Intersectionality Online: Readings for the week of Nov. 4

Courtesy of Liene Verzemnieks on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons fair use guidelines.

Courtesy of Liene Verzemnieks on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons fair use guidelines.

Carbado, Crenshaw, Mays, and Tomlinson: “INTERSECTIONALITY: Mapping the Movements of a Theory”

This is a reflective piece about the potential for intersectionality as a “method and a disposition, a heuristic and analytic tool” (Carbado et al. 303). Carbado et al. examine the role of intersectionality, which recognizes/analyzes ways that identities and oppressions intersect, in its variations since its inception. Intersectionality is a work-in-progress. It functions without a set place in academia, due to its transient and transforming qualities. Intersectionality belongs in a transnational context, not limited by U.S. boundaries. Transnationality leaves room for concerns about the continued relevance of Black women within a concept that extends beyond their particular lived realities; this doesn’t invalidate their roles in intersectionality’s conceptual development and exploration. Intersectionality can function in social movement contexts, or perhaps as its own social movement, due to its roots in social change theory. Intersectionality is not bounded by disciplines or nations, engaging specifically with Black women due to its theoretical roots. Intersectionality has potential in its ability to transcend limits, encouraging academics, activists, and all others who engage with it to consider its role in coalition building and linked struggles.

Brock, Kvasny, and Hales: “Cultural Appropriations of Technical Capital”

Brock et al. engage with cultural capital – the symbolic knowledge/skills/tools that constitute particular association and recognition – and technical capital – a particular variant of cultural capital that identifies the skills/knowledge gained from engaging with modern technologies of computation (1042). Utilizing a combination of Black feminist theory and Bordieu’s concept of symbolic power, Brock et al. consider three blogs written in response to a review of Helena Andrews’ autobiography about her experiences as a single Black woman. Utilizing critical technocultural discourse analysis to review a post on, a post on, a post on and the accompanying comments on these blog posts, Brock et al. analyze the audience, content, ethos, notions of womanhood, and construction of Black women in the context of each particular web site. Black women are critically constructed by blog writers and commenters in their personal anecdotes and theoretical analyses of Helena Andrews – these participants participate across the construct of the digital divide, engaging in critique and construction of themes of the “strong Black woman,” the “bitch attitude,” and interracial dating in the context of the original book review and also their own lived experiences.

Scalzi: “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is”

Scalzi introduces a gaming metaphor to straight white male gamers who react negatively to the word “privilege,” describing a game where the computer assigns each player a default difficulty setting. The easiest is “Straight White Male.” Getting points, leveling up on skills, and moving through the game are easier for players assigned the “Straight White Male” setting. For symbolic emphasis, Scalzi contrasts the game to “The Real World,” where there is no tangible benefit for playing a higher difficulty setting. The game is simply more difficult for players in settings other than “Straight White Male,” and in “The Real World,” you only get to play this game one time. Without using words like intersectionality, privilege, and oppression, Scalzi introduces a metaphorical set-up of the structures signified by those words.

Nakamura: “Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming Rhetoric as Gender Capital”

Nakamura writes in response to Scalzi’s piece “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” Nakamura identifies the cultural capital of a straight white male who enjoys gaming, embodying what she calls “geek masculinity,” a form of patriarchal power that establishes his authority in employing the metaphor of a multiplayer game. Scalzi has found a metaphor that takes these issues out of the personal and into the structural, neutralizing oppressive structures like racism. Nakamura writes that on the one hand, this abstraction of privilege and the personal allows Scalzi’s privileged audience to understand the issue in terms of large constructed structures. Then, Nakamura questions Scalzi’s position and assumptions, calling out his perpetuation of the idea that men automatically belong within geek spaces, and women do not. Geek masculinity’s authority in this context is tied to straight white male technical capital: knowledge of gaming systems. Nakamura invokes the example of Aisha Tyler, a Black female gamer who has been delegitimized as a so-called outsider to straight white male-dominated gaming culture. Nakamura recognizes the problematic assumptions that Scalzi’s argument employs while recognizing its powerful influence on an audience that is often willfully ignorant of intersectionality.

Khan: “Toxicity: The True Story of Mainstream Feminism’s Violent Gatekeepers”

Khan responds to the meme-d claim of “toxicity” on Twitter. Khan invokes examples of people of color calling out white feminists on Twitter, met with accusations of “toxicity.” Khan uses the example of Laurie Penny’s article claiming that “short hair is a political statement,” which several feminists of color pointed out was not a universal claim, but rather one based in Westernized standards. Khan describes a solidarity-based intersectional community where bullying accusations are directed at members of this community based on factors like race, class, and respectability politics. Khan critiques white women’s platforms: white women are writing for mainstream online publications, while their WOC critics defend themselves on platforms like Twitter and blogs. Flavia Dzodan identifies a subset of white feminists who respond to critiques by claiming “toxicity,” part of a “historical use by white women to portray women of colour as ‘menacing’ or ‘scary’ or ‘threatening.’” Khan conclusively reflects on the meaning of intersectionality as resistant to claims of “toxicity,” as racism and sexism relegate women of color to an arguably toxic discursive location.

And to close, a fun video on intersectionality:

Discussion Questions:

  1. How can intersectional thinkers most effectively engage with those who are “turned-off” by intersectional rhetorics of marginalization on social media?
  2. How can writers like Scalzi act in solidarity with those who occupy more intersecting identities without employing potentially racist or sexist assumptions?
  3. What other metaphors of intersectionality might be useful in engaging with those less responsive to intersectionality in its own terms—and what may be lost in these metaphors?

Works Cited:

Brock, André, Lynette Kvasny, and Kayla Hales. “Cultural Appropriations Of Technical Capital.” Information, Communication & Society 13.7 (2010): 1040-059. Web.
Carbado, Devon W., Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Vickie M. Mays, and Barbara Tomlinson. “Intersectionality: Mapping the Movements of a Theory.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 10.02 (2013): 303-12. Web.
Khan, Aaminah. “Toxicity: The True Story of Mainstream Feminism’s Violent Gatekeepers -.” Black Girl Dangerous. N.p., 25 Feb. 2014. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.
Dzodan, Flavia. “@PennyRed You Made a Lot of Erasing Statements in the Piece. There Isn’t a Single Point of Analysis Abt WoC Experiences.”Twitter. Twitter, 27 Jan. 2014. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.
Nakamura, Lisa. “Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming Rhetoric as Gender Capital.” Ada: A Journal of Gender New Media and Technology. N.p., 2012. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.
Scalzi, John. “Straight White Male: The Easiest Difficulty Setting There Is.” Web log post. Whatever. N.p., 15 May 2012. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.
SlamPowProductions. “FEMINIST FREESTYLES: INTERSECTIONALITY.”YouTube. YouTube, 24 Oct. 2014. Web. 01 Nov. 2014.

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