In defense of intersectionality

Wesley Stenzel

A preliminary note: while I’m a member of the Horizon’s editorial staff, I don’t speak for the Horizon or its staff as a whole — these thoughts are my own. Additionally, just because other Horizon editors aren’t commenting on the op-ed in question doesn’t mean they agree or disagree with its contents –– the Horizon seeks to publish opinions without letting personal biases intervene.


A recent op-ed published in The Horizon attacks intersectionality and identity politics. The tone, content, and message of the piece deeply distressed me. My perspectives on these topics are limited and preliminary due to my position as a white man, but as a member of The Horizon, I want to ensure that the newspaper’s audience has access to further information about these subjects, and as a concerned student, I propose some alternative mindsets for the Westmont community. 


First, it’s important to understand that the article’s conception of intersectionality is blatantly wrong, and I’m concerned that its words will go unchecked and uncorrected by many readers. Intersectionality is not inherently anti-white, anti-male, anti-cisgender, or anti-heterosexual — this might be how individuals perceive it, but no part of this definition is rooted in truth or objective fact. Intersectionality, as it was originally conceived by civil rights activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, refers to the various facets of a person’s identity (including race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and culture) that can intersect and contribute to their position in society. Intersectionality was originally developed to scrutinize feminism’s exclusion of women of color. At its core, an intersectional lens is one that aims to be more inclusive of various identities. 


Intersectionality shouldn’t be characterized as a cohesive movement, but instead as a shared, loose philosophy that shapes individuals’ understandings of themselves and others. Viewing the world through an intersectional lens tends to lead people toward a worldview opposed to oppressive systems. Because racism is a massive oppressive force in the United States, this often manifests as anti-racist positions. To attack people with an intersectionality-inspired worldview, then, is to attack unity, progress, and marginalized individuals who seek a better world.   


In an attempt to bolster an argument, the article claims that ICP rallies behind slogans and generalizations, but lacks concrete facts, because “the facts are not on their side.”

Here are some facts:


ICP is a collection of individuals with unique opinions and beliefs, not a homogenous force perpetuating a singular ideology. 


Jesus wasn’t white. To diminish this claim as a mere “slogan” is reductive and preposterous. Countless others have proven this fact, so I’m not going to waste time explaining it.


Students of color are being silenced — the posters on the bridge, put up by students of color, were removed by staff almost immediately. Perhaps it’s fully within the administration’s rights to enforce the policies that students agreed to in the Community Life Statement. Yet the administration doesn’t seem particularly concerned with enforcing the poster policy when the unapproved posters advertise Minecraft servers or video game clubs. Additionally, a peaceful protest made up of student art pieces was quickly dismantled and removed on a weekend, and was treated by the administration as an emergency situation.


From this evidence alone, it should be easy to understand why students of color feel singled out and silenced — with the inconsistent enforcement of the poster policy, administration signals that it views outspoken students of color as a problem to be dealt with, rather than individuals to hear or understand.


The op-ed also lists several recent events and facts that indicate Westmont’s collective progression toward fighting racism, including a more diverse lineup of chapel speakers, various community life events, and an in-chapel apology for a racist instance during a prior on-campus event. None of this is false: these are all solid examples of concrete attempts to progress and right past wrongs. 


However, listing these preliminary steps toward justice as defining characteristics of the college implies that they are overcompensatory actions, or, at the very least, sufficient. We must avoid falling into a dangerous, frustrated mentality that views social justice advocates as unreasonable actors that Westmont must occasionally make concessions to, in order to maintain the peace. As a white person, I understand the appeal of this mindset — it’s much easier to say, “We took these steps, isn’t that enough?” and continue with life, unaffected.


This mentality is a fundamental misunderstanding of the issue at hand. There will never be a point at which Westmont, or any institution, has done “enough.” Racism and injustice are not temporary issues that can be solved with band-aid approaches, even if these approaches are sweeping and seemingly comprehensive. These institutional evils will persist, but it is our responsibility to continually fight them. They won’t ever fully disappear, but through consistent, tangible action, societal injustices can be suppressed, and their adverse effects can be substantially weakened.


I’m not going to pretend to know much about God, Jesus, or the Bible. I’m still figuring out what I believe. One thing that I’m pretty sure of, though, is that Jesus undeniably sought to challenge societal institutions and structures in order to overcome injustice. If you follow Him, yet still actively (or passively) accept structures that your neighbors have repeatedly characterized as oppressive and unjust, then there is a clear disconnect between your faith and your actions. 


Students of color, both within ICP and outside of it, have been tirelessly working to educate Westmont’s white majority about the injustice they face on campus and in the United States. They should not have ever had to do this. It’s time that white students step up to educate ourselves, intentionally disentangling our mindsets and actions from the oppressive systems from which we benefit. This is the first step in beginning the long-term work of dismantling racist systems in our communities.


To the skeptics: it isn’t pessimistic or hateful to acknowledge that the world is a broken place, and that Westmont is full of the same problems as the rest of society. It isn’t weak for a person to admit their own complicity in a corrupt system, or to apologize for intentionally or unintentionally hurting those around them. Fear of being perceived as agents of “a spirit of destruction,” “accusation,” or “intimidation” is not a sufficient excuse to disengage from the pursuit of justice. 


Here’s a helpful article that explains intersectionality and how it’s been misconceived in the modern media landscape.


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