Sometimes, Intersectionality Means You STFU

Intersectionality means that you can be a person with privilege and a person who is oppressed all at the same time. It means sometimes it’s your issue and sometimes it’s not. This can be difficult to grasp.

I see conversations like this all the time:

Person from Marginalized Group A: Thank you for joining this conversation about the struggle of Group A in society. It’s tough. I appreciate that we can talk in this space. Here are some things to know about Group A’s experiences . . . Here are some personal stories . . .Here is some more information about Group A . . . This is all vitally importan—

Person from Marginalized Group B: Yeah, but what about Group B? We’re oppressed, too.

A Person: Oh, yes, absolutely, it’s just that right now in this space—

B Person: Everything you said also applies to Group B. It’s so important for Group B. 

A Person: Yes, yes, I understand, but—

B Person: I mean, this is exactly the problem for Group B . . . Here are Group B’s issues . . . Here are some of my personal stories . . .

A Person: Yes, thank you for sharing, but really this conversation is about—

B Person: Are you saying you don’t care about Group B? This is the problem! Group B . . . Group B . . . More personal stories . . .

You get the point. This happens so much and it makes me want to scream. I get it, but it still makes me want to scream.

The fact is that if we’re going to be good allies to each other, we have to be good allies to each other. We have to wear our many intersectional hats. While our identities can never be separated, the roles we play sometimes should be.

Sometimes, I’m in the space as a black woman and I’m talking about issues relating to people of color or women or specifically black women. And I don’t need to have vital discussion of those issues derailed by white people or men or other women of color. If that is my space for discussion, then I get to have that space.

Likewise, there are times when trans folks or queer folks or disabled folks, or any identity/identities that don’t include me, is conducting vital discussion in a space. And as an ally, it’s my job to put on my ally hat and shut my beautiful intersectional mouth. I listen, I learn, and I only speak up to signal boost. I don’t bring up my issues because that conversation isn’t about or for me. My intersectionality tells me to STFU.

Does that mean I never get to speak? No. I get my space. And if one of my identities gets mentioned in this other space in a way that seems less than aware, I can certainly offer correction. But I do that later. I do that in a separate conversation. Because I recognize the importance of respecting the focus of the discussion, the purpose of the space at that moment. I realize that space isn’t about or for me, and I respect the space by not seeking to derail the conversation with my own concerns.

This is difficult, I know. We all want to be front and center. We all want our issues to receive primary attention. But if we’re all scrambling for the spotlight, then no one will get seen or heard. We have to share the space. We have to enact our primary school lessons and take turns. I respect your space, secure in the knowledge that when it’s time, you will respect mine.

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“Silence” by Giulia van Pelt via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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5 comments

  1. melissaicd · March 16, 2016

    Reblogged this on MiscEtcetera v2.

    Like

  2. Amandasita · March 16, 2016

    I literally experienced this at a conference last week. Thanks for the observations. They are absolutely important and I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one feeling some type of way.

    Like

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