For as long as there has existed a ‘lower class’, a ‘lesser gender’, a ‘sub-species’, a ‘deformity of the mind’, there’s been division within society. These partitions are central to any attempt at structuring power or delegating agency between peoples. Without them, power would be constantly challenged, even overthrown.
So it comes as a surprise to me when the benefactors of these divisions — those whose notions of identity and existence are on the ‘right’ side of them — are oblivious to their presence. They are surprised, even deeply wounded, at the very suggestion that the divisions exist.
In our current global climate, minorities and oppressed communities are branded as being ‘divisive’ when attention is drawn to the void which exists between those with power and those without. This allegation stands firmly on the understanding that our ‘unified strength’ against a common enemy will bring about the change we so passionately fight for.
This isn’t wholly incorrect. But it is often forgotten that the terms by which we define ‘strength’ and ‘unity’ impact the efficacy and suitability of our actions. Often when the case is made that our strength lies in unity, the assumption is that all parties are to unify with the majority, that ‘all our differences should be put aside’ and those of lesser power should fight for equality in a way that those in power see fit.
This is inherently problematic, and when disenfranchised communities denounce this approach as the perpetuation of the current status-quo feigning as revolution, they are, again, said to be ‘divisive’ and to be actively impeding progress.
It’s rarely the people who see me as an ‘angry-black-non-patriotic-millennial-SJW’ woman who’s ‘anti-free speech’ and ‘preaches political correctness’ that accuse me of being divisive. Rather it is my well-intentioned ‘allies’, the self-proclaimed ‘intersectional’ feminists who preach of our ‘unified strength’.
In my experience as a young queer black woman, I encounter this reaction, more often than not, from black men, the extended LGBTQIA+ community, and white women — i.e. from communities that already experience forms of discrimination and are my nearest potential allies.
Of course, this doesn’t relinquish blame from those who occupy positions of power. But it’s worth noting the dichotomy of maintaining certain structures of power (those that benefit us individually) while seeking to dismantle others.
“If we fight for women’s rights but neglect everything that makes ‘womanhood’ diverse and dynamic, then what we get is ‘white supremacy — but now, with gender parity’.”
The ‘divisive’ argument creates a hierarchy of ‘whose oppression is most important’ and thus ‘whose rights should we fight for first’. If we fight for black lives but don’t include women and queer lives and the dynamism of black existence, then what results is a black capitalist patriarchy. Nothing changes except for the colours of the faces in power.
Likewise, if we fight for women’s rights but neglect everything that makes ‘womanhood’ diverse and dynamic, then what we get is ‘white supremacy — but now, with gender parity’. That doesn’t help anybody but white women. To pretend it does is to maintain the illusion that we are the same, that there is no division, that we are now equals.
Frankly, it’s disheartening and exhausting when everything that shapes your identity is ‘divisive’, when your very existence is ‘divisive’; when your needs must always come second to a ‘greater agenda’. Learning to navigate this terrain on both sides of the divide could be the saving grace in cultivating our unified strength.
I certainly don’t have the answers, but as a starting point, I pose a potentially ‘divisive’ approach: that any push for social justice should be led by and accessible to those on the lowest rungs of society. For the hierarchy to be tipped on its head so that the needs of the most marginalised are met first. The unified strength we idolise stems from an understanding that by ‘putting aside our differences’ we are robbing ourselves of truly dynamic revolutionary change.
I leave you with a thought from Audre Lorde: ‘Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black. There is no hierarchy of oppression.’