Intersectionality 101 for anarchists

By guest blogger Marly Pierre-Louis

Recently, I co-facilitated a workshop on intersectionality at Joe’s Garage which is a squatter/non-commercial space in Oost. The crowd was about 99% white, mostly students, and considering where it was being held, I would venture to guess most of them would identify as anarchists, radical or progressive. 

Here’s the thing with white, anarchist/radical women: you can’t tell them shit. Surprisingly, most of them understood that they benefited from white privilege. However, many of them thought their gender oppression somehow cancelled out their white privilege. I read this article on racial innocence and it really resonated with what I experienced at that workshop. The women wanted to be congratulated for their political awareness and moral rightness. When it came to discussing intersectionality, they seemed to be more interested in keeping intact the radical identity they had carefully crafted for themselves. 

This one woman started talking about hitch hiking. Hitch hiking in Europe is kind of a thing. I’ve talked to more than one woman who has said that she hitchhikes on a regular; within a city, between cities and between countries throughout Europe. The woman at the workshop started by talking about how great hitch hiking is. How it’s the best way to travel, how much you can learn, etc. She said that as a woman, she’s often discouraged from doing it by those who think it’s too dangerous. She’s been told that she’ll end up dead or raped. I tried to use her comment as a way to demonstrate intersectionality. I told her that hitch hiking was a privilege, that as a Black woman I would never consider hitchhiking because it would be unsafe. And, that if I were gender non-conforming it would be even more dangerous. After trying to interrupt me several times, she said that she faced the same danger as I did but that she decided that she would “fight for my rights” and do it anyway. I didn’t have the time or space to respond to her. 

What I wish I had been able to say to her is that intersectionality is what happens when the chips are stacked against you. That as a woman hitch hiking she is indeed at risk for gender-based violence but that as a Black woman I’m doubly at risk. What she, and I think most of the women there did not understand was white woman privilege. Patriarchy has always wanted to protect white women. They are considered vulnerable, weak and worthy of safety and protection. This courtesy has never been offered to Black women. We’ve always been beasts; unable to feel emotional, mental nor physical pain. A white woman hitch hiking may face danger but will also encounter people who think she deserves protection and kindness. Would a Black woman receive the same? How about a Black transgender woman? I think not.

Marly Pierre-Louis is a writer, activist and community cultivator currently cycling through the rain in Amsterdam. She is interested in the intersections of race, gender and urban spaces. You can find her at marlyatlarge.com.

Marly Pierre-Louis

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3 responses to “Intersectionality 101 for anarchists

  1. patrichiatry is colorless , white woman are also raped and being victim of incest, we should be sisters in the struggle against patriachy,racisme and capitalisme, with anarcha-feministic greetings, hope together in the fight

  2. Hi Marly,

    I can understand that it is pretty frustrating when trying to confront people with the extent of their privilege. It is painful. One of the worst things that privileged people often unquestionably believe is that the privilege they enjoy is innate to all people, it’s just that ‘other’ people are lazier, less gifted, or less courageous than the privileged person etc. It’s like hey I can do it, why can’t you do it too? For instance, to give a simple example.people born into upper classes, may sneer at another person from a less privileged background for their lack of motivation in learning different languages, totally taking for granted that their elite education gave them that benefit and skill. You can also see how clearly this works in activism too. Like your article illustrates.

    As an empowered woman of colour you tell the truth about your experience. Yet you know, I just can’t buy white men protect white women line. I know this is just one of the things you said, and it wasn’t what you were saying but still… The statistics also speak pretty loudly on this, white men do not protect white women. Coming myself from a very violent and destructive Irish catholic background, I have tasted more than my own fair share of femocide. The worst and unspeakable acts of violence were committed against me by those who were bound by law to protect me, and then there was no one and nothing to protect me. Even though a very small number of men, some of them white men, later in life have supported me, usually the ‘type’ white man or any other colour man for that matter has not. Many white men in my life when they have not been involved in perpetuating domestic, sexual violence, and sexual harassment on the street, and in the work place either by active participation or failing to intervene, they have sided with the aggressors and pathologised me to make the violence enacted upon my child, girl, woman’s body my fault, my illness, my problem. It is by and large other women who have protected and empowered me when I choose to heal and empower myself .

    The cluster fuck of environmental factors,socio, economic and developmental are also very important in the way we understand intersectionality. Perhaps if you are a middle class, educated black woman with a stable home, you have some privilege that I can’t enjoy as a working class Irish immigrant who is vagrant.

    My father for instance did not think girls should have an education. Okay admittedly I have overcome that to a large degree. And I can see that one of the reasons why I was able to overcome this is definitely because of the privilege the colour of my skin and my nationality. But I see it first and foremost as a benefit of those who struggled before me. And in this case those people were mostly other women. Without people standing up for others like me I wouldn’t be even able to write this now.

    I am sorry over enthusiastic white woman trying to promote hitch hiking kept talking over you. It’s BS that she hasn’t learned to listen If I can think of the benefit of intersectionality though is that we learn to listen to each others stories, to understand a more nuanced reality and to come to terms with how oppression really works. But I do not believe the purpose of this way of looking at things is to entrap us all into clearly defined categories. I hear you when you say, you are more at danger when you hitch hike because of the colour of your skin, because of the completely unacceptable institutionalised denigration, dehumanization of black women.. It is true, and women of colour are more in danger of stranger rape by white men, than white women. Other groups of people who. because of their histories, and other environmental factors that have brought about a disadvantage, also face higher risk. But let us not forget that for all groups its the ones closest to us that do us the worst damage. Domestic violence is still the predominant form of violence committed against women, in every group, everywhere across the board, in every class.

    The squat and anarchist scene in Amsterdam has a lot of people with many privileges involved in it. Among many other things,’the scene’ is a place in this culture where the elite rich kids go to slum it for a while before they take up their traditional place of power in the society. But because these privileged people with access to elite power also participate in it, it has meant that the counter culture also found permanent fixtures in the society and built environment. It would definitely be worthwhile for more women of colour to educate & make alliances in order change the way people think and act in this group. Take over!

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