Reading Summary – Intersectionality

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

 This reading assured me that Professors do, in fact, consciously choose the order of readings listed on the course syllabus. To elaborate, I believe that Carbado et al. provide the foundation necessary to contextualize and understand the subsequent articles (and any and all discussions of race, gender, and sexuality). The authors refuse to “define” Intersectionality due to its ever evolving nature and the fluidity with which it transcends and traverses identity, academic disciplines, and geographic regions. This is important, not only because it allows us recognize what Intersectionality has already achieved (seemingly retrospectively) but also what it has yet to achieve. If we are able to understand the ways in which Intersectionality is simultaneously an intellectual framework/social movement/attitude/other thing we have yet to discover then we are able to comprehend the boundless ability it has to transform the world around us in the present and in the future. What Intersectionality is today, is not necessarily what it is tomorrow – yet it is all these things at once. Or rather, as these authors phrase it, “Intersectionality is what Intersectionality does”. The authors creatively support this thesis by balancing retrospective analysis with potential future uses.

intersectionality

How I feel when I think about Intersectionality. I think Carbado et al. feel the same way. Image from http://mygsdblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/07/intersectionality.jpg

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

 Having discussed this article in class (and been preemptively outshone by the other reading summaries) I will save my readers a mere regurgitation of the main points. Rather, I would like to ask my readers a series of questions that will lead into the next article and, eventually, my final conclusions and broader discussion questions:

Does crafting a more agreeable/digestible argument, in order to reach a wider audience, make it lose some of the initial legitimacy or credibility? What, exactly, is lost? Does simplifying the issue, avoiding “trigger words”, and using a metaphor deconstruct the argument and risk further enforcing inequality and internet hierarchy? By reaching otherwise “unreachable” audiences do we concede this risk? Essentially, should we accept the notion that any progress is good progress? Or should we challenge this societal mindset?

The first result when you google image search "stereotype of a gamer". Image from http://gamerstereotype.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/make-love-not-warcraft2.jpg?w=354&h=273

The first result when you google image search “stereotype of a gamer”. Image from http://gamerstereotype.files.wordpress.com/2010/04/make-love-not-warcraft2.jpg?w=354&h=273

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

Nakamura’s response to Scalzi’s article answers many of the questions asked above. To begin with, she calls attention to the “cultural capital” enjoyed by Scalzi and other white, male gamers. The construction of “geek masculinity”, a performance and reality of patriarchal power in online gaming communities, is crucial to Scalzi’s article and Scalzi himself (as a “popular science fiction [author] with ties to the television industry”). She somewhat cynically asserts that Scalzi “employs the rhetoric of gaming to solidify his authority with male readers, for whom digital games have become a form of social capital”. This makes clear that, in Nakamura’s mind, Scalzi is unable to abandon his role as a well-versed gamer, simply because his identity as a white, heterosexual, “geeky” male is necessary to gain the respect of his audience and maintain his legitimacy in the gaming world. Nakamura contrasts this with the reaction to Aisha Tyler (a woman of color), whose authority was questioned when she tried to participate. While this is hurtful, disrespectful, and fundamentally wrong, it makes sense if we understand the world of gaming to be a “white spatial imaginary”. Thus, while Scalzi succeeds at engaging in a conversation with fellow white, heterosexual, male gamers about racism and sexism, the way in which he does so (and arguably, is required to do so) reinforces an idea that (white, heterosexual) men automatically belong on online gaming spaces, while women do not.

But how successful is Scalzi at reaching this “unreachable” audience? His article received an overwhelmingly negative response from white, male gamers who rejected the notion that they lived life on the “lowest difficulty level”. While he may have been taken more seriously than a woman of color, such as Aisha Tyler, it does not mean that he succeeded in persuading a stubborn demographic of their own privilege. But for those who he did “convince”, how did he do so? Nakamura highlights how his “argument makes racism and sexism seem socially neutral, mechanical, structural, and not a personal act of aggression or oppression perpetrated upon one person by another.” Thus, his argument is successful “because it allows his privileged readers to abstract themselves from the equation and understand racial and gender privilege not as something that they are “doing,” but rather as a structural benefit that they receive without trying.”

Is this moderate approach, which alleviates the guilt of willing and unwilling perpetrators of inequality, a step, albeit small, in the right direction? I believe Nakamura’s article answers with a resounding no. Rather, she concludes:

Yes, the guilt-free approach is incorrect. Yes, the metaphor and vocabulary reinforces inequality. Yes, we should challenge a societal mindset that promotes moderate arguments (especially solely from white, male, heterosexuals).

All progress, Nakamura argues, is not good progress.

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

I chose to position this article last because it triggered most of my discussion questions. A lot of the discussion in our class thus far has focused on the extent to which modern technology creates a “better” world: one that diminishes the effects of discrimination and levels the playing field for participants. John Perry Barlow’s email, “A Cyberspace Independence Declaration”, is a prime example of the utopian vision held by many people who analyze, create, and shape our technological world. However, as we discussed in class on Thursday (October 30th) our assumption that codes are free of deep-rooted human biases is idyllic at best and the opposite at worst. Evidence suggests that when we translate our ideas into code we consciously and/or subconsciously map out a world riddled with many of the same discriminatory practices that exist in “reality”. But does technology go even further than that? Does it serve to further segregate and disenfranchise already underserved communities? Brock et al. describe how “technology becomes the hallmark of civilization, the arbiter of logic and reason, and the civilized are considered to have a ‘natural affinity’ for technology”. This is not only true of modern times, but is a phenomenon pervasive throughout history, reflective of the “rhetorical power of Western ideologies of technology and race”.

