A collective of authors wrote an open letter to the left focusing on identity politics, specifically calling for an intersectionality that includes transwomen and transmen as well as people of color. The letter provides a lot of illustrative anecdotes about privilege and breaks them down into understandable parts. It also refutes many assumptions about white privilege and intersectionality, namely that calling for a greater sensitivity for identity politics within the left at large is not divisive--and not simply just a matter of class-based oppression--but rather an urgently needed reappraisal of our comportment as members of the left. Read the text in partial below, or in full via Medium. Note that the very long list of contributors is below.
We, the undersigned, are in the uncomfortable position of reporting on a problem that we are told does not exist.
We ask you to consider a few incidents.
In 1968, the leftist Shulamith Firestone gives a speech at a conference. She is giving voice to one side of a debate that has arisen within radical youth movements; on the one side, many radicals argue that capitalism is the only true enemy, and the only cause of oppression. On the other, equally radical women note that capitalism alone is not a sufficient explanation for why they are excluded from leadership positions in their own groups, or why they are treated in exploitative and abusive ways by male radicals.
“We women often have to wonder if [men] mean what you say about revolution or whether you just want more power for yourselves,” Firestone says. “This time we aren’t going to wait for your revolutionary clarity… we’ve learned better.”
The reaction to her speech, people recall, was “like a riot was breaking out.” Men begin chanting “take it off” and “take her off the stage and fuck her” to drown Firestone out. An organizer, panicked, tells Firestone’s co-presenter to “shut Shulie up,” and tries to get both women off the stage. “If radical men can so easily be provoked into acting like rednecks, what can we expect from others?” Ellen Willis asks.
Willis’ sympathetic reporting on the incident receives angry letters to the editor, informing Willis that “the enemy is not man, but capitalism.” And so it continues.
In 1973, trans, queer leftist Sylvia Rivera — one of the women who famously started the Stonewall riots and sparked one of the century’s great justice movements — takes the stage at the New York Liberation Day Rally. She represents STAR, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, and her talk is on transgender women in prison.
Those women, Rivera says, are beaten, raped, and denied necessary medical treatments. They can’t write to gay male activists for help: Gay men ignore them. They can’t write to feminist organizations for help: Cis feminists revile them. Those women can only write to Sylvia, and to STAR. And as Sylvia takes the stage, the crowd makes it very clear why that is.
“Shut the fuck up,” a woman shrieks, over and over again, as Rivera takes the mic. Gay men bellow and boo at the stage. The noise is impossible. Before long, Rivera is shrieking too, screaming in an effort to be heard over the crowd.
“I will not put up with this shit,” she yells. “I have been beaten, I have had my nose broken, I have lost my job, I have lost my apartment, for gay liberation, and you treat me this way? What the fuck is wrong with you all?”
There she stands, one of the women who started the GLBT rights movement in America, pleading, screaming, just to be heard. Just to have her life, and the lives of women like her, acknowledged by cisgender gay men and lesbians.
“Shut the fuck up,” the crowd continues to holler. And so it continues.
In 2015, two young black women,* Marissa Johnson and Mara Willaford, occupy the stage at an event for Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. They speak for Black Lives Matter, a radical group aimed at exposing and resisting the murder of people of color by the police.
“Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the ruthless murder of Michael Brown,” Johnson says. “It is time that we honor that here and now.”
“We’ve already done it,” a woman shouts from the crowd. “HOW DARE YOU,” a man bellows. The boos cascade over the stage. By the end of the speech, the young women appear visibly shaken, perhaps on the verge of tears. They are subsequently accused of working for Goldman Sachs, a powerful financial institution, or directly working for one of Mr. Sanders’ opponents, Hillary Clinton.
Gawker publishes a response to the incident, by a white and male writer, Hamilton Nolan. The article, entitled “Don’t Piss On Your Best Friend,” sums up the women’s actions as follows: “It is stupid, don’t do it.” Nolan goes on, at length, to describe which political tactics are “appropriate” and inappropriate for Black
Lives Matter protesters, and concludes: “If you truly care about such inequality, you should be planning to vote for Bernie Sanders… closing the racial wealth gap is probably the single most effective thing that any politician could do to help advance the cause of ending structural racism in America.”
The enemy, in other words, is not whiteness but capitalism. And so it continues.
