What is Identity Politics? What is Intersectionality? What is Queer Politics?
Angela Rose Myers
Today, Feminism, as a political movement globally, has shifted to take account of the least advantaged women under the Imperialist White Supremacist Heteropatriarchy. Feminism is now better understood in conversations of Feminisms. The conceptual and linguistic benefits of noting Feminisms allows for these different contexts while also tying them together as Feminist Praxis. The theory of intersectionality that has been created by Kimberlé Crenshaw to address Black women’s oppression under the American political and legal system. Yet, the word and original meaning have been extrapolated from and broadened to address multiple contexts. Unfortunately, terms coming from Black women scholars like Identity Politics, intersectionality, and Critical Race Theory, have also been misconstrued and weaponized by many conservatives and the ignorant, changing and even diminishing the phrase’s meaning and the scholarship’s importance.
In Crenshaw, 1989, we see Crenshaw naming the marginalization of Black Women in an American Legal context, but also she creates the liberty to apply the broader theory to the political work of marginalized identities as understood as an intersectional praxis fostered to raise a particular identity consciousness unique to those folks experiences. This work does not diminish either Identity politics or Intersectionality, but rather builds on and grows their definitions. Crenshaw uses intersectional theory to that expand how we think about discrimination beyond “subordination as disadvantage occurring along a single categorical axis” (Crenshaw, 1989). This mirrors Cohan’s (1997) argument in the seminal article, “ Punks, Bulldaggers, Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics,” as Cohan envisions how activists and radicals build a politic that is not based on “homogenized identity.”
Identity politics is a concept that emerged from the Combahee River Collective (1977) that prioritized the centering of identity in radical political change. The women of the collective saw their identities as intertwined with their oppression, and also, thus, the crux of the political vantage point needed to dismantle their oppression. Identities of being women, queer, and racialized, all impacted how they view themselves, their politics, and constructed their lens of what liberation looks like.
Like those of the Combahee River Collective, queer activists have articulated and crafted political agendas rooted in their visions for their future in the world. Something that struck me in the book “Transgender History,” by Susan Stryker is the intentional crafted language that has been formed alongside the internet. Language can craft reality, and words have power. In the last decade, the internet has become a place for learning, liberation, and community. The author points to the asterisk * explicitly in the linking of the growth of queer language and technology, but also many acronyms have found their popularity and use on the internet. Activism as well has grown tremendously on the internet as many folks digitally organize. The current queer political agenda as well as mutual aid organizing, and things like it, are tied to the internet. To construct a language is to validate a reality and perpetuate a reality and build a future, where one’s existence is vocal and present, not silent or erased. This is political in nature as policies and laws can be constructed using this language to further humanize and protect all marginalized groups and in this context LGBTQQIA folks.
In “Patriarchy, The System: An It, Not a He, a Them, or an Us.” (Johnson, 2014) The main argument made in the first paragraph is that the ‘Patriarchy,’ is not a man, nor ‘men,’ but overall a system of oppression and social organizing. Johnson discusses social behavior within the patriarchal system as shaped by paths of the least resistance. To be ‘safe’ in society means abiding by the perimeters of the social contract created by society. How one presents themselves, how they walk, how they talk, all can impact the safety through which they navigate the world. Those who have the privilege of choosing to present themselves as ‘deviant,’ do so because they are able to and still feel a sense of ‘protection,’ by society. Ultimately, how individuals negotiate the hegemonic system of the Patriarchy is not uniform, it is a relationship predicated on privilege and a person’s viewpoint of reality. Patriarchy also changes over time. At times, allowing presentations of self to become normalized without ultimately challenging the very foundations of the Patriarchy. As we work to dismantle patriarchal systems and gain ‘wins,’ we have to be wary of what is a win for assimilation, that doesn’t challenge the Patriarchy, but rather marks a power shift, and what is a win in dismantling hegemonic norms. Cohan shows an avenue to dismantle patriarchy through queer politics that is rooted in the ‘possibility of change, movement, redefinition, and subversive performance.” Yet, Cohan also further pushes Queer activists to go further in their activism to incorporate intersectional lenses in challenging the queer/heterosexual dichotomy inherent in their work. Queerness looks, feels, and is different for folks who experience oppression differently under the patriarchy. Race, class, gender, all create a different context for different queer communities.
The foundations of Queer theory and Black Feminist theory also create a position for which we can center our activism. Myopic views, one dimensional activism, and self-centering can’t sustain a movement that will build or achieve a radical future that will support and center Black Queer folk. Black Queer Activism requires an acknowledgment and dismantling of all forms of racist, sexist, classist, homophobic oppression, known and unknown. As such, it pushes us to evaluate all wins, reorient, and become more radical in demands and actions to reach for larger and more ambitious goals.