A beginner’s guide to intersectional feminism

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/01/31/a-beginners-guide-to-inters.html


I posted some comments about white Democrats not supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, on Facebook and was met with a lot of white people getting very defensive. I was trying to explain that we all need to support each other, because we all have one common threat to us: the Republicans. It didn’t go down very well.
Many blacks didn’t vote in the election, yet no one wants to ask why, or discuss it. It is my fear that many blacks are closeted Republicans and/or vote Independent. Either way, the Dems are losing votes and elections. Unless black people are heard, and their concerns met, the country will continue to break apart.


I read the article; there wasn’t any anti-intellectual, hate-filled, racist stuff in it. Rather, I found it very informative. Especially the linked bit talking about some of the disadvantages that white cis males may face.

I’m still learning what it means to be an ally, but so far I think the first step is just listening to understand. There are tons of conversations happening daily (I like r/twoxchromosomes, or Jezebel) and a little bit of perspective goes a long way.


Or, and here me out, maybe try a more nuanced approached rather than a verbal fire brand, as “…benefit from systemic racism whether or not they actively contribute to perpetuating it, and they perpetuate it in ways that are invisible to them because they’ve never had to think about it.” isn’t really the definition of a racist, is it?

“Racist - a person who shows or feels discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or who believes that a particular race is superior to another.”

No, not really.

I guess in the most broad terms, if everyone has biases which leads to discrimination, even unconscious ones, then everyone is a racist. But even if one concedes that people are inherently biased, especially about different races and ethnicity, even unconsciously (partly because our brains work that way), and that the system is not only set up with racial inequality, but the PEOPLE in the system are enforcing/working it to be racist - they are still going to have a hard time wearing a scarlet R around their neck.

I get the point that one might want to shock people into looking at themselves in a way they aren’t used to. But the reality is most people won’t do that. In some ways it dilutes the whole concept because they think, “Pft, she called me a racist, but clearly I am not, so I have to wonder if any of their arguments hold water at all?” You fired that photon torpedo and now shields are up. (I guess that is White fragility, though I am not sure leading with the term “racists” is a “minimum amount of racial stress”.)

Clearly one can agree there are different levels of racism, from tattooed skin heads filled with hate, to ignorant people with bad hygiene and Confederate flag shirts, to someone who has some racists views but not fanatical about it, to people who have a sort of casual racism they aren’t even aware of. But when one brands someone a racist they tend to see that label toward the skinhead or red neck level, not someone with less evident biases, and then when they apply that to themselves they don’t see that at all - and still wonder why they were called that.

Technically correct won’t always get you the results you want.

Think about other issues not quite so charged - like a friend of yours being rude lately and putting on some weight. Would you approach them asking why they are a “fat asshole” lately? Well, maybe you would if you’re really good friends. But if you were a doctor or therapist or any other “stranger” like that, you wouldn’t use that blunt of language, even if it was true.

Now reading the article, I am clearly guilty of “Tone policing”. But at the same time I think my point has merit, because the reactions I have described I think are fairly common. Here again I think context is super important. Towards the end is this statement " if asking nicely not to be oppressed actually worked, we would have zero oppression right now." I think this is very true with some people. But not necessarily with all people.

If you have a group more or less diametrically opposed to your cause, then no amount of diplomacy is going to really help you change minds. But if you have groups who are potential allies, or like 70% of the way already there, wouldn’t it behoove you to use an approach that doesn’t alienate them to the cause? I realize you shouldn’t have to baby talk them into listening and being empathetic, but at the same time people ARE fragile, especially when it comes to challenging the images of themselves in their heads.

But I am just a racist gimp, so, you know, what do I know.


I used to get so angry because #notallmen. This was such a hard lesson for me to learn, but necessary.


Can we at least all agree that there is a more academic use of “racist” (participating in or benefiting from a system of oppression and privilege based on culturally specific ideas of race) and a more conversational use of “racist” (someone who subscribes to racial bigotry or prejudice)?

Often, when people say or think, “I’m not racist!” they are thinking of the second meaning. And they’re often right.

Often, when people say or think, “You’re racist!” they are thinking of the first meaning. And they’re often right.


(gif animation of THIS!)

I grew up with white special snowflakes. Our preciousness was only exposed around poc workers or randomly encountered poc outside our county or outside our neighborhood.

I grew up, also, around male resentment, which was constant and oppressive given that women exist most everywhere men do. The homophobia of that culture is hooked into that as well, as if gay men and women were traitors to the male necessity to dominate and be cranky and resentful about it.

One thing that saved me was learning to keep my mouth shut when friends and family would say bigoted things. It saved me from falling too often into the trap of dominating the conversation around women or poc when these issues came up.

The only thing required of me is to listen, and when called on to speak, talk about my own experience. I like to speculate and talk shit as much as anyone, but there’s no need to get all donald about it.


