Why Intersectionality Matters

Laurie and Debbie say:

There’s so much interesting going on that it took us half an hour to pick a topic! In the end, we couldn’t resist this brilliant post from Tara at Fatshionista, “A Different Kind of Rant: People of Color and the Fat Acceptance Movement.”

We blogged last month about “intersectionality” the new (and unfortunately clunky) word in political circles. “Intersectionality,” in case you haven’t run into the word, refers to the areas in which people (most of us) are members of more than one marginalized group: transgender people of color, fat women, and disabled gay people being three possible examples.

Tara, as a fat woman of color, takes the predominantly white fat acceptance movement thoroughly to task for some of its tropes, and some of its assumptions. You should absolutely read the whole entry, and here are some choice excerpts:

I literally could not tell my own story as a person without intersectionality. Having found myself on the cusp of and entrenched in a number of different identity categories, (for disclosure, those would be: biracial (half-Taiwanese/Chinese, half-white/Jewish), queer, raised by mixed-class parents (but mostly middle class), high femme, cisgendered, able-bodied, and fat) I have never truly found a “home” in any single-politic movement.

A number of folks responded to my post about POC in the FA movement with a question about why it was necessary to bring race or any other non-fat-related identity or experience into the picture. For that, I have several responses:

1. Because it’s not just me whose experience of fat is shaped by my other identities. You may not know it, but every single one of your identities (whether that be white, poor, disabled, upper-class, transgender, etc.) changes the way the world experiences you, and thus affects the way you experience the world. If any one of those identities were change overnight, I would bet my last dollar that your experience of fat would be different.

2. Because even if you can’t possibly imagine how something like race could change a person’s experience of fat, it behooves you to listen other people in the movement who can bring to the table a different perspective on how fatphobia affects them. And when you think about it, how could it be a *bad* thing to widen your own personal analysis of fatphobia?

3. Because if we really want to advance fat acceptance, we should know that historically, single-issue causes haven’t ever managed to capture the full breadth of how and why and when and where and on whom oppression works, and therefore could never be completely successful in the long term. If we are truly interested in working towards a just and equitable society, eliminating just one oppression at a time isn’t going to work.

4. Because we want our movement to be as strong as it can be, and we should realize that in order to attract more people to support our cause, we’re going to have to make the case for why fat acceptance should matter to them, and having an analysis on how their identity fits into that picture is a really effective way of making that case.

*standing ovation from Debbie and Laurie*

The piece has already gotten a lot of commentary, at Racialicious, at Shapely Prose, and from our regular commenter Stef.

Aside from making a lot of sense, Tara has the kind of control of tone that gets thoughtful people thinking. Although she is drawing some clueless colorblind commentary, she’s also getting a lot of support for her position. She knows how to write in ways that connect more than they polarize, and that’s at least as valuable as it is rare.

We are not only delighted with Tara, we’re also delighted to see how intersectionality is transforming identity politics (a phrase that generally means black people do political action with black people, fat people do political action with fat people, etc.) Identity politics flourishes and is useful when identities have been suppressed. Historically identity politics built the base for most of the present-day social change movements, but its effectiveness diminishes with its success. Identity movements have more recently been working with allies: people who aren’t members of the group in question but who care about that group’s concerns.

Intersectionality feels to us like the next step : identity politics cut political energy up into small separate pieces; ally work started looking at fitting those pieces together; and intersectionality is the quilt. So, let’s close with one more quotation from Tara:

It is absolutely essential that the fat acceptance movement incorporate intersectionality at the front and center of its analysis and strategy, because otherwise, the FA movement will be bereft of being able to see the big picture of oppression, how it works, and all the ways that we need to be fighting it. In turn, other social justice movement will probably never “get” us, and be bereft of a key puzzle piece in the analyses of oppression. And on an individual level, people like me who hold multiple identities close to their hearts will probably never find a “home” in any one social justice movement.

This is why it matters.

4 thoughts on “Why Intersectionality Matters

  1. Tara, the author of those posts, here. Thanks for the shout out!

    One correction: intersectionality as a theory, practice, and phrase is actually not new at all. It came from black feminism, which sprung out of civil rights and feminist movements in the ’60s and ’70s, neither of which fully addressed the concerns of black and other WOC feminists.

    Kimberle Crenshaw Williams coined the term “Intersectionality Theory,” and Patricia Hill Collins popularized it with her works on black feminism in the ’90s.

    I highly recommend that folks read up on both of them for more background information on how the concept and term came to be.

  2. Also, one more point of clarification — I wrote one essay called “A Different Kind of Fat Rant: People of Color and the Fat Acceptance Movement” (the original post that started the discussion, linked at the top), but what you’ve quoted is from my second post on the topic, “Why Intersectionality Matters.”

  3. Tara,

    Thanks for the information about the history of intersectionality. I’ll be doing the reading. Is there a particular book or essay you recommend?

    Title is changed. We used the previous one because we mistakenly thought it was the title of your post.

    Again, it’s a really good piece.

  4. I’d recommend:

    Patricia Hill Collins’ _Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment_ and _Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism_

    Kimberle Crenshaw Williamss’ “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6., pp. 1241-1299.

    There’s also a great anthology/textbook called _Race, Class, and Gender_ that explores these topics.

    Happy reading!

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