Down the Rabbit Hole

Andy Wade –

Do you ever find yourself reading an article, discovering an interesting link, following that link, and then another and another? That happened to me the other day, appropriately enough beginning with an article exploring intersectionality. This is the first of at least two posts on my journey into “Wonderland”.

intersectionalityAn idea deeply embedded in Native American reality, the word intersectionality was first coined by African-American law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe the intricate and complex nature of the tangled web of all of life. As I read this article I began to wonder how intersectionality can limit our imaginations and cripple our relationships with others.

There are so many difficult challenges in life, so many major issues our neighborhoods, cities, and world face each day. These issues desperately cry out for new and creative solutions. But if I’m not cognizant of this whole area of intersectionality it’s likely my creative solutions will just end up creating new problems or simply scratching at the symptom rather than dealing with the actual issue at hand.

For instance, when it comes to privilege, oppression, race, and economic realities, Henia Belalia writes:

As we come together, we must remember: Intersectionality isn’t only structural. It is also personal. Most of us carry within us overlapping layers of privilege and oppression. As a migrant woman of color born into a working-class family, I may understand what being on the front lines of multiple oppressions looks like, but I also have the privilege of the economic and social access that my college education, mixed race and part of family’s transition into the middle class have afforded me. Glossing over these very real distinctions ends up allowing historical oppressions to continue to play out unchallenged, minimizing, silencing and erasing certain voices.

We are all susceptible to “glossing over” areas of our lives and ignoring certain aspects of our experiences which may taint our imagination or even move us to “solutions” which actually perpetuate the problems we sought to overcome. In fact, I would say at some level we cannot help it because intersectionality runs so deep and so wide that on our own, even with our eyes wide open, we’re going to miss certain aspects of it.

Belalia Continues:

On a personal level, we have to slow down and educate ourselves so that we can name the toxic systems within which we exist. We have to relearn the real histories of the land, of resistance movements and what it has taken for communities survive. We must also take the time to talk through all of the connections so that we can build a deeper analysis of the crises we face. During this process, it’s important that we commit to the slow time of genuine relationship-building, especially as we learn to walk into communities that we’re not a part of in respectful ways. From there, we create space to truly hear each other’s stories and bring people together…

I believe much of this intersectional awareness (although I’ve not heard it specifically referred to as such) lies at the heart of The Parish Collective and Slow Church movements. To some degree it is also ingrained in communities like the Mennonite Worker, The Simple Way, and Little Flowers Community because to truly become community we are forced to learn more about our own prejudices, hangups, and motivations even as we are exposed to our house-mates’ and neighbors’ prejudices, hangups, and motivations – our intersectionality is revealed… and it’s often a slow and painful process.

Perhaps that’s why we are more drawn to groups that make us feel good, tell us what we want to hear, and help us to live fully into the top 10% of life while ignoring the deeper, more complex and difficult, 90%. But our world is crying out for us to dive into the muck and mire of the 90%, to commit ourselves to an uncomfortable and disturbed life that sacrifices platitudes for perseverance.

I believe God is calling us to dive in. Like a babe in a manger or a man nearly naked on a cross, this diving in requires trust and a deep level of vulnerability. It also requires equally ample helpings of grace and love – for ourselves and for the world around us. And it cannot be done alone. One of the key elements of intersectionality is that we are all so connected, even the fiercest individualist, that if we attempt to move forward on our own, we will fail.

Like the “body of Christ” described by the Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 12:12ff), like the vine and the branches in Jesus’ metaphor (Jn. 15), and like Jesus’ own prayer for us in the garden on the eve of his crucifixion (Jn. 17), we must become one and that becoming begins with the understanding that everything we do and everything we are is connected to others in an intricate and complex web of intesectionality.


Next up: Taking Intersectionality Underground