For as long as there existed a “lower-class”, a “lesser gender”, a “sub-species”, a “deformity of the mind”, there’s always been division within our society. These partitions are central to any attempt at structuring power or delegating varying degrees of agency between peoples; without this, power would be constantly questioned, challenged or even overthrown.
So it comes as a surprise to me when the benefactors of these divisions – those whose notions of identity and existence are cemented in being on the ‘right’ side of these divisions – are oblivious to the presence of these chasms; to the extent of being surprised, or even deeply wounded at the very suggestion. 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 more 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. To be clear, this belief isn’t wholly incorrect however, it is oft forgotten that the terms by which we define ‘strength’ and ‘unity’, grossly 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 – unpatriotic – millennial – SJW-snowflake woman who’s anti-free speech and preaches political correctness’, that accuse me of being divisive but rather 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, however, it’s worth noting the dichotomy of maintaining certain structures of power (those that benefit us individually) while seeking to dismantle others. The “divisive” argument inherently 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 not include women and queer lives and the complete dynamism of black existence – then what results is a black capitalist patriarchy. Nothing changes except for the colours of the faces in power.
Likewise as exhibited through the recent Women’s march – 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 me or 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 lead by and be 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 out of an understanding, and acknowledgement 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.
Cover image by oinonio (https://www.flickr.com/photos/ockam/32069179870/), via Wikimedia Commons
1. Kevin Banatte (@afroCHuBBZ) and Angela Marie (@MsPeoples)
2. Photo by Jon Guttenberg of Katie Guttenberg