In Defense of Intersectionality

So you know how every time I say that mass immigration is not the bee’s knees, somebody brings up that I’m an immigrant and that I seem to be enjoying it a lot? Because obviously there can’t possibly be any difference between the immigration experience of a hyper-educated, multilingual, academically gifted person who emigrates for fun and the experience of somebody who is forced to migrate because of gang violence and poverty?

Noticing this difference is what in my job is called “intersectional analysis.” The term has gotten a bad rap because a bunch of Shakesville-type bloggers made it sound completely stupid but it refers to a useful skill.

When you are talking about “people of color,” do you mean people like Michelle Obama or the woman of color who cleans her toilets? By “women,” do you mean women like Ivanka Trump or like the sweet old lady we all saw on TV whose neighborhood was destroyed by looters leaving her with no grocery store for miles around?

Normal people don’t need to make a special effort to see these differences but academics really do. As all teachers, we have a strong narcissistic component and tend to see everything in terms of ourselves, our lives, our friends, and our experiences. It’s very useful to be able to step away from this unhealthy self-centeredness.

As an example, I’m quoting in my book a pair of academics who gush that the transformation of Central America into one huge borderland “opens up possibilities for reimagining our categories and creating new paradigms.” That there are people whose lives are being devastated by this process isn’t even noticed because, hey, there’s a reimagining of categories going on, step aside, you dumb proles.

Against this type of typically academic cluelessness an intersectional analysis is very helpful.

The reason I’m writing this is that my book on intersectional feminism and transnationalism will come out later this year and I don’t want people to dismiss it out of hand because the title sounds icky. Yes, it does sound icky. But the argument itself is actually good.