Intersectionality and Suppressing Conversation

Normally, I wouldn’t write a whole post about a bit of unsolicited advice on Twitter, but I’ve been thinking about this for a few days still, so here you go.

A few days ago, there was a very good article in the Guardian about racism in romance novels and the romance novel community. A small part of that highlighted a letter written to the author of a romance novel with black characters from a white romance author which read, basically, “I didn’t realize that black people fell in love; I thought it was all just sex.”

If your reaction to that is “WTF” then you’re not alone. An author I respect a lot had the same reaction, and I replied noting that the same thing has happened with gay romances:

A couple people responded and there was a discussion; the author engaged as well. One of the replies I got, though, suggested that I shouldn’t have jumped into her thread:

I really think that this suggestion was made in good faith, so please don’t go target the poster. I haven’t responded yet because I wanted to get some thoughts in order here before I do.

So the thing about this is–and again, I don’t believe that the person meant it this way–this echoes a tactic that the majority often uses to keep disadvantaged groups from gaining more power. “Yes,” they say, “racism is a problem and homophobia is a problem, but they are separate problems. Let’s not discuss them together.”

Certainly there are aspects of any marginalization that are unique. But the reason the people in power want to keep those discussions separate is that if these different groups shared their experiences, saw what they had in common, and developed empathy for each other, they would start to embrace each other’s causes. And minorities are a majority in this country. It serves the people in power better to have this group think themselves separate from this other group, neither of them interested in helping this third group.

“Intersectionality” is a term initially coined to talk about the problems women of color faced–different from white women or men of color, but related to both. It’s expanded a bit to mean any way in which the problems of disadvantaged groups overlap. Of course gay men should fight against racism because some gay men are black, right? But also, we should fight against racism because it’s wrong, and we should empathize with it because we get demonized as well. Not in the same way nor to the same extent in many areas, but enough that we should be able to empathize with people of color, women, non-Christian people, trans and non-binary people, disabled people, and any other groups pushed to the fringes. We should be able to share our stories.

Of course there are boundaries, right? Don’t jump in and make every conversation about you. But I personally will always be open to any disadvantaged people sharing their experiences and I will always want to further the conversation about how we can help all of us, not just some of us. As with anyone, there will be problems you can relate to and problems you can’t, but that doesn’t mean you can’t listen and empathize. And if someone’s having an in-depth discussion of how to handle a specific problem, use your judgment about whether your experiences are applicable or appropriate to share.

But when someone’s just literally going “WTF,” I think it’s okay to share your own “WTF” stories. And for the record, if I’m discussing homophobia or any other issues, feel free to jump in and talk about your own experiences. I want to know what everyone else is going through.

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