Jacob and Al's Intergalactic Intersectionality Adventure Part 2: Putting It Into Action

So we’ve talked about what intersectionality is in Part 1. How can you put this idea into action? We did say that situations will be infinitely varied and unique, buuuut specific examples are useful too. These can only ever be the tip of the iceberg, but they are a start and here they are:

In Your Activism

Different forms of discrimination and bigotry lean on each other. Someone with racist views can often be aggressive about subjects like sexuality, gender, and other things that aren’t race. This can be confusing and upsetting as it hits out in all directions and can hurt lots of people. And this is also why working together is important - if we can bring together our different experiences, we can untangle the ways prejudices work together and our activism can be more effective.

  • Talk about your experiences. Have open conversations in your groups about your identities and issues that affect them. You can get drawn into big ideas in activist groups, but what about how you are individually feeling? Some groups have “feelings meetings”, or check-ins, where instead of planning projects or campaigns, each person takes a turn to speak exclusively about they are feeling and everyone else listens. Each person bringing in their own perspective can help bring nuance to your activism as well as help you work better together.
  • Supplement social media organising with other platforms. Do you use tools that squeeze out nuance? Can you do anything to avoid getting drawn into bad habits when you use social media? This happens a lot on Facebook/Twitter, where arguments or false information can be fueled by algorithms which prioritise ‘engagement’ with short sound-bites or bits of media and encourage shares or replies over the quality of relationships, understanding and trust between people. This favours bold generalised statements that get people excited rather than well-thought-out subtle pieces or empathy and movement building. You could add to your social media work with in-person meetings, phone-calls, newsletters, zine-making, email, web-chat, web-forums or good ol' letter-writing.
  • Build solidarity, rather than just presume you get a pass if you’re a part of a marginalized community. Saying something like "I’m gay, so I automatically know what experiencing racism feels like" ignores the fact that you don’t share that same experience and may not be acting as an ally in your activist communities. Solidarity doesn’t come from simply being oppressed, it’s something you have to actively engage in.
  • Making room for being wrong in your analysis and your action can help you accept that there is more to concepts and people than initially expected. When someone approaches you and tells you that you’ve made a hurtful generalization, even though it may be difficult, do your best to stay calm and listen to what they’re saying. No one pops out of the womb knowing everything, so it’s okay for you to make mistakes if no one’s ever explained something to you before. Mistakes are necessary for learning and growth.
  • Don’t simplify complex things to appeal to the lowest common denominator. A group of black activists can consist of women, queer people, disabled people, trans people, and countless other identities, for example. For instance, if you're publicizing a Latinx history event (or any event), assume that attendees will want disability access and childcare information. Even as a campaigning tactic, connecting to people as individuals rather than making assumptions based on whom you perceive as the most visible members of a group will be more successful than generalizing about who you are campaigning to.
  • Your politics should involve other dynamics too. If you talk about how women are sexualized and objectified in the USA or some western country as desirable objects rather than people, for example, remember that because of fatphobia, transphobia, homophobia, racism, and ableism, many women are differently oppressed. Objectification you may think of as universal doesn’t apply to people who feel undesirable, hypersexualized, ignored, or abused because of their intersectional identities.  At the same time, the idealized woman might be depicted as white, cis, able bodied, thin and then objectified. All these processes happened at the same time. When you talk about ‘women’ are you in fact talking about a specific type of women?
  • Think beyond yourself when you consider how an issue may affect you. White, nondisabled, and worried about losing your health care? How do you think other groups might be affected by a big policy change? What would it mean for disabled people and/or low-income people? What about for low-income communities of color, who disproportionately experience disability? Reach out to activists who don’t share your experience and history to find out how you can work in solidarity.
  • Make your events intersectional and accessible. If you’re a privileged person with an idea, are you going to bring someone who shares your experience on as number two, or are you going to reach out to someone who doesn’t look like you and brings different experience to the table? Forming a panel, asking people to visit your class, or lining up speakers? Does the accessibility of your venue/march/protest/event exclude people with disabilities? Does a fee to get in the door exclude people who wouldn’t be able to pay?
  • Name and talk about dominant identities. But what is whiteness? When did we start assigning genders at birth in the way we do now? Why are rich people so rich? Privilege can often function best when it’s held by people whose identity apparently ‘goes without saying’, for the rest of us it can be really difficult to even imagine that some forms of privilege exist. Looking at the systems we take for granted can reveal a lot about how our current problems came to be and how they might change.

In Your Relationships

Our intimate relationships are also affected by stereotypes and over-simplification. We don’t have fairytale relationships because we are complex. We bring so many more parts of ourselves to the table than simple relationship scripts can handle. So it’s also useful to think of intersectionality when we are relating to each other, so that we can become closer and and more caring but also so we can be allies to our partners in the struggles that they face in the world.

