In the U.S., we tend to organize politically according to identities. For example, we have a Gay Liberation Movement, a Women’s Movement, and the Civil Rights Movement, to name three big ones. All of these are personal characteristics made political.
The cartoon below, by Miriam Dobson, does a great job of showing one of the downsides of fighting for progressive social change in this way. For one, it can make people who carry multiple marginalized identities (for example, gay black men) feel unwelcome. And, two, it makes it seem like people without the identity can’t be part of the movement.
One solution is to think about oppressions in terms of intersectionality: we are all a mix of identities that resonate with each other in complicated ways. This is a rich idea, but one lesson that it has taught us is that the strategy of divide-and-conquer has been an effective way to keep multiple groups marginalized.
Instead of emphasizing identities, we could identify issues. And if our issue is oppression, we can join-to-resist. As the graphic explains: “oppression of one affects us all.”Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions, with Myra Marx Ferree. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.