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Experiencing the Intersections of Brown and Queer

Posted By Brian Medina | ze, hir, hirs, Thursday, March 14, 2019

Experiencing the Intersections of Brown and Queer

Brian Medina (ze/hir/hirs)

 

For many reading this, you are either personally or academically familiar with the concept of intersectionality. What many do not realize is that this term, coined by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, existed long before most of us may have heard or understood this now common concept.

 

Effectively, we are a mix of multiple overlapping identities, each distinct yet connected and often having profound ramifications toward our daily lives. When First Wave (liberal) feminism took shape in the late-1700s, writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft represented the wealthy white women of her day, speaking out about how she wants to work and go to school alongside men rather than stay at home and take care of children exclusively. While admirable, it negates the reality that for centuries in America, women of color had been working, yet not getting paid for work or having a choice in their labor – yes, I’m referring to slavery. Critics of liberal feminism often turn to the lack of representation embedded within. Even as recently as a couple of months ago, the Women’s March on Washington encountered internal division among its leaders who represent different identities (Israeli Jews vs Palestinian Muslims, Queer Women, Trans Women, and more).

 

In honor of Women’s History Month, do we highlight more than just the white, well-known women in our history books? Do we exalt women of color, trans women, queer women, and women from many other countries and cultures the same way that we praise the white women who have ‘made it’ in our society? I would challenge you to work with your staff to exemplify a more intersectional approach, not just to Women’s History Month, but to the many other commemorations throughout the year.

 

I was fortunate in my undergraduate education to have taken a class on Feminist Thought. While we started with Mary Wollstonecraft, we absolutely delved into more radical feminists (Shulamith Firestone!) and then on to bell hooks, my favorite of all. bell hooks wrote Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, a pivotal work in 1984 and just as relevant today. Her text readily outlines the links between race, class, and gender in provocative terms yet relatable to the everyday feminist. 

 

When going about your day, how often do you stop to think about how your multiple identities play out with your interactions, decisions, and relationships? Does the fact that you are a professional of color with a white man as your boss or their boss make a difference? Have you attempted to support your students of different religious traditions, only to be told that ‘we cannot recognize everyone’s faith,’ despite the fact that Winter Break always allows for Christians to celebrate Christmas? When exploring initiatives like Gender Inclusive Housing, are you presumed to be the expert because you identify within the LGBTQIA community? When making tough decisions about staffing, accountability, or saying no, are you criticized because ‘women are supposed to be nice?’ Or even worse, are you stereotyped as the ‘angry black woman’ or ‘spicy Latina,’ just because you have a question or a concern? 

 

The reality is that the many isms of our world readily impact our work, even within Student Life. If you thought that somehow Higher Education was ‘better than that,’ then unfortunately, I have to burst your bubble. We are a reflection of the best AND the worst among us. I’m not trying to bring you down into despair, but I do ask that you reach out to those with identities other than yourself and ask about their lived experience, should they be willing to share. Before that, make sure that you do your own homework a bit – while your friends may not say it, they’re getting tired of being the black or gay or Muslim token to explain the world to everyone, so the more you read and understand ahead of time, the better.

 

I’ve already referenced Crenshaw’s and hooks’ work, but here are a few more resources for you to get started before asking your colleague to explain it all to you:

 

Smithsonian Video: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/what-intersectionality-video-breaks-down-basics-180964665/

NY Times Article: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/30/us/the-effect-of-intersectionality-in-the-workplace.html

Washington Post Article by Crenshaw: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/in-theory/wp/2015/09/24/why-intersectionality-cant-wait/?utm_term=.115e841715b3

Intersectionality Reading List: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/cy/node/7576

 

Okay. So back to my being queer and brown… my situation is messy, as many of our lives are. I am bi-racial (Mexican and white), but can pass as white. I am queer and genderqueer, but can readily pass as a straight man, especially since I have a married partner who identifies as female. In many ways, I have the privilege to share this story with you because of my visible identities. On the other hand, I have been readily discriminated against for not being able to fit into a clean box, and for causing problems or asking questions about our presumptions around identity, something many white, straight men in power aren’t interested in exploring. It calls into question the very fabric of their reality and of why they received their power to begin with. 

 

While I can sympathize with those well-meaning white guys who are making an effort to help with the struggle, they will never understand the fear I have felt when purposefully targeted and harassed due to my race or gender or sexuality. Being told that I do not ‘fit’ into a workplace can be as much about my identities as it is about my teamwork or leadership. Being asked why I wore my hair in braids, often wrapped in a do-rag, may be just a question to some, but it can also be rooted in the ignorance about how important hair and hairstyles are for many cultures. Over the summer, I tend to get a tan much quicker than my white staff members. When coming back from a beach trip this past summer, I was repeatedly cajoled for ‘being dark’ and faux-jealousy about ‘why can’t I be that brown?’ Yes, my own staff said this to me… and it was not ok.

 

There are countless examples within the workplace and beyond where intersecting identities shines the spotlight and glare upon you unnecessarily. Perhaps a few of you are willing to post or share with a friend. Maybe you can read literature or attend webinars and workshops to better understand from experts in your midst. Many of us are willing to share, on our own terms, so long as you are listening respectfully and empowering our voices along the way.

 

While I make no pretense that it will be easy, we have to push and fight the struggle in our workplaces and lives to make a more socially just world. It certainly isn’t going to be given to us by our government, businesses, or higher education structures; it will require enormous solidarity and effort, but worth the sacrifice in the end.

 

Tags:  brown  feminism  intersectionality  queer  women's history month 

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