  • Talk about politics in your relationship. Being able to talk about how society and oppression has affected you can help you understand yourselves and each other.
  • Use your understanding to help your partner when they feel lost. One Scarleteen volunteer shared this anecdote: “One of my partners was a rape survivor who'd never had a partner sit down with him and say 'look, this thing that happened to you sounds a lot like rape, let's talk about this, I know it is scary.' It wasn't enough for me to be aware of the intersections of masculinity and survival: I also had to communicate about that awareness with him.” How could your understanding help someone you care about?
  • Let your relationship be somewhere that scripts are questioned. Large scale stereotypes or narratives, like racist news media or institutionalized slutshaming can hinder recovery from many sorts of trauma, which will have an effect on your relationships. If you can question those scripts you will certainly be able find a way for yourselves to get through difficulties, towards whatever is next for your relationship.
  • Be complicated and proud. Understanding each other as complicated and whole is positive, not just an inconvenience. Telling someone “don’t be complicated” is unrealistic and anti-intersectional. If your partners say that, and imply you should be chill and straightforward, they may be an ass and you deserve to be the whole complicated messy you! Feelings happen, our lives enter the scene, and they need to get over it.
  • Look at the particulars if you are running into issues. Bringing an oppressor/oppressed narrative into your relationship to dictate how you view dynamics can sometimes hide the specifics of your own stories and relationship. So you may need to remind yourself to take a step forward and look close, is there anything else going on?
  • “Comfort in, dump out.” If you receive hate and prejudice because of who your partner is, be careful not to seek all your comfort in your partner. They may be in the centre of that oppression and need your support as this was indirectly an attack on them. Finding support outside your relationship will help you do that and lighten the strain that discrimination applies to your relationship.
  • Above all else, listen to each other. Our understanding of oppression is a backdrop but it can never tell the story that a real individual can tell you about themselves. You also don’t automatically ‘get’ oppression in all its forms just because you’re also oppressed. It still pays to take time to learn and listen, and to be aware that the oppressed can also be the oppressor.

In Your Family

The circle of people closest to us (at a point in time), our family, can serve as a place where so many of our ideas first play out. They can be a place of trust and support. Sadly they can also be a place of hurt and fear. Often they will lie somewhere in the middle. Discrimination and habits of prejudice can form in our little units of society, but we can also challenge our family or learn from our family. Navigating the multitude of histories that lead into your family tree can be made a lot easier when we understand how so many factors intersect.

  • Understand family as something you can be born into, adopted into, or made up of the people you choose. Building close evolving relationships and mini-communities of mutual support across generations and various differences is something many of us do, and it isn’t always something we are born into. Many people, especially LGBT youth may find themselves estranged from their birth family but eventually find home in their own chosen family.
  • Consider generational difference. Sometimes it isn’t just about our identities, it can also be about the different eras or generational positions in which we have experienced those identities. Experiencing racism and disappointment as a first-generation immigrant can feel very different to experiencing alienation and parental pressure as a second-generation immigrant. Being queer in 2017 may be very different to being queer at the height of the 1980s HIV/AIDs epidemic. Recognizing those differences can really help you build bridges in your family and communities!
  • Allow for the things you may just never know. Do your parents or mentors have a hidden history you don’t know about? For example, maybe a parent or grandparent was forcibly sterilized, or held in an internment camp, or is a rape survivor, but never talks about it. Make a safe space to talk about difficult parts of your shared past, and consider that people sometimes hide their histories out of shame, and that internalized shame might affect the way they interact with you.
  • Be a lighthouse in your family. What happened to uncle Mike? Why does nobody speak about him anymore? Families can also hide the ways exclusion and discrimination have occurred within the family. You may be able to reach out to a relative who is ostracized for converting to a religion or give hints of support to queer younger relatives looking for support they are not getting from immediate caregivers.
  • Try to be a good sibling. Not an only child? Being siblings can be complicated, especially if you have big age differences or have different parents. Your adopted sibling, for example, might have complex feelings about family and relationships that you should consider. Similarly, your older half-sibling with an abusive parent may feel very differently about parenting than you do. If your family is large, your older siblings — or you! — might feel stressed by caregiving responsibilities and pressures that younger siblings don’t experience. You might also be implicitly expected to be a future caregiver for a disabled sibling, that can be a big worry, will you need support thinking about it? You might be disabled and fear being viewed as a burden by your siblings. You may receive bullying because of a queer sibling, and as above, comfort in, dump out. You could be the person that sees them through the hard times and they will always appreciate that.

However you 'do' intersectionality, the only constant is change. From person to person, your situations will vary and there will always be new ways to apply your knowledge that 'things aren't always simple'. In general, all the suggestions listed here come down to listening to others and standing up for the stories which so often go on unheard.

In Part 3, we talk about our own identities, the unique ways they intersect and how we see that. We made it into a webcomic containing pies, sandwiches and driftwood. We admit it gets a little strange, but that's what you get for thinking this much about identity!

The whole intersectionality series:

Also see:

Further Reading from Scarleteen: On activism, identity, community, relationships and other intersections