This week marked the start of a new teaching term at my university. For the last two years, my PhD candidate Helen Taylor and I have collaborated on a Masters-level subject about diversity and inclusion. She rounds out the subject with a lush seminar on queering organizations that the students adore.
As I met my students on Zoom for the first time on Tuesday, I shared with the new cohort the concept of the “imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy”. The first time I read this phrase (minus the ”cis-hetero” part) in bell hooks’ book, We Real Cool, I felt lightness and ease flood through my entire body.
hooks has remarked how her use of this phrase is often met with laughter at her talks and lectures. She does not think naming this system is funny and interprets the laughter of her audience as “a weapon of patriarchal terrorism” that exposes their discomfort in being confronted with feminist disobedience.
Anti-feminist resistance to hooks’ provocations notwithstanding, I think that in some cases laughter at the term can come from relief. Hearing someone so openly and calmly delineate the source of the violence in social life can generate enormous joy. The strangling constriction from a lifetime of biting one’s tongue can be released with these five plain, bold words.
One thing I love about hooks’ framework is that it echoes her Black feminist lineage. In 1977, the Combahee River Collective named the source of domination in U.S. culture as the “interlocking” systems of “racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression”.
The observation that systems of oppression are interlocking is so elegant.
It means that we can seemingly wave the banner for gender equality with one hand while exerting imperial, colonial, racial, sexual, and class violence with the other — as seen in practices of white middle-class feminism*. In a similar vein, Natalie Wynn offers a powerful analysis of a certain wizarding world author and how her gender politics is used to rationalize her transphobia.
12 years later, Kimberlé Crenshaw would go on to call this understanding “intersectionality”.
, if you’d like to learn a little more about power and the interlocking systems of oppression that characterize Euroamerican cultures, you can find a sneak peek of the lecture my diversity and inclusion students will watch next week here.
This full moon, the tarot card I drew for us is the Knight of Cups. This gallant chevalier symbolizes the value of being deeply attuned with our emotions and following our hearts. They carry with them an invitation to receive the gifts of something or someone who will offer rich affective and artistic sustenance.
They also remind us that we’re allowed to be idealistic. Many people may think it’s impossible to remake the world, but the Knight of Cups represents the compassionate courage needed to try.
Recently, one of my posts on Instagram generated some interest. With the title “surviving academia”, I discussed how academia (as one of many institutions) is founded on imperialism, white supremacy, capitalism, and cis-heteropatriarchy.
Western philosophy is predicated on the historical assumption that white upper class able-bodied cis-het men were the ‘knowers’ while the rest of us are the objects to be ‘known’ (h/t Aileen Moreton-Robinson).
Although academia has become increasingly diversified, oppressive ideologies continue to haunt everyday practices including:
- A culture of overwork where burnout is a badge of honor.
- Extractive labor practices where casuals and adjuncts are underpaid in precarious roles (and pressured to publish for senior professors).
- Incivility, harassment, and bullying treated as unavoidable rites of passage.
- Individualism, competition, and careerism that breed jealousy and sabotage.
- Denial of domestic responsibilities (god forbid your family should get in the way of your work).
- Repudiation of vulnerability, stemming from brutally ableist norms that insist you work through illness, injury, exhaustion, and pain.
Of course, overwork and burnout, labor exploitation, harassment and bullying, and competition and careerism are near-ubiquitous under capitalism. Exploitation and violence are also intensified on a global scale when we look at the Global North’s relentless domination over the South (and some Southern elites’ complicity in this extraction).
For my marginalized friends, we need you to survive because we so urgently need your voice.
We need your perspective to reshape knowledge that has by and large been created to serve the imperialist white supremacist capitalist cis-heteropatriarchy.
We need you to break the path for future scholars and create more generative spaces in academia (or whatever industry you’re struggling within).
We need you to remake the world in the shape of solidarity, justice, and love.
Until that bright future,
P.S. Did you know that your emails are always sent at the exact moment of the new/full moon?
* I recommend Koa Beck’s White Feminism with some caveats. The first part of the book, while fascinating, can read a lot like a series of case studies of ‘bad’ feminists throughout history. It was less about whiteness in the feminist movement than about acts of exclusion by individual white middle-class women. The second part of the book is predominantly focused on a critique of capitalism and postfeminism and at times seem to conflate this with whiteness. (Whiteness is undoubtedly entangled with capitalism, but neither totally encompasses the other.) The third and final part of the book is what came to life for me and the absolute highlight.