Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Intersectional Identities


A picture so another great big blog full of text doesn't scare readers away. This is a piece of textile I've been working on to use a sample piece in classes. A combination of patchwork, stencil and hand sewed running stitch. Its entirely made from used clothes and textiles so it has a nice soft feel and a faded look. The round holes are where I cut out circular motifs from another stenciled piece to applique onto the piece to the left.




I finished Ijeoma Oluo’ “So you want to talk about racism” a few days ago and found it very insightful for building on what was learned from “White Fragility”. I’ve been going back re-listening to many chapters and making notes on my thoughts.

In this blog I'll talk about Chapter 5. Over the next week or 2 I'll talk about my thoughts and reactions to other chapters. Another thing that really intrigued me was how Oluo calls Pacific Islanders "Asians". This really astounded me because as a 60 year old dual citizen of NZ/Aus we have occasionally been prompted by politicians to think our nations as part of Asia. But never have I heard someone just lump us in with Philippinos, Japanese, Tongans, Chinese, Koreans, Hawaiians, Samoans and more. I've always thought of Pacific Islanders as Polynesians and Melanesians and quite distinct from Chinese, Koreans and many other nationalities Oluo named. She doesn't clarify if she would include Maori and indigenous Australians as Asians but the chapter does seem to imply she would. However....I'm pretty sure she wouldn't think of me as an Asian! though my european ancestors lived in the Pacific for 125years +, I was born a 4th generation NZer and many in my family married Maori and had children.....anyway chapter 14 is a discussion for another day....

Of the 17 chapters in the book I found #5 – What is intersectionality and why do it need it? – the most challenging to get my head around. After 6 listenings I hope to be getting it right, through strangely in retrospect this should have been the one concept most easy for me to relate to personally. I hope to try to clarify it here as even Oluo acknowledges it is little known and often misunderstood but she regards it as a foundational to her work towards social justice.

Here is the Wikipedia link for Intersectionality

Essentially I understand intersectionality as the contention that every individual lives in several overlapping identities and that when engaging with others or addressing an issue that person can be operating from more than one or multiple of their identifications at once. Oluo urges social justice advocates to keep this in mind when engaging with others because it can lead to misunderstandings of various scale developing. For example – imagine two people talking about what is “white privilege” but 1 person is male, black, 30 years old, has a prison record, is currently unemployed and is poor, talking to a white female, 50 years old, college education with a high paying job who has never been unemployed. I’ve outlined a very stark hypothetical so it jumps out how the disparity in life experience means each individual cannot help but form very different world views and understandings of how the world operates.

Another discussion Oluo spends time clarifying in several chapters that neatly overlaps with what I read in White Fragility is why BIPOC will either withdraw or refuse to get engaged in discussions where they feel unheard, mocked/ridiculed, dismissed, take up too much of their time and energy or recognise as coming from the challengers default white privilege.

Here, I’m acknowledging that is what I’ve done in the last few weeks with my blogging and ignorant expectation that I deserved to be addressed. Now I’m understanding why the various people I’ve called on – Emily Ito, Aja Barber and Makiko Hastings – won’t talk to me. My approach to challenging the assertion that using the description kimono for a sewing pattern was an unacceptable cultural appropriation was found to be offensively aggressive. I think they might have felt an interaction would give me unwarranted recognition for a view that didn’t have any credibility in the way they see things.

I now get the point that there won’t be any acknowledgment or discussion and are no longer perplexed why they won’t say anything and understand there is no point in continuing to ask them to say something. They are not listening and don’t care and I wholly get it. If I had been able to approach my queries with more subtlety and open mindedness perhaps the situation wouldn’t have become so distressing. I am sorry Makiko Hastings.

As an Aspergers person that my way of saying things, viewing the world and asking questions can be irritating and offensive to neurotypicals (NTs) is quite a familiar place for me. By saying this I don’t want people to interpret it as an emotive manipulation to try to exculpate my offensiveness or make the pretence that my cognitive dissonance gives me a special license to be rudely oblivious. Its everybodys obligation to educate ourselves about civility, respectful interaction, social mores and expectations. Aspergers might merit me maybe a few more inches of rope than NTs, but not a lot more. I will do better in the future about applying way more mindfulness in the way I ask about things.

What NTs experience as my “confrontational” attitude has been a problem all my life. My very first school report said I had to learn to play more with the other kids. So even at 5 years old Mrs Brown my teacher picked up behavior she perceived as insular and anti social. Throughout my entire school life I had no interest in making friends or playing. Every lunch time spent reading the library was the best part of school. I learned to spell deoxyribonucleic acid when I was 11 and knew the 4 components of DNA.

I have been disliked, bullied and kicked out of every workplace I’ve been in because of my pedantic, obsessive and (perceived) aggressive attitudes. People either dislike me or hate me, at best I get indifference. In 1983 I was evicted from the most permissive alternative lifestyle community in New Zealand by 60 adults chanting “fuck off, fuck off” at the top of their lungs. They couldn’t stand having me there any longer after 2 years though I’d given a baby I wasn’t able to mother to a couple in their community to adopt as their own. I also have the dubious infamy of being sacked from working in 2 brothels, so unfriendly has my behavior been perceived. I didn’t take drugs or fall asleep on the job, I just preferred reading newspapers and books rather than talking to the other workers.

What I believe is trying to live with integrity by educating myself about things is often perceived by NTs to be snobbery, self righteousness, aggressiveness and anti social behaviour.

This is describing the main intersectional identity I have to negotiate getting through the world with every day. Life isn’t easy or a bed of roses for anybody so this is not a claim for special privileges but just hoping for some empathy for mistakes made.

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