For an movment so sensitive to language, the current linguistic couching of intersectionality is incredibly tone deaf. It’s an effective framing for people who already agree with your points, but is extremely divisive and alienating to people on the fence or trying to learn more about the topic.

This constant dismissal of people’s opinions or feelings as being “derails” is rhetorically bankrupt and only serves to anger well-meaning people trying their best to be sympathetic to new ways of thinking.

Even this piece, which I think it supposed to be inclusive already assumes so many things about the reader. The flippant dismissal of conversations like #notallmen or the concept of a good ally/bad ally does not further the cause.

I think we need to approach this discussion with more context otherwise people will become defensive immediately and any progress in the conversation will come to a grinding halt.


Looks like this post was flagged. I think the tone was aggressive, but I don’t think we should block it. Surely it’s better to keep it and respond to the points the poster was making. I don’t think this is a derail. We have to resist the urge to block out people who challenge our opinions. This conversation can’t move forward if we don’t engage people.

Text from the blocked post:
As someone who marched in the Women’s Walk, I have never had an interaction with someone who identifies as an “Intersectional Feminist” who wasn’t racist.

When I see “Intersectional Feminist” I just see the words “Racist Feminist”.

I have seen anti-education, condescending, hate-filled speech come from Intersectionals. As a “feminist” to a lot of the “intersectionals” … stop pretending you’re not racist. We see through your obfuscated wording to dance around your positioning. If you have to set up ground rules on what words can be said and if it even possible to be racist to another race because you are a certain race, then you are already misleading and lying.

Be a feminist, be someone who fights for racial inequality, but STOP sullying real feminists with your “intersectional” BS.

I see how that’s inflammatory, but shouldn’t we counter those points rather than just trying to block that person out? If you keep someone out of the conversation, you’re just going to create more enemies rather than changing opinions.


I feel like there is a problem with having the academic definition as a definition of racism. For people familiar with the academic term, they can differentiate between the two meaning based on context. However, I get the feeling that a large majority of the population is not aware of of the academic definition. Because of this, whenever someone uses the academic term and calls someone racist, a majority of people will see it as the casual definition, take offense, and not listen to what the person has to say.

If you use the academic term, you will only reach other people who are familiar with it, and thats essentially preaching to the choir.

If the goal is to reach all people, regardless of their political / economic standing, I don’t think it’s going to work. If a different term was used, I feel like there would be a much higher acceptance rate, and people would find that a big portion of the populous agrees with them regarding both racism built into society and inividuals discriminating based on race.

Am I missing the point?


Welcome to the BoingBoing BBS. As you’ll find out, shitposts of inflammatory garbage get old.


If you’re missing the point, then I guess I am, too. Because I think I agree with you.


I don’t think it’s unique to BoingBoing. Welcome to the internet. I guess that’s the issue with boards where new people come and go. You’ve re-hashed the same arguments, so the topic seems old. New people are always coming in and trying to make sense of what seems passe to you. The world is a big place, it’s exhausting but blocking people out is only going to make enemies.


Maybe a less inflammatory word than racist could be used? It has so much baggage. Doesn’t seem fair that we’d use the same word for an active KKK member as we would for a well-meaning but inarticulate suburban mom who accidentally looses a microaggression about ethnic food.

Insensitive? Myopic? Something that doesn’t cause the person to become defensive after a percieved insult.


it’s exhausting but blocking people out is only going to make enemies.

When someone rolls in with an attitude of already being an enemy of the community, loaded for bear with maximal whatabouts, you get nowhere. Reddit allows a certain amount of raiding and fuckery, but individual reddits have some self-policing.

This is one community. We don’t have to work around r/thedonald. The owners are happy with that. You may prefer a lower common denominator, but you also have a ridiculous plethora of options.


Those were some good reads, thanks. The examples were good little snapshots of how even if you’re doing OK in one area, you can still make a mistake in another. And, it’s not making a mistake that’s the problem, it’s how you react once you’re informed.

I’m adding here, because the thread is now locked, may not be unlocked ever, and there was a direct question to me down below:

if one’s called out repeatedly for low-order mistakes, one may decide that the best way of “surviving in intersectional feminist spaces” is to steer clear of them.

You now understand what life has been like for women. (And, for people of color, LBGTQ people, etc.) Now you’ll know never to ask “why didn’t she stand up for herself in that school/job/department instead of leaving?” Other people are allowed to interact in the world with the dominant group (in the U.S., that would be white cis hetero Christian males) but only if they follow all the rules exactly and never say or do anything out of line. Yes. Doesn’t feel good to have the shoe on the other foot, does it?


I don’t agree, but I wonder why this needed to be flagged.


That’s as may be, but if one’s called out repeatedly for low-order mistakes, one may decide that the best way of “surviving in intersectional feminist spaces” is to steer clear of them.


if one is a self-centered ass, who likes the smell of their own brand best, Indeed.