah, um okay. We have some comments, just saying thank you for the conversation. And so I want to turn to a– put another couple of these together. And so our Dean of Transform, Dean Kathryn Stockton, is asking us to give an example of intersectionality that gets us to something powerful in, or against an institution. And there’s a question another question in here that’s asking another kind of question about that, too. Can institutions engage in intersectional work? I guess that’s what our three-year Mellon Foundation focuses about, too. So putting Dean Stockton and this other question about can institutions do intersectional work?
MECCA SULLIVAN: Well, I mean, it does seem to me that yeah, absolutely. You know, one of the many things that I think institutions offer us are spaces and resources, right? You know, tools for the kinds of well, various kinds of, of sort of knowledge production, circulation of knowledge and organizing, right. And so I think this is maybe, you know, an example of intersectional work happening through the institution. And, you know, I think, probably all of us in our classrooms, right, imagine that as a site where we do, you know, sort of radical, potent, powerful intersectional work. And I think, yeah, institutions, they really they do offer a lot in terms of, you know, spaces and resources that, you know, and gatherings of voices and storylines, right, that might not otherwise happen. So I think that there’s a lot of sort of power and strength and possibility there.
WANDA PILLOW: We have a, and I like that, you know, Dean Stockton was like, give us an example. Tell us an example of this. And that is so powerful, and one of our colleagues in Transform is asking, is just saying, you know, it’s really different when Hillary Clinton tweets about intersectionality. And it could be any number of people, it doesn’t even need to be, right, Hillary Clinton, it’s very different than when Audre Lorde was speaking about it as revolutionary. And so this again, goes back to the sort of co-optation perhaps of intersectionality. But perhaps we’re at such a circulation of intersectionality. Now, and it has become this intersectionality wars in both academia in popular culture, political culture, that I feel like what we’re saying is we’re keeping our eyes on what it’s doing and what we are doing with intersectionality. And what intersectionality requires of us, as well as the kinds of text and relationality ease that we think are part of really doing intersectionality? And that that’s what becomes key in our teaching, too.
Yeah, definitely, I think, going back to Dean Stockton’s question about an example, like the example his whole university has turned intersectionality into diversity, like, it means the same thing across, like, intersectionality is not diversity. That’s not what it means. And to an end, we see this play out over and over again, we want to get all of these diverse bodies into these seats into these universities. So we’re gonna, we’re gonna have them, we’re gonna admit this quota of Black folks, or this quota of queer folks or this quota of women. And what that means is that we are, but by up in our diversity numbers, we are more intersectional. And that’s not true, because I mean, but because this is where we are sitting right now in terms of the university space, that’s, I think that example, is palatable to all of– or not palatable is not the word, is close to home for all of us.
Because what you know, when you when you bring in all of these people, then what are you doing, sometimes what we’re doing more often than not is harmful, because we’re not providing the resources that these students need. We’re not providing the the the faculty to help the students. And what that means is that, that faculty ended up with much more work. And so you’re saying, when you when you equate diversity and intersectionality, and you are bringing all of these bodies, because they’re all different went back to what Audre Lorde, you know, is saying, because they’re all different, but you don’t really respect that different, you don’t really respect that culture, you’re not interrogating the colonial system of the academy, it means that when you equate diversity to intersectionality, you are in fact doing harm. Right? Um, and so that would be my example.
WANDA PILLOW: Nice. There is a I know we are getting, we’ve gotten a bit past our time, but there is a question in the q&a. And, and whoever submitted this, because it’s anonymous. I just want to encourage them, email me. I’m the only Pillow at University of Utah. So please email me the question is, is there a space in the approaches to intersectionality to consider nonhuman animals? And I think I would extend this question to say it’s about we’re back to the human-nonhuman and intersectionality right alongside and understanding a deep understanding of colonial and decolonialism gets us right there to this question, then it becomes not only about “animals,” right? It becomes about a relationality to space, to geographies, and to land. I love that question. Thank you for asking it, I would be happy to talk with that person by email and, and provide some readings and responses to that. So we’re going to turn it over right now, at this point to Dean Kathryn Stockton, Dean of the Transform School at Utah.
I think I’m kind of left with one word, which is “wow.” You know, and there were so many one-liners in this conversation, this conversation that just kept building and building and building, I tend not picture that there’s anybody n here who wants you to stop. Because as you keep going, then the next generative path happens, and next. So I’m going to take those one-liners, which I wrote down, they go about 100 feet deep, you know, each. And the beauty of that is we can keep coming back to this recording, to hear you, to sync with you, to think by your side.
It’s really just my happy task to say thank you and to say you are very much of our heart now. This is our inaugural event. This is beginning a three-year building of a collective that we hope is not just going to be a three-year process. But it’s going to be a process, yes, for this institution. So thank you, Dr. Sullivan and Dr. Baldwin coming from afar to visit us and of course, Dr. Glass who’s close at hand. And I just do have to say of course I love the emphasis on narrative. So I cannot wait to be immersed in the book. And of course, you know, I was at the book launch for Dr. Baldwin, which was its own phenomenal conversation and just an incredible segue into this one. So I want to say that of course what we are going to be building institutionally, structurally, but interpersonally and relationally is a Transformative Intersectional Collective. We are grateful to the Mellon Foundation for giving us that grant money. And I just want to give a little shout-out in case there’s here to our also our fellow PI’s, our principal investigators, at the other five and possibly six universities. I want to name them, because as soon as I named them you will recognize them as amazing souls whose work you have learned from as have I, Gayatri Gopinath at NYU, Tiffany King at University of Virginia, Elizabeth West at Georgia State, Karen Thompson at University of Southern California. And I believe also soon joining us Cynthia Oliver, at University of Illinois, Champaign Urbana. So I could not be more excited about this beginning.
And again, with such humility, we thank you for bringing just this incredible wisdom to our door to our screen. And I think we will feel very sewn some to the bone with you in these conversations. And we will be reading you trust me we are going to be reading your books. Those are going to be on our lists and indeed we might have to ask you back to converse a little more with you. Thank you, panelists, thank you Dr. Pillow for moderating in such a beautiful way. Of course, thank you Estela Hernandez for all the work and Kilo Zamora for being in the chat and making everything go so smoothly. It’s been a beautiful afternoon. And I feel I actually I’m gonna hazard some hope for something that we can collectively do together. So thank you all and enjoy the rest of your weekend.
WANDA PILLOW: Great. Take care, everybody.