On Intersectionality & Privilege: Part 1

Everyone is writing about “intersectionality” and “privilege” lately. And I have stuff to say.

Actually, I have too much stuff to say, so I’m splitting this up into:

  • Separating between the “personal” and “political”. An overview, and why “intersectionality” and “privilege” kinda suck. That’s Part 1.
  • Purely political theory: why intersectionality is not all that useful, how we could make it so, but it still probably won’t be useful. That’s Part 2.
  • Purely political theory: why “privilege” kinda sucks as a concept too and why “power” is much better. That’s Part 3.
  • The Personal side of “intersectionality & privilege”. Why we have “stuff” around these concepts. That’s Part 4.
  • The Really Personal side of “intersectionality & privilege”. How to acknowledge your privilege from the heart. That’s Part 5.

Separating between the “personal” and “political”

The concept of separating between the “personal” and the “political” took me over a year to accept.

I’m telling you this because when you read about it, you are most likely to hate it, disagree with it and send it to kingdom come.

Entirely understandable. I probably reacted in the same way.

I am yet to find one person who hears about this and goes “wow, that makes sense”. We have huge resistance to this idea.

And if it wasn’t because it saved my mind, I would not feel so strongly about sharing it with the world.

Because separating between the “personal” and “political” has been the only way for me to remain a feminist and embrace the woo woo stuff that allowed me to heal my pain.

So. This is BIG stuff we’re talking about here.

Why “intersectionality” is problematic

Here’s the thing. “Intersectionality” is problematic because it doesn’t sit well in either the “personal” or “political”.
Every single person in the world will be “oppressed” in some way or other. Everyone has “something”. Even Bill Gates has wrinkles.

So the whole “intersectionality” and “acknowledging your privilege” thing can backfire if people don’t know the actual political framework. It’s entirely possible to turn “intersectionality” into a laundry list of “how hard I have it”, and indeed many people do.

The issue is that… well… we all have it “hard” (this is the “personal” aspect). And unless we are using very clear political language, and talking about huge groups of people suffering in very clear circumstances, talking about “hardship” is going to be taken as a “personal thing”.

It’s not that oppression doesn’t exist… It totally does. It’s just that people are oppressed as “groups”, not as “individuals”.

I know, I know, it sounds paradoxical.

We cannot say that “all people of colour are oppressed” because “Obama and Oprah”. And we can’t say “I am oppressed because I’m a person of colour” because, yeah, someone is bound to chime in “but Obama and Oprah!”.

And yet, if we say “statistically speaking, people of colour are more likely to be poor, to be sent to prison, to be stopped and searched” etc, we are making a factual statement that can be easily proven with statistics.

And if someone dares to chime in with “But OBAMA” we can calmly say to them “we are not talking about Obama, we are talking about the vast majority of people of colour in this country”. Or whatever the statement happens to be.

Here’s the problem with “intersectionality”: when you list all the “interlocking oppressions” for a person, you end up with a unique list for that person. Which means, that person is uniquely oppressed in their own way.

Do you see why this can end up causing problems?

It’s a similar thing with “privilege”. When you list all the “privileges”, you end up with a very particular person, privileged in their own particular way.

And when we are talking about one person, we are no longer in “political” territory… we are in the “personal”.

So, to take me as an example:

True, I’m oppressed because I’m “non-conventionally white”… then again I’m privileged because I’m educated…
But then I’m oppressed because I’m “sensitive” and have “mental issues”… but I’m privileged because I’m smart… yeah, but I’m oppressed because I’m poor…

See? Most people will be able to come up with a similar list, with both oppressions and privileges.

And because intersectionality requires us to acknowledge all of them… we are permanently stuck in a balancing act. We can’t be “more oppressed than most”, because “who am I to be so oppressed, when there are people who X, Y and Z?”… We can say we are “more privileged than most”, but I personally feel people are being insincere, pretending to be humble when they aren’t…

So we’re stuck with “I’m oppressed and privileged in equal amounts”… And the end to that train of thought is… “like everyone else in the planet”.

If nothing else, this list keeps us stuck in an ego rollercoaster: “I have it worse than most! Wait, I have it better than most. No, worse than most, I say! But better! ARGH!!!”.

This leaves the door open to all sorts of issues. Depending on where people are emotionally, they may feel they are “oppressed” or “privileged”.

And a lot of people feel so crappy with themselves that they have to conclude that they have no privilege at all.

This happens oh so often… And not all the calls to “check your privilege” will get them to acknowledge positive aspects of their lives.


Here’s the thing: none of this matters. The whole “acknowledging how oppressed I am” or “acknowledging how privileged you are” is all an intellectual exercise, when we are doing it on the “personal” level.
Meaning, it takes place in the mind.

And for it to work, it has to take place in the heart.

Yes, I am going to go all woo woo. But not now. Now, we are going to talk politics…


Big Disclaimer to End all Disclaimers!!!

I am publishing this stuff because I believe it will help people.

If it doesn’t help you, makes you angry, has you throwing furniture at the wall and tripping over your cat, then please drop it. Drop all these ideas. Seriously, if tthey don’t help you, they are not doing their job. And your wellbeing is more important than any political theory.

This writing is very much a first “draft”.

It would take me a long, long time to write down all my ideas on these topics, then rewrite them, then edit them… and I have a life to live and a business to run. Also, it’s sunny outside.

These material would need a book to be explained fully and I don’t have time right now to write a book.

(But if you want happen to have one of them fancy “6 figure book deals” everyone talks about and you want to offer it to me, that would be lovely)

Point is: these ideas are not “polished” and not finished.

So if you don’t understand them, that’s ok. They took me a long time to absorb, I wouldn’t expect anyone to understand what the heck I’m on about in such short time.

If you disagree with me completely, then that’s ok too.

Again, you have full permission to disagree with me. I give you full permission to say “Mary is wrong!”. It’s no big deal. And again, if they don’t help you, just drop them.

I am practicing non-attachment to my ideas. So if people don’t find this stuff useful, I may just remove it.

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