A decolonial critique of intersectionality

Background

Many progressive groups and academics carry the narrative of intersectionality in their work and activism. Intersectionality calls for the recognition of multiple forms of oppression and exploitation and the need for solidarity. These are ideas that should be supported by everybody. So where does the need come from to criticize the concept of intersectionality from a decolonial perspective?

The international decolonial movement consists of a pluriversity of opinions, networks and organizations. This movement is rooted in the experience of colonized people. Many theoreticians in the decolonial movement are developing a critique of the foundations of Western knowledge both in its liberal variant – Liberalism – as well in its critical alternatives such as Marxism and Feminism.

These theoreticians are rooted in decolonial social movements. The critique of the concept of intersectionality came because of confrontations between decolonial activists in different parts of the world and proponents of intersectionality. Decolonial activists who are taking part in the struggle to decolonize the world have been criticized for being patriarchal and homophobic because of their strategy of building broad alliances in the struggle against racism and islamophobia. Frequently, these are not friendly discussions between comrades but very often end up in sharp confrontations. As Ramon Grosfoguel once said: intersectionality has created a passport for good and bad activism. A decolonial activist has to meet a set of criteria. You should actively support gay rights, animal rights, anti-semitism, anti-patriarchy, veganism etc. If you don’t – not because you are against it, but because it is not your priority – then you are a bad activist. Moreover, the passport is for decolonial activist, not for the established organizations such as the left wing parties or the trade unions.

These experiences has led us to take a closer look at the concept of intersectionality.

The propositions

There is a huge literature on intersectionality. I will focus on the concept as developed by its founder Kimberlé Crenshaw, a civil rights advocate in the USA. She introduced the concept in 1989. I will first bring together the quotes that expresses the main propositions of the theory.

First is a visualization of the concept of intersection: “Intersectionality is what occurs when a woman from a minority group . . . tries to navigate the main crossing in the city. . . . The main highway is “racism road.” One cross street can be Colonialism, then Patriarchy Street. . . . She has to deal not only with one form of oppression but with all forms, those named as road signs, which link together to make a double, a triple, multiple, a many layered blanket of oppression.” (Crenshaw cited in Yuval-Davis, N. 2009, p. 47-48).