“Intersectionality” is a Big Fancy Word for My Life

(Excerpts from MBGLTACC 2010 Keynote Address)

picture of a green bottle with grass and trees behind it.We have to confront white supremacy within LGBT and Queer communities.  A queer politic MUST include solidarity with people of color; it MUST include fighting racism and white supremacy.  Because we aren’t queer OR people of color; queer OR white; queer OR able bodied; queer OR working class.  We can’t just decide to come together as queer people and expect that we are all going to be united and work together—or that we’ll even feel comfortable.

We must be willing to have hard conversations as queer people with each other about how we are different as queer people.  It helps us to expand what “queerness” is—to see that there are many different ways to be queer.  We can’t be afraid to do our own work at our own tables.  And yes, there is much work to be done out there, with folks who aren’t queer.  Yes, that is important too, but we are outsiders here as well.  Because really, there is no “out there.”

For those of us living with multiple oppressed identities, we know this well.  And as adoptees, we know this well—especially as transracial and transnational adoptees.  As people who straddle many different communities, so much of our work must be done with the people in our own communities.  And we do this work for our very survival, because often times, we do not have a choice not to.  There is literally no where else to go.  Our homes are rarely comfortable. (And I know as queer folks we know something about that too).

To the queer white folks in the audience and the folks who benefit from white privilege, I would ask you: how are you connecting your fight for queer liberation to challenging white supremacy?  How are you connecting your queerness to your white privilege?  How are you listening to queer people of color in your world, supporting them and practicing solidarity?  How are you actively noticing how whiteness, racism and white supremacy play out in queer communities, student groups, organizations, and movements?

Racism and white supremacy are so pervasive, that we don’t even have to be consciously or intentionally doing anything to participate in them.  It’s in the air we breathe; it’s how the machine rolls; it’s the default.  It’s backed by everything in our society.  That’s the thing about oppression, power and privilege: unless you are actively challenging it, you are colluding with it. We live in a heterosexist society, we live in an ableist society and we all have a responsibility to actively work against it. We can’t guarantee that things won’t be ableist or won’t be racist (that’s not the world we live in right now); but we CAN guarantee that when there is racism, when there is ableism, that we will do something about it.  We will LISTEN to those most impacted; we will listen to people of color, we will listen to disabled folks; we will listen to trans folks; we will listen to queer disabled people of color—and hear them.  We can guarantee that we will act and communicate with each other.  And we will make mistakes; and we will learn from them.

There is no such thing as neutrality.  If you have privilege, you can never be neutral, because you are constantly benefiting off of that privilege—even at the same time as you are also being oppressed. That is what “intersectionality” (for lack of a better word) is about.  It is about moving beyond single-issue politics; it’s about understanding the complexities of our lives.  It is understanding that fighting for racial justice IS queer; fighting for disability justice IS queer.

It is trying to understand the way our differences lie down inside of us, as Audre Lorde would say.  It is knowing that heterosexist and patriarchal modes of family and gender and sexuality were used in service of white supremacy as the building blocks used to colonize first nation communities and communities of color and their lands.  It is knowing that women of color’s sexualities and genders are policed everyday (in different ways), whether they identify as queer or not. It is being able to hold the trauma and exploitation of transracial and transnational adoptees, as queer people who often think that transracial and transnational adoption is a valid route to parenting.  It is holding the power of building queer family and new models of parenting AND also challenging compulsory child bearing in a heteronormative culture.  It is knowing that race gets used strategically to divide us all the time as queer people.  That ableism, capitalism and class get used to make us think that independence, freedom and consumer choice are more important than justice and liberation.

“Intersectionality” is a big fancy word for my life; for your life, for our lives.  It encompasses so much more than I could ever talk about in one talk.

Intersectionality is not just talking about the places you’re oppressed, but also the places where you have privilege.  Intersectionality is disabled white folks enacting their white entitlement through their disability identity.  It’s me having to choose between the POC caucus, the disability caucus, the API women’s caucus, or the adoptee caucus at the Creating Change in Detroit.  It’s thousands of LGBT and queer folks coming out for pride and 150 people coming out for Transgender Day of Remembrance…

So I would say the same thing to the queer able-bodied folks in the audience and the folks who benefit from able-bodied privilege (in many different ways):  how are you connecting your fight for queer liberation to challenging able-bodied supremacy?  How are you connecting your queerness to your able-bodied privilege?  How are you listening to queer disabled folks in your world, supporting them and practicing solidarity?  How are you actively noticing how ability, ableism and able-bodied supremacy play out in queer communities, student groups, organizations, and movements?


