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  • Intersectionality
  • Gabriel Noah Brahm (bio)

Intersectionality's roots in black feminism are deep and venerable, and its original insights are valid and significant, to be sure. What began as a way of talking intelligently about specific injustices to women of color, however, has lately spawned a new sect of victimology and cult of micro-aggressed martyrdom at large. Originally, taking account of intersectionality meant noticing that well-intentioned consideration of either race or gender, independent of one another, could lead to perverse consequences for those affected by both racism and sexism simultaneously. Taken out of context, intersectionality's long-incubated stirrings harmonized with something more essential to the tortured spirit of the age: It caught on as an all-purpose buzzword for paying instant obeisance to every kind of dispossession in the book all at once.

At the heart of the matter was the professed wish to show respect for as many different sorts of victims as much as possible. Moreover, as the famed Stanford anthropologist, Rene Girard, has demonstrated, an obsession with victimology über alles courses through the veins of our faux-empathetic body politic:

Even if it is insincere, a big show, the phenomenon has no precedent. No historical period, no society we know, has ever spoken of victims as we do. We can detect in the recent past the beginnings of the contemporary attitude, but every day new records are broken. We are all actors as well as witnesses in a great anthropological first.1

Today, as the remarkable new show drags on, a ubiquitous term-of-art flashes from the marquee, advertising the Suffering Olympics in the latest academic jargon: Intersectionality. Intersectionality! Intersectionality!! To act in this drama is to pose as witness to a bottomless pit of suffering (what Hannah Arendt criticized as "the passion of compassion"),2 tirelessly excavated by bureaucrats whose real job is resentment management. As far as [End Page 157] the managers are concerned (university faculty in the humanities and social sciences), the more victims the better. And yet, not all can participate in this celebration of misery on equal footing, since some of the biggest victims—for example, the Jews—are also among the most privileged. Confusing!

On the one hand, intersectionality is the sum-of-all-virtue-signals. Master-signifier of concern for every-injustice-all-at-once, the term "intersectionality" provides a convenient way for Girard's befuddled actors to cheaply and efficiently indicate the depths of their righteous concern for "the most vulnerable"—another cant phrase, the popularity of which in our time would not have surprised Girard. More than just entertainment, the anthropologist's spectacle, orchestrated by a new priestly caste and performed five days a week on American college campuses, delivers not only melodrama but theodicy. As political scientist, Elizabeth C. Corey, observes:

Intersectionality is [. . .] a quasi-religious gnostic movement, which appeals to people for precisely the reasons that all religions do: It gives an account of our brokenness, an explanation of the reasons for pain, a saving story accompanied by strong ethical imperatives, and hope for the future. In short, it gives life meaning.3

Nor does the exotic pagan liturgy balk at the ritual sacrifice of scapegoats. What do you know, it finds them—among the Jews!

And so it is that, on the other hand, what Alan Dershowitz sees as the "the phoniest academic doctrine" of the last fifty years, Jonathan Haidt correctly identifies as uniquely hostile to the Jewish state. In the eyes of antisemitic detractors, Israel, "the Jew among nations", makes an irresistible target for the aggrieved mentality and the conspiracy-theory mindset.4 According to the latest dogma,

The binary dimensions of oppression are said to be interlocking and overlapping. America is said to be one giant matrix of oppression, and its victims cannot fight their battles separately. They must all come together to fight their common enemy, the group that sits at the top of the pyramid of oppression: the straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied Christian or Jewish or possibly atheist male. This is why a perceived slight against one victim group calls forth protest from all victim groups. This is why so many campus groups...


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pp. 157-170
Launched on MUSE
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