Social Movements

Why is our politics of resistance not intersectional?

Oliur Sun | Published: 00:00, Sep 26,2019


WE BLUR the background; defocus with utmost indifference the context that constitutes the foreground with our obsession to focus – select a locus of struggle, to cast darkness over interlocking systems of oppression trying to shed light upon a single experiential oppression pertinent only to us. By calling for emancipation from a single axis of oppression what other axes of oppression are we subjecting the multiply disadvantaged to – turning our backs to multiple systems of oppression with a fixation for singularity vis-à-vis selectiveness? As we try to locate our sight of struggle, we narrow down the scope of our struggle in accordance with the experiences seemingly relevant to us. But what about the struggles which are seemingly irrelevant because our quest for relevance itself is conditioned by the limitation of our conception of us and others? What happens to those whose difficulties are denied as too alien to understand and distinctiveness is masked beneath violent generalisation as they fall outside the purview of ‘our’ struggle to survive? Have we not seen cisgender heterosexual Bengali educated middle class mostly men brandishing hegemonic masculinity in duty and discourse marching against communalism, imperialism and what not?

By making the struggle — a struggle of a particular group through a negative selection process damages the political struggle that seeks to bring about radical change, an overturning of systems of power. The political struggle is then directed to a single system of power to fight against while the collective experience of oppression is always shaped by multiple systems. To not take into account and fight against all the sights of struggle simultaneously — religion, race class, gender, sexual orientation, state and so on leads to a divisive identity politics or strictly group-based politics with limited occasional solidarity extended to ‘other’ groups without owning their struggles consequently generates a culture of political tribalism — tribalism in terms of both group and territory. For example, while university students struggle against corruption and control, the territorial nature of the struggle cannot extend itself beyond the walls of the university unless it is acknowledged and materialised in praxis that the outer-university spaces and people are also conditioned and controlled by the systems of power that generate corruption and the university is not beyond these systems despite of the relative autonomy granted to it. Therefore, to fight corruption the fight needs to be directed towards the systems that corrupt. The group-oriented struggle as university students, garment workers, unionists, socialists, communists, anarchists, indigenous people, feminists, queers despite of the occasional inter-group solidarity caters to a divisive identity politics — identity based on a class, gender, race, ethnicity or ideology which spares the systems of power from a larger and stronger collective resistance. As Audre Lorde illustrates the consequence of such group-based, single ideology-centric struggle in the context of feminist movements that ignore other systems of oppression like racism by struggling only against patriarchy, ‘You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you; we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs on the reasons they are dying.’

The absence of such a collective vis-à-vis intersectional resistance is particularly felt by the multiply disadvantaged or marginalised people whose experience is shaped by the intersection of multiple forms of discrimination — the intersectional experience.

With the overwhelming number of state sponsored abduction, crossfires, at a time when free speech is curbed in the name of digital security while hate speech is played on loudspeaker, the celebration of majoritarianism in the name of democracy, the desperation of the youth to be a part of the status quo — without an intersectional politics resistance falls short of antagonism against oppressive systems.

Because a culture of political tribalism benefits the powerful who can easily divide and rule feeding on the differences, endorsing and even owning less threatening struggles thwarting struggles that endanger the powerful. Our partisan left politics operates on a similar culture of differences disparaging non-partisan activism, skeptical about feminism and queer activism, sometimes catering islmaophobia, imbued with bureaucracy, compartmentalising theory and praxis and immersed in a grave ‘ideological’ ignorance. Their messianic attitude is a claim to be the sole representative of anti-discriminatory politics while in the mainstream Bengali dominated left parties indigenous, women and queer leaders are largely underrepresented one of the reasons being the approach to anti-discrimination often does not consider the possibility of convergence of multiple discriminatory systems on a subject. The representative class of leaders are often singularly disadvantaged creating a problematic that Kimberle Crenshaw illustrates as in the context of an employment system,

The refusal to allow a multiply-disadvantaged class to represent others who may be singularly-disadvantaged defeats efforts to restructure the distribution of opportunity and limits remedial relief to minor adjustments within an established hierarchy. Consequently, ‘bottom-up’ approaches, those which combine all discriminatees in order to challenge an entire employment system, are foreclosed by the limited view of the wrong and the narrow scope of the available remedy.

This refusal satisfies the power matrix that systematically marginalises the multiply disadvantaged subject.

However, the constitution of any subject under multiple systems of power that render subjectivity becomes an intersectional composition. And just as the marginalised are multiply disadvantaged facing intersectional discrimination, the privileged also experience intersectional privileges. Therefore, it is imperative to create a politics of resistance that addresses the human vis-à-vis non-human subject as an intersection of many systems (of power and social semiology) that constitute the subject and envision struggles in simultaneity against multiple systems of power.

We have experienced the Quota reformation movement which only targeted the discriminatory process of employment in the civil service without addressing the equally (or even more in many respect) discriminatory economic system that create unemployment faced by not only the educated youth of middle and lower middle class but by everyone. As a result, the movement sojourns as a movement for inclusion in the status quo rather than persisting as an envisagement of subversion of the status quo itself.

Our politics of resistance in which the definition of we would not just be incorporative of but would be an articulation of ownership of even the others – othered by class, racial, religious, gender and sexual stereotypes calls for a concretisation of this imagination in praxis. And to have a chance to effectively fight against all systems of oppression and not marginalise the marginalised even further by catering to a divisive identity politics demands a radical rethinking of the existing politics of resistance that constitutes the political imagination of the oppressed, marginalised and dehumanised. To have that chance we need to realise, relive in empathy and consequently live the precarious lives lived by those living on the margins, in the trenches so we never forget that our struggle is endless. In Audre Lorde’s word,

And true, unless one lives and loves in the trenches it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanization is ceaseless.


Oliur Sun is a non-philosopher.

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