As I emailed this morning to the folks,
I only have text. You can decorate if you want!
Intersectionality is contrary to the human experience of compartmentalization for understanding. These safe compartments contribute to a diffusion of responsibility in the world and reinforce the status quo. On one hand, when a white man travels to Africa for a service project, he can call himself a leader making a difference. That same white man can witness racist micro aggressions, uses of language, and thoughts that justify the marginalization of black people in America, but excuse himself as a participant and a reformer from that context because it’s not his problem. As a white person, he doesn’t need to have an opinion about how a black person is treated. As a person, his life is “morally neutral, normative, and average, and also ideal, so that when [he] works to benefit others, this is seen as work that will allow them to be more like us” (“White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack”). White people begin their lives with privileges they fail to notice others lack, and assume any contribution they themselves provide is accessible and productive. On the other hand, what is to stop a black man from continuing with his life instead of explaining to this white man how his actions affect others? Will this white man understand or even listen, based on his privilege? Also, why is it the black man’s responsibility to explain to the white man his own misdoings? While these divisive conflicts stand in the way of improvement, social justice actors can embody more personal and sustainable methods for change by recognizing instersectionality in domestic and international settings.
Considering the globe abstractly, one might find it easy to characterize problems abroad, including poverty, infrastructure, racism, and corrupt governments. Honing in on a domestic level, America could never be conceived as having these same problems because so many white people live under the guise that they are comfortable, so everyone must be. The current state of American social affairs with regard to marginalization mimics Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s short story, “Harrison Bergeron.” This piece recounts a society in which people are forced to take on physical disabilities, including jarring sounds being played in their ears when they try to think, in order to ensure that everyone is equal. In the context of America, our privilege is our disability; we fail to see the problematic systems that don’t directly affect us, and the status quo proceeds, untouched, with the same marginalization. We get caught up in the current moment of receiving the most likes or keeping our email inboxes clean with no regard to our past, trajectory, or actions wielded with privilege.
In tandem with efforts abroad, domestic social change actors must recognize their privilege. They must speak out when they witness discrimination, and not be afraid to be criticized for things they do that might hurt others. They must consider both the trajectories and pasts of marginalized populations, not in a way that holds grudges, but with the motivation for changing what factors marginalized people yesterday. Further, they must track improvement for the sake of sustainability. These actions call for personal conversations, discomfort, and a kind of loudness that will agitate the status quo in a way that makes necessary improvements. As a sociologist, I am inspired by the notion of collective consciousness, a term Emile Durkheim coined, describing shared beliefs and the power that comes from a group united in beliefs. I’ve seen this feeling manifest in situations of intersectionality: two people connecting in the shared experience of losing a parent, or gathering at a march for breast cancer awareness, motivated by witnessing someone crumble at the hands of the disease. These experiences transcend differences of race and class and motivate people to enact change that lasts and is meaningful. The demonstration on September 19 allowed students, faculty, and staff to show solidarity in changing the on-campus racial climate that allowed a confederate flag to be displayed on campus as a symbol of pride. The demonstration showed me a collective consciousness I have never felt before, full of support and solidarity. I felt present in a way that opened my eyes to the power of the people around me and the future we hope to achieve and sustain, both at Bryn Mawr and at other elite colleges. This experience empowered me to feel that I am here, I am current, I am intersectional, and I am angry.
Cole, Teju. “The White-Savior Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic online. March 21, 2012. <http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/03/the-white-savior-industrial-complex/254843/> Accessed 9/28/14.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” Independent Schoolhttp://ted.coe.wayne.edu/ele3600/mcintosh.html> Accessed 9/28/14.
(Full text on Serendip)