The Value of Identity

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The identity of a minority person lives in a space that essentially creates it into a currency. The usage of this currency varies from the goal of the person or group who ‘spends’ — or, really, exploits — the identity of a minority. The topic of the goal can range from selecting certain negative attributes and stereotypes of a minority group and using it to uphold their own confirmation bias to just making gains in different areas, whether that be a social field or a political field, or, in some cases, fields of activism and social justice.

Even people in power who seek to help can still change and twist how minority identities are perceived to fulfill their agenda, and it leaves very little room for the voices of minorities to be perceived and heard. What does not change though is that the usage and exploitation of minority identities is mostly done by white people and groups in power whose lives have been so ingrained with the benefits that come with being in power that most of them don’t even realize it, and that by continuing this practice of ill utilization, institutional and systematic racism still continues to prevail today in our society.

In Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color, Kimberlé Crenshaw writes about the two worlds that women of color occupy because of their identities: racism and sexism.

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It would make sense, you would think, for one to wish to advocate for both, but, as Crenshaw and readers of her work has realized, it is very much one-or-the-other, meaning that people are choosing between racism or sexism when it comes to advocating for women of color, as if these two identities they are using for their different causes cannot go together. Crenshaw also writes about intersectionality, which she defines as “the various ways in which race and gender interact to shape the multiple dimensions” of the lives of minority people, or more specifically in her case, Black women.

For the duration of this paper, I will be focusing on Crenshaw’s words and the implications of political intersectionality, and how the school of thought this form of intersectionality seeks to address continues to let white people and groups in power view minority group identities as mean to an ends, instead of exploring and solving the many problems that come with them and realizing how multi-faceted they really are.

There are many different forms that intersectionality can come in. Representational intersectionality is defined as “the presence of multiple stereotypes in cultural presentations like music and films that affects individuals for whom two or more negative stereotypes are applicable.” By adhering to harmful stereotypes that dictate how minority groups are represented in media, content creators are only enforcing them onto the minority groups as part of their identity, which can than be manipulated by others who wish for this misrepresentation to stay.

By projecting these stereotypes, it does not allow for content consumers to separate the minority identity from the identity that is unwillingly given to them through these negative stereotypes, and thus further prevents the issue of how racism and sexism are not two mutually exclusive problems.

Crenshaw tackles representational intersectionality by addressing how sexism still heavily affects Black women and the Black community overall. She makes it clear that by ignoring the significance of either area of concern — racism or sexism — makes it difficult for either to be solved in the first place, as well as how this can have a negative impact on how Black women are represented in the media if only one is given specific attention over the other, despite how often they intersect in the lives of not only Black women but other minorities.

There is also structural intersectionality. Structural intersectionality “refers to how the social systems in which we live or the social categories to which we belong intersect, to oppress us or at times influence our experiences in life.” This is when people in power take that currency — the identity of minority groups — and put it towards their own advantage in order to rise above these minorities.

Crenshaw writes about the cases of battered women of color are not met and received with the same level of attention and care that women who are racially privileged might receive. For example, a white battered woman from the United States of America would not have to worry about being turned away from a shelter because she cannot speak English, nor would she have to worry about seeking help in the first place because, as a United States citizen, she would not have to worry immigration marriage fraud provisions for immigrants. This extra, added layer of racism and xenophobia is not something that women have to experience, and the structure of their everyday lives is just about built around how they do not have to experience this and end up — knowingly or unknowingly — benefiting from this.

Finally, there is political intersectionality. Political intersectionality refers to the silencing of individuals at the intersection of various social categories from expressing their views.

Crenshaw writes about how “women of color are situated within at least two subordinated groups that frequently pursue conflicting political agendas.” This prevents people from considering that things like racism and sexism can go hand-in-hand for women of color, and how that plays a combined, integral role in their identity outside of the one they are assigned by white people.

On the topic of political intersectionality, Crensaw also says:

“Among the most troubling political consequences of the failure of antiracist and feminist discourses to address the intersections of race and gender is the fact that, to the extent they can forward the interest of “people of color” and “women,” respectively, one analysis often implicitly denies the validity of the other. The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failure of antiracism to interrogate patriarchy means that antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women.

I chose to focus on political intersectionality because of the problem that it often gets immediately swept up in the wave of political activism and social justice, and I also believe that people with the best of intentions often do not acknowledge this because of an overall lack of awareness, which means they are getting in the way of their own efforts to make a change.

Another reason why I was compelled to write about political intersectionality was because of the concept of exploring identity as a whole:

  • Black (minority group) women (also another minority group)

I also could not really believe how people were willing to separate these two issues even though you cannot really hope to solve one without solving the other, and the idea that activist groups, even within these minority groups themselves, would be willing to put one over the other and prevent others from advocating for both was something I had not considered before:

  • Racism
  • Sexism

And you really can’t solve one without the other. Politics based upon the concept of identity can give these minority groups power, instead of having it being taken away form then when white people and groups control the narrative for them. By separating the two identities — gender and race — they end up taking away power from themselves — especially Black women — and so the end up being marginalized in both groups. Black women — or any woman from a minority group — should not have to choose between these struggles that they face.

In order to solve this inherent issue within our society, there needs to be more race education. There needs to be a drive for more empathy, and not just minority groups at a face-value but also the people that make up these groups, like women and sexual assault survivors, who have to deal with this double-standard of oppression every single day. There needs to be more spaces created and laws made to protect them because of the disadvantages they face regarding their race and gender, and there definitely needs to be more room for white people and groups to actually listen to these minority groups in order to solve this problem of suing their identity as a currency.

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