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Can Intersectionality Harm the Discussion?

Updated on January 24, 2016

Don't hijack the discussion for the sake of inclusion.

Intersectionality is a feminist concept that tries to see how different oppressed groups and issues are interconnected and how they affect each other. The more we connect with each other to see how we can help each other improve our situations is one way that we can achieve the best society we can possibly achieve for future generations to then even further improve upon.

However, the problem with this isn’t the concept but rather how it’s executed. It’s all about how it’s framed. Confusing the general audience by presenting unknown concepts such as intersectionality can harm the results of the discussion. Having that kind of discussion can confuse the general audience that is unaware of the concept.

Why is the general audience so important? They are the majority. Without the general audience you’re preaching to the choir and you’re basically wasting time and resources. What’s the point in holding a discussion if it doesn’t lead to the broader audience listening and learning from it? So catering any discussion to the general audience is essential to the success of a discussion and the possible results the discussion can produced.

It is unreasonable to expect the general audience to follow every issue and see how they intersect. The general audience really doesn’t dig that deep into every issue. It’s not their fault, that’s just their level of interest. They could be interested in other topics that you may not be literate on. So you must treat every discussion as if you’re talking to people who are completely new to the topic at hand.

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Let’s say we’re having a discussion about Black victims of Police Brutality. With intersectionality we should also try to include other groups of people who are also affected by Police Brutality. The problem is Police Brutality is a broad issue and affects every group in different ways. So although it may be inclusive to talk about other groups who are affected by Police Brutality, you’re actually hijacking the conversation.

We’re at the lecture and we’ve finished talking about how Police Brutality affects black people. The lecturer goes to questions and someone in the audience is trying to have a conversation about how Asian transwomen are being affected by Police Brutality. To you, and possibly others who understand the issues and how they intersect, it may seem like a logical direction to go to. However, most of the general audience attending the lecture has no idea where you’re going and they’re completely turned off from the discussion.

The general audience came to the discussion expecting a discussion on how Black people are affected by Police Brutality because everything about the discussion in it’s promotion and title was framed to focus specifically on how black people in particular were affected by police brutality. All of the thought provoking information and concepts originally discussed in the lecture is now hindered from the change in direction.

If the audience member asked a question more closely related to the topic, then it would have been a thoughtful addition to the discussion. Say the audience member instead asked about black LGBT members lack of representation in Police Brutality cases, that is a logical addition to the conversation however, that does not then mean that because that topic has come up that we can then talk about other groups affected by the issue, that’s hijacking the discussion.

Essentially, intersectionality may sound like a good way to add to a discussion, however, in practice it can actually hinder a discussion and come off as a way to derail the original issue. You may be trying to include or up lift another demographic in addition to the original demographic being discussed, however in doing so you could actually be hurting both by confusing the general audience and delegitimizing the discussion by coming off as unfocused, incoherent, and/or mindlessly babbling about random social issues.

So to put things into perspective for the example, when we frame a discussion for a specific demographic we should focus on that demographic alone. Asian LGBT victims should not be included included in the Black Police Brutality discussion. Why? The Asian history and culture surrounding Asian Police Brutality is completely different from what surrounds Black Police Brutality.

Black LGBT victims should be included in the Black Police Brutality discussion. Why? Black LGBT victims are part of the original group being discussed, so including them is a consistent, logical addition that includes without confusing or hijacking the original issue.

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How should we have conversations on intersectionality?

Piece by piece. Make the intersection the focus, don’t plop an intersection in the middle of a road or veer to another intersection out of no where. Tell the audience ahead of time the route you’re taking and the destination. This way they understand what you’re talking about and how those roads come together and affect each other.

Instead of including a group into a lecture dealing with a different group you want to intersect, you should develop a concise narrative of how they intersect and then produce a separate discussion about it for a different time. This way the same audience in the original conversation have time to process the original information, so when they come to your new lecture they have an understanding of the previous group and can now come to your discussion more informed and can see the logical link between them.

Another option would be to first present the discussions of each group separately so the audience can learn about those groups in-depth independently of each other so when you then develop the discussion about how they intersect everyone is on the same page and no discussion is being hijacked. Both groups are developing the narrative together.

To put it simple, Police Brutality is too broad of an issue to include everyone in one discussion. Every demographic experiences every issue differently. Every demographic has their own unique history, culture and experience that we can not present and in a concise forum without the forum being either too lengthy, confusing, or not presenting enough information because the information is too dense to shorten.

In my previous example we were talking about Black Police Brutality. If someone wanted to talk about the intersection of Colonialism in developing countries. You could make the argument that the power paradigm is similar and they lack access to entities and institutions that can help them. However, that is too far removed from American Police Brutality. They may intersect but those are Macro issues that are far too complex to intersect without understanding both issues independently of each other first. If you create separate discussions and frame it to be about Colonialism and American Police Brutality independent of each other and then create a lecture that talks about how they intersect, your target audience will have a better understanding of the direction you’re going.

Keep it focused and concise. If you do have an intersection you’d like to discuss, don’t hijack the original discussion to do so. Create your own forum and focus on that intersection by itself.

With that said… Let’s get intersectional…

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