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14 responses to ““Intersectionality” is a Big Fancy Word for My Life

  1. As a queer disabled woman, I would love to know *how* to challenge, actively, white privilege among my communities. I know I’m not challenging it enough. But my liberal ethnocentric ‘issues’ mean I’m afraid to do anything, in case it’s wrong. Advice on *how* one challenges racism that’s unstated and difficult to recognise – as a white person – would be very much appreciated. I want not to oppress.

  2. John

    Speaking from a hetero, hard-of hearing, white male perspective, which is obviously different from your own, I have found a few useful ways to actively challenge white privilege in the communities that I am in.

    1) Listening to people of color, and supporting folks in their struggle against resisting the system of white supremacy.

    2) Understanding that we, as white people, are most likely going to “fuck up” for a lack of a better term. And that’s how we will learn, thats how we grow and how we can change to more actively hold ourselves and other white folk accountable for racist words and actions. Not that we should overtly say or act in a racist manner, but that when we do, owning up to it and moving from there.

    3) Checking ourselves, our communities, our spaces and organizations and making sure that if we are having anti-racist principles, we are holding ourselves accountable to them and furthering the cause of anti-racism and destroying white privilege.

    Lastly, I think part of it is not only finding such systems of oppression to be problematic and wrong; but for me it is about trying to envision a world in which those systems of oppression no longer exist. Ultimately to hold ourselves, our actions, and our dreams toward that vision, and that vision will change and grow more and become more complex as time goes on and we learn more.

    I know I have all the answers, but those are some of the main things I’ve found useful when thinking about how to go beyond thinking about dismantling white privilege, and actively confronting it.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this on your blog, Mia! I was at MBLGTACC and was hoping there might be a copy of your speech out there somewhere. It was absolutely awe-inspiring and completely necessary for the folks at this conference to hear. Thank you!


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  5. brilliantmindbrokenbody

    I have some ideas about why transnational adoptions would be problematic, but a couple of google searches isn’t turning up much. Can you point me to a good reference? I’d like to educate myself on this, and I apologize for requesting some 101 level education.


  6. revive

    amazing. inspiring. simultaneously taking on and dismantling each intersected oppressed structure is the only way.

    time to harmonize the diverse magnitudes of feminism and social justice. toward a world where we are honored and white supremacy doesn’t exist.

  7. Mia Mingus

    @briliantmindbrokenbody you might want to start with reading Outsiders Within: Writings on Transracial Adoption. it is a great anthology and has a mix of personal stories, political essays/articles.

  8. brilliantmindbrokenbody

    Thanks for the recommendation! I’ll add it to my list of things to read this summer.

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  11. Reblogged this on Gender and All of The Above and commented:
    According to Wikipedia, the definition of intersectionality is, “the idea that various biological, social, and cultural categories-including gender, race, class, and ethnicity- interact and contribute towards systematic social inequality.” Although wikipedia is not a “reliable” source and may not be as appreciated by the world of academia, I find it worth using for gender studies because of its easily-interpretable perspective.
    I’m really liking this blog post because it analyzes the intersectionality of queerness, gender, race, and ableism. When looking at an oppressed community such as the LBGTQ and how to confront issues, it is important that the ‘other identities’ are taken into account. Although I am not an individual of this community, I am now able to examine myself and see that I am not a grouping of single identities. I am a Black, Indian,Mexican, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis-female. I am a combination of various identities that intertwine with one another. There are definitely some privileges along with oppressed identities that I have myself, and that I never even considered to be one of the two. Heterosexuality and heteronormativity along with being able-bodied is a privilege in our society because of the ability to reap benefits that the LGBTQ disabled are not. This new perspective is so important when connecting my passing privileges along with the not-so-privileged parts of myself.
    The point that you make about challenging various forms of oppression is so crucial because in order to understand the queer community we have to also understand the people of color, the disabled, the men, the women, the non-genderconforming, etc. Only when we listen to these different types of people, are we able to do something about challenging the violence inflicted by these oppressive systems.
    Your definition of intersectionality is so significant because it allows us to look at gender studies in a different light. I am so accustomed to thinking of intersectionality as the conflation of issues as a person with different identities. I am so used to viewing it as “he is not just queer, he is a queer man of color” or just looking at the two discriminated identities. Intersectionality has always had a connotation of discrimination in my mind. The way you explain intersectionality as someone that is privileged yet oppressed at the same time, makes for a really important idea. This definition can help others to understand the term enough to challenge the social inequalities that they may be faced with in our society.

    Source: Wikipedia

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