Roundtable: Intersectionality, Part 2

This post continues on from the previous Intersectionality discussion. As always, this discussion is broken up into multiple pages for ease of reading. If you’d like to read it all on a single page, select ‘View All’ from the drop down menu above. If you don’t see the drop down menu, please click here.

Karen Joy Fowler

When I think about identity with respect to myself I get some slippage   Some attributes are assigned to me from the outside, some from the inside, some I choose for myself, some I can’t escape.  Some feel empowering and some diminishing and mostly the same ones do both.  Some matter more to me inside certain books than others do, although the others may matter more when the books change.  Different books call out different parts of me.  I guess that’s operational intersectionality.

Parts of my identity are in flux.  Most obviously, my age.  I’ve begun to notice that when I dream at night I’m always younger than I now am.  I’ve read that some people in nursing homes, when asked to produce a photo of themselves, will offer something from a younger age.  They don’t think the way they look now, the age they are now, is an accurate reflection of who they are.  Apparently my dream-mind believes that as well.  But since I’ve been both, I can write and read as a younger and an older woman, neither harder to do than the other.

My race is not changing nor my sex nor the class of my upbringing.  But I know from conversations with other women that I am not alone in having done my early reading, all those boy adventure stories, with no awareness of myself as an outsider to the text because I responded with the part of me that wanted to be an adventurer.  I would guess that I read those in the same way a boy would, although I can’t know for sure, and that my girl-reading came on me later when I finally read a book that called it out.  Even now I can watch a movie and identify the exact moment in which I understand it wasn’t made for me, but on another day in another mood a movie that functions in a similar manner will pass on through without me noticing.  My boy-reading mind is still there, intact and functional.

I wonder if people of color have a similar reading experience or not.  I wonder if white men do.

I feel that my reading identity is vastly larger than my writing one, but am not sure exactly what I’m saying when I say that.  Probably something suspect and specious

Rachel Swirsky

I wonder if people of color have a similar reading experience or not. I wonder if white men do.

Where that sort of thing intersects with sociologically minority identities, I’ve always thought that was an aspect of double consciousness –

Karen Joy Fowler

Du Bois’ double consciousness is a negative thing, an impediment to true consciousness.  If this is the reading experience for the sociologically minority reader, then it’s not similar to mine, which has its positive aspects.  My subjective experience is one of understanding my own thinking better by contrast and also getting to see something about how someone else thinks, even if what (we’ll say he) he is thinking about is me.  The gaze goes both ways and I am prepared to be as judgmental as I feel is necessary.

But I do know, as a child, I wished I were a boy on many occasions.  So clearly I did adopt something of the outsider’s view of myself for several years.

I think double consciousness must have a tricky relationship to intersectionality; again, because the first seems like a problem to be overcome in pursuit of wholeness and self-determination.   I don’t think of intersectionality that same way although it, too, involves double (and triple, etc) consciousness.

N. K. Jemisin

I realize this is your reading of Du Bois, not your own opinion, but I should state that this is one of several points on which I disagree with him, with the strongest possible vehemence.  Please keep in mind that Du Bois’ views reflect a degree of unquestioned internalized racism, sexism, and his own class-privileged background; many of his own peers disagreed with him, and in my opinion time has proven him wrong on a number of points. This is one of them.

Let me point out that in modern developmental and learning theory, most psychosocial models progress from the authoritarian/single-viewpoint toward the multiplistic.  That is, as people grow (usually older and) more complex in their thinking, they tend to develop the ability to comprehend multiple viewpoints and digest often-contradictory information.  Eventually they develop a sense of relativism that allows them to sift among the contradictions, making their own judgments based on personal experience and empathy as well as the facts on the ground. That this is a skill oppressed people have to develop, while people of more privileged backgrounds may do so if they choose or are exposed to enough complex information, is a feature, not a bug, of life as a member of a minority.  It is not a problem to be overcome, except in the eyes of assimilationists or zealots.

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