“Gay is the new black.” “Gay rights is the next civil rights struggle.” I hear phrases like that a lot. And it’s really upsetting.
Calling the queer rights movement the “new” black or civil rights struggle completely erases the fact that racism still exists—you can’t have a “new” civil rights struggle because we’re still trying to eradicate racial oppression with the “old” civil rights struggle. This sort of mentality assumes that oppressive systems like racism are no longer problems. Additionally, these sorts of statements alienate and erase the experiences of folks who identify both as queer and as a person of color.
There are queer women, there are trans*folks of color, there are undocumented queer folks—there are a significant number of individuals who exist at the intersections of multiple marginalized identities. So why do we strip these movements down and ignore the multiplicity of identities within our own groups?
Here’s a buzz word that floats around a lot: intersectionality.
Intersectionality is the term used to address the way identity and, thusly, identity politics overlap and are inseparable. For example, my queerness is in no way separate from my race and gender identity because those are the things that comprise my total identity. And since I’m a person of color, a cis-woman and queer, I face systemic discrimination on those fronts. Intersectionality posits that different oppressive systems (like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc) function simultaneously rather than affecting an individual or community one at a time. So a non-binary person of color, for instance, is not affected separately by gender discrimination and racism, but experiences a combined oppression because of the way oppressive systems interact. Critical race theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality theory,” and explains it through the metaphor of a literal intersection: men of color and white women are both negatively affected by racism and sexism respectively. Men of color are run over by the racism cars at the intersection, while white women are run over by the sexism cars. So, women of color at the intersection? Yes, they get hit by cars too—but is the car that hit them a racism car or a sexism car? Or is it a combination of the two? Crenshaw’s point is that it’s difficult to separate the effects of racist oppression from sexist oppression against someone who experiences both racism and sexism.
I believe one key step in seeking equality is to ensure that the queer movement addresses intersectional issues. Recognizing that there are members within our movement who experience systemic oppression on account of other parts of their identities is the first step; creating alliances and coalitions is the second. We can’t claim to support our community and fight for equality if we aren’t also fighting against racism, sexism, ableism, classism, and other systems of oppression. We can’t provide safe spaces for our community if we’re not actively working to end all forms of systemic oppression.
So go to that immigration rights rally. Learn about decolonization and how racism functions today. Attend that Take Back the Night event. Think about which goals within the queer movement can help to deconstruct larger oppressive structures and work on those. It is imperative that we recognize oppression in various forms within communities around us and ally ourselves with other marginalized groups, not just because there’s power in numbers, but because those struggles are our struggles too.
Mehera is a queer Indian-American cis-woman who would like to smash the kyriarchy with a hammer. She is a recent college graduate originally from the western coast of the US and is currently living abroad in Shanghai. Aside from trying to deconstruct oppressive systems, Mehera also enjoys baking, roller derby, micro-korgs and ukuleles, and cat memes.