And, in 2016, we find ourselves needing to speak, again and again, about the harassment we have received from our friends and colleagues. One woman criticized a male colleague’s book cover. She has been called a “clinical lunatic,” a “mentally ill house pet,” a “psycho,” and has seen any friend who supports her accused of “enabling her mental illness” — mental illness which that male colleague initially spread rumors about online, telling others she was “not well.” One woman worked for seven months on loan modifications; she has been accused, over and over, of “throwing poor black people out of their homes” (she is, herself, a black woman); complete strangers have dug up documents pertaining to her former employer, posted them publicly, and spent hours browbeating her via social media. One woman — again, in this instance, a woman of color — mentioned seeing a racist Tweet from a Bernie Sanders supporter; she has received photos of naked men asking her for “dates,” and threats to “twist her tits off” and “rip her guts out with a garden trowel.” One woman was confronted by a popular left-leaning blogger over what he saw as a statistical inaccuracy; she saw photos from the inside of her apartment unearthed from an anonymous AirBnB page and shared on social media by that man’s co-workers and friends.
The full list of authors:
Alice Driver, Amber Dawn Mitchell, Amie Newman, Amy Gray, Andi Zeisler, Andra Dare, Angus Johnston, Anil Dash, Ann Friedman, Anne Enke, Autumn Whitefield-Madrano, Avital Norman Nathman, Bettina Ramon, Briana Dixon, Brianna Wu, Carol Queen, Casper ter Kuile, Cheryl Chastine, Chitra Panjabi, Christine Hart, Claire Kissinger, Connor Clay, Dacia Mitchell, Dahlia Lithwick, Dana Northcraft, David Futrelle, David von Ebers, Dionne Obeso, Dirk Lester, Edie Jarolim, Eileen T. Flynn, Eliza Cussen, Emily Sheffield, Erica Prosser Marshall, Erin Herlihy, Erin Matson, Feminista Jones, Gabriel Arana, Gregory Cendana, Hanne Blank, Heather Corinna, Holly Snow, Idit Klein, Ijeoma Oluo, Imani Gandy, Jaclyn Friedman, Jacqui Shine, Jamia Wilson, Jamie Nesbitt Golden, Jan Harrison, Janna Zinzi, Jelena Woehr, Jenn Smith Lejano, Jenna Sauers, Jennifer Pozner, Jessica Arons, Jessica Ensley, Jessica Luther, Jessica Mason Pieklo, Jillian Foster, Jodi Jacobson, Josh Shahryar, Kari Lerum, Kate Baxter-Kauf, Kate Forbes, Katherine Cross, Katie Klabusich, Katie O’Connell, Kebé, Kerri Lyn, Kindred Motes, Kira Manser, Kristen Sollee, Lachrista Greco, Laura A. Craig Mason, Laura Goulding, Lauren Bruce, Lauren Golanty, Lauren Rankin, Lee Solomon, Lena Chen, Lily Bolourian, Liz Plank, Liz Tripp, Lizz Winstead, Loretta Ross, Louis Kissinger, Ludovic Blain, Lux Alptraum, Madison Kimrey, Maha Rafi Atal, Mallica Dutt, Matt Osborne, Marcus Johnson, Margaret Maffai, Maria Peeples, Melissa McEwan, Melissa Silverstein, Mia Brett, Michael Kimmel, Michelle Kinsey Bruns, Mikki Kendall, Ming-Shing Fan, Mira Curzer, Moira Weigel, Molly Haigh, Mona Eltahawy, Monika Brooks, N’Jaila Rhee, Natalie Kissinger, Natasha Vianna, Nicole Julien, Nicole Naghi, Nicole Stipp, Nora Reed, Pam Keesey, Pamela Merritt, Princess Harmony, Rachel Hills, Rebecca Kling, Renee Bracey Sherman, Reni Eddo-Lodge, Ron Hogan, S.E. Smith, Sady Doyle, Sam Wall, Sara Davidson, Sarah Deer, Sarah Kendzior, Senthorun Raj, Shafiqah Hudson, Shannon Drury, Shanthony Exum, Shaun Lau, Shelby Knox, Shireen Mitchell, Siri Nelson, Sonya Renee Taylor, Soraya Chemaly, Stephanie Gilmore, Steph Herold, Suzanna Walters, Sydette Harry, Teddy Wilson, ThePansyBastard (TM), Tina Vasquez, Tom Head, Tonia Thompson, Trista Winnie Fraser, Veronica Arreola, Wagatwe Wanjuki, Zoe Krause, Zoe Nicholson, and those members of our initial organizing coalition who remained anonymous, because the cost of being named was just too high.