https://mywretchedconsciousness.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/a-brief-history-of-soap/

“The first step to lightening the White Man’s Burden is through teaching the virtues of cleanliness. Pear’s Soap is a potent factor in brightening the dark corners of the earth as civilisation advances, while amongst the cultured of all nations it holds the highest place – it is the ideal toilet soap.” Image from https://mywretchedconsciousness.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/a-brief-history-of-soap/

https://mywretchedconsciousness.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/a-brief-history-of-soap/

“The Formula of British Conquest: Pears Soap in the Soudan. Even if our invasion of the Soudan has done nothing else, it has at any rate left the Arab something to puzzle his fuzzy head over. Pears soap is the best.” Image from https://mywretchedconsciousness.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/a-brief-history-of-soap/

Image from https://mywretchedconsciousness.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/a-brief-history-of-soap/

“The Birth of Civilization: A Message from the Sea. The consumption of soap is a measure of the wealth, civilisation, health and purity of the people.” Image from https://mywretchedconsciousness.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/a-brief-history-of-soap/

The above pictures are symbolic of the “commodity racism” that emerged during the Victorian era. Just as modern computer literacy has become racialized (if not in actuality, then in public perception), in the late 19th century British consciousness “cleanliness” transformed into a highly racialized hallmark of a “civilized” person. These Pears Soap advertisements describe, “brightening the dark corners of the earth” and the consumption of soap as a “measure [of] the wealth civilization, health, and purity of the people”. As ridiculousness as this seems now, I question whether future generations will also mock the weight our society places on computer literacy. In western ideology, we have a tendency to overestimate the power of (western) technology and see it as the cure for any and all foreign ailments. I believe that this reasserts an already rigid racial hierarchy and permits the western world to see itself as a savior, the deliverer of “civilization”. This, in turn, allows the “giver” to free himself/herself of guilt rather than question his/her own involvement in the formation and maintenance of inequality (just as Scalzi did in his metaphor). Furthermore, the conception of (western) technology as an all-encompassing solution ignores pressing issues facing underserved communities.

Nevertheless, the Brock et al. article addresses how “black women’s command of technical capital allows for control over cultural capital”. Thus, the Internet has provided a voice to a demographic that has historically been silenced by “old media” and had their voice commandeered and misrepresented. With these new online platforms, these women have the ability to control, focus, and redirect many of the online conversations, challenge negative stereotypes, and shape their own image. The popularity of these sites, for both black women and others, indicates a demand for female-centered spaces on the male-dominated Internet. Rather than mourn the ways in which “underserved groups do not use the internet at the same rates that White males do” (apply a deficit model), this article applies “Bourdieu’s theory of technical capital and the Black feminist theory to posit that the articulation of cultural touch points promoting a more diverse set of beliefs will raise ICT participation rates by underserved populations”. In essence, this article answers it’s own question (does the Internet serve to further segregate and disenfranchise already underserved communities?) with a resounding…who cares? Rather than focus on the ways in which “underserved” communities are excluded from the Internet, Brock et al. highlight occasions where the Internet has been a successful aid in alleviating “real life” inequalities. They accept the Internet as a modern reality and choose to work within that framework to raise minority participation.

(I did not choose to focus on the Khan reading, although I really enjoyed it, because I do not believe it fit with the overarching themes addressed in my summary. However, I do think it is interesting to situate it with the Brock et al. reading to understand how hierarchy exists within the “underserved” community and how this has created splintering. It also provides further evidence for the power and necessity of Intersectionality as a method and concept.)

Discussion Questions:

In attempting to attract more followers to a cause, what is lost? Does the message become so diluted (in attempting to appeal to the masses) that it is no longer effective? Or are these “attractive” and/or “digestible” frameworks necessary steps to reach an end goal of equality?

To what extent has the Internet given a voice to the voiceless? Or rather, have traditional power dynamics of capital, race and gender simply transferred online (and created new hierarchies)? With this in mind, can a utopian vision of the Internet as the great equalizer still exist today?

Is the importance we place on the Internet ridiculous? Is it really a hallmark of “civilization” that has a saving potential? Will future generations laugh at this notion in the same way we might laugh at the gravity 19th century Britons placed on soap? Or is soap, in actuality, a modern necessity of life that has simply become an expected norm that we give little attention to? Will the Internet be the same?

Works Cited:

  • Carbado, Devon W., Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Vickie M. Mays, and Barbara Tomlinson. 2013. 
“INTERSECTIONALITY: Mapping the Movements of a Theory.” Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race 10 (02): 303–12.
  • Scalzi, John. 2014. “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is.” Accessed Nov 2 <http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/05/15/straight-white-male-the-lowest-difficulty-setting-there-is/&gt;
  • Nakamura, Lisa. 2012. “Queer Female of Color: The Highest Difficulty Setting There Is? Gaming 
Rhetoric as Gender Capital.” Ada: A Journal of Gender, New Media, and Technology. 
http://adanewmedia.org/2012/11/issue1-nakamura/.
  • Khan, Aaminah. 2014. “Toxicity: The True Story of Mainstream Feminism’s Violent Gatekeepers.” 
Accessed Nov 2 <http://www.blackgirldangerous.org/2014/02/toxicity-true-story-mainstream-
feminisms-violent-gatekeepers/&gt;
  • Brock, André, Lynette Kvasny, and Kayla Hales. 2010. “Cultural Appropriations of Technical Capital.” 
Information, Communication &amp; Society 13 (7): 1040–59.
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