on the bullets that should have been firecrackers
TW: Gun violence, domestic violence.
You’ll often hear intersectionality described as a term or concept, either ‘coined’ if not created outright, by Black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw. I’m reflecting today, in light of recent mass shootings in the US, of how devastatingly relevant Crenshaw’s work continues to be.
It’s been over thirty years since Crenshaw first wrote about the blind spots in anti-discrimination legislation; since she first articulated three forms of intersectionality. In the activist, social policy, broadly progressive circles I run in, most folks can reel off some kind of simplistic definition of what Crenshaw analysed as structural intersectionality — something about how systems of oppression such as gender and race work simultaneously, in ‘overlapping’ ways, to shape our experiences of discrimination and privilege. But it’s one of the two lesser cited parts of Crenshaw’s framework, political intersectionality, that I’m mulling over today.
Political intersectionality highlights the ways in which responses to systems of oppression can also reinforce and lead to marginalisation, erasure and discrimination, through narrowly defined, ‘single-axis’, one-thing-at-a-time political movements. Crenshaw saw this in Black civil rights organisations, and their active denial and undermining of feminist concerns about violence against women in Black communities — to avoid representing Black men as violent, and perpetuating stereotypes or ideas that could harm the purity of the anti-racist cause. Crenshaw also identified this in feminist political movements determined to win support for ending domestic violence by affirming that it can happen to anyone — such that any particularities in women of colour’s experiences of violence are erased.
I see the urgency of political intersectionality too, in the ways white folks let out sighs of absolution, and even smug grins, when it was confirmed that the perpetrator of the Monterey Park shootings was in fact himself Asian (‘see, these concerns about anti-Asian hate crimes are just so overblown’). In rumours that the dance hall murders were the result of husband-and-wife disputes, making them only the tragic end result of private, family affairs, and not a reflection of systemic forms of patriarchal power within Asian communities. In the sweeping cries about gun violence that rightly emphasise the tragic consequences of access to such weaponry as everyone’s problem, yet also gloss over the very unique impacts that this shockingly rapid series of California shootings will have on Asian, immigrant communities in particular.
And whilst I don’t want to speculate, I can’t help but wonder — these shootings, what do they say about intergenerational trauma of immigrants, mental health stigma amongst older men, or the impacts of recent economic downturns on blue-collar workers? Asian diasporic communities in the US and elsewhere are only just beginning to feeling a sense of public safety again, after years of social isolation, foregone cultural gatherings and travels back to 母国, and targeted racial violence — how will this gut-wrenching turn of events right at the beginning of Lunar New Year set them back? With gun violence being (inherently) a political issue, is this the catalyst that should never have been required for greater political organising amongst Asian Americans?
We need to be able to have all these discussions at the same time, and embrace their contradictions and conflicts. I am scared that crucial parts of the conversation (and subsequent action!), the parts that will best protect the rights of minoritised communities, will be sidelined again, for some alleged ‘greater good’.
Please know that I’m writing this a quasi-academic reflection as a coping strategy. I don’t have the emotional capacity to process these events differently at the moment.
I am privileged — and I mean that in a ‘my social location within structural power relations has given me advantages’ kind of way — to have grown up in a place that has made gun violence so unfathomable in my lifetime. I am grateful that the reality of mass shootings is difficult for me to grasp, such that I am struggling to digest headlines about victims who seem to have had too much in common with my parents and grandparents.
I am grieving for people I do not know, and clinging on to hope for a future that will not be possible without Crenshaw’s work on intersectionality.