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Colonizing intersectionality: replicating racial hierarchy in feminist academic arguments

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In this article I use tools of critical and poststructural discourse analysis to examine a particular rhetorical frame adopted by some European social scientists and philosophers dealing with the feminist concept of intersectionality. These scholars must negotiate a complex discursive terrain framed by what David Theo Goldberg calls ‘racial Europeanization,’ a metadiscursive regime that denies the continuing existence of European race and racisms. The result is to suppress the availability of conceptual tools that will allow people to recognize, analyze, and debate what might count as structural racisms and how racial differences can be negotiated effectively. Acceding to this suppression restricts the tools available when critics must engage with racial arguments in criticizing US intersectionality. I examine here three cases in which critics fail to give due attention to the imbrication of race, nation, and power in their arguments, the women they target, and the forms of intersectionality they wish to critique. The critics utilize structures of argument that evoke histories of racial hierarchy and colonialism, treating the intersectionality of US women of color as a site to colonize and control. They deploy rhetorics that map closely to structures of thinking described by Albert Memmi in his description of colonial racism. I demonstrate how the critiques of intersectionality frame US feminist scholars of color and their constituencies by ‘depersonalizing’ and ‘collectivizing’ them through what Memmi calls ‘the mark of the plural,’ through binary and hierarchical rhetorics, and through ‘fixing’ the nature of the black feminists who introduced the concept of intersectionality as a theoretical tool. The unacknowledged expressions of racial privilege that characterize these critiques demonstrate that feminists need to transform the terms of reading and writing to take responsibility for the ways feminist discourses function as technologies of power.
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Keywords: binaries; colonizer and colonized; feminism; feminist rhetoric; intersectionality; mark of the plural; power; race; terms of reading and writing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Feminist Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA, USA

Publication date: March 1, 2013

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