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Coalition Building: It’s Intersectional

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February 25, 2015

Over the past week, my Facebook feed has been jammed with diverging opinions over Patricia Arquette’s speech at the Oscars. She was quoted saying, “It’s time for all the women in America and all the men who love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve fought for, to fight for us now.” This was an attempt to bolster her argument that women and men should be paid equally for equal work. Equal pay is awesome, but not when the argument has to be supported by breaking down other movements. Uninformed, well-intentioned white women can argue in defense of themselves like Arquette: she really didn’t mean to hurt anyone and her intent is in the right place.

The problem is that intention isn’t good enough. Arquette is not alone in the white feminist oblivion. Many white women have come before her that have attempted to further “women’s rights,” by using divisive words. The problem is that even if these misinformed white women say that they are well-intentioned, their words negatively impact individuals and equal-rights movements.

 We talk about intersectionality a lot on this blog. That’s because it is so so so important. Maybe if Arquette had broadened her vision and taken an intersectional approach to writing her acceptance speech notes, she would not have offended so many people. The mass circulation of this speech was bittersweet. On one hand, more people are writing articles about how what Arquette said was problematic, but on the other hand I’m not sure that is the main message circulating in the media.

How can audiences hold the industry and individuals accountable for their words? How can we talk more about intersectionality in social justice movements?

Coalition building between movements is one way to start! Instead of putting different categorizations of people’s oppressions against each other, real progressive change involves incorporation and acceptance of the many different identities and levels of privilege that a person may have. This requires for some people a rethinking of the competitive frameworks instilled in many people who grow up in capitalist political systems.

Here are a few guides to understanding the importance of coalition building and intersectionality in social movements:

Although I did not watch the Oscars, one thing I took away from watching my Facebook newsfeed change was that social movements need to build coalitions. Superstars can say stupid things, but those stupid things can be culturally impactful even if its only for the viral, momentary lifespan of news content on the internet. These people need to be educated on social justice if they are trying to be activists because even if celebrities don’t have as much power as they used to, what they say gets broadcasted everywhere.

“There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” -Audre Lorde