Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Attacking Soft Targets: Intersectionality of Race and Gender

by Raakhee Suryaprakash

Just as the integration or “interrelated development goals” has become popular in development circles in the past decade, since the 1990s the concept of intersectionality has garnered attention when studying oppressive institutions within a society.
Intersectionality can be defined as the study or concept of discriminative or oppressive institutions on disenfranchised groups or minorities, and the way these groups are interconnected.
This theory is based on the concept that racism, ageism, sexism, and homophobia, do not act independently, but are interrelated and continuously shaped by one another; the focus is on how they “mutually construct” one another.
According to UN Women Watch, intersectionality of gender and race leads to ethnicity-based violence, trafficking, and obstacles within the economic, political, and social spheres. Thus, just like feminization of poverty, there is the feminization of racism. The soft targets of this combination of racial and gender discrimination have been attracting attention in issues like migration and events in the context of ethnic-based conflicts within Bosnia and Herzegovina and Rwanda.
According to black feminism scholar Patricia Hill Collins,
 the very pervasiveness of violence can lead to its invisibility. For example, feminist efforts to have violence against women in the home taken seriously as a bona fide form of violence and not just a private family matter have long met with resistance. … violence against such groups [Native American, Puerto Rican, Mexican-American, African-American, and other groups who were incorporated into the United States not through voluntary migration] remains underreported unless captured in a dramatic fashion. … [H]ate crimes against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals also remain largely invisible. Through these silences, these forms of violence not only are neglected, they become legitimated.
Intersectionality of Race, Gender, Caste, Colour in India
As India’s economy improved it’s begun attracting expats from the world over. Foreign students, especially from Africa, coming to India for higher education form a significant portion of this migration. There are an estimated 30,000 African students currently studying in India. Episodes of violence against Africans have been reported in Bengaluru, Goa, Delhi, and even Ludhiana! But it is not just regular citizens who discriminate against “dark-skinned expats” – government intervention to curb such instances is missing, and the police is both insensitive and unresponsive. Two instances of the intersection of racial bias and misogyny include the 2014 incident when an Aam Aadmi Party politician allegedly misbehaved with African women living in Khirkee Extension – a neighbourhood in south Delhi; And recently in Bangalore (February 3, 2016) when a mob attacked, stripped and paraded a 21-year-old Tanzanian student following a Sudanese man running over and killing a woman on that road. Why would you attack an African woman who came on the scene long after the accident when the killer-driver was an African male? Forget apathetic bystanders in both cases the bystanders were as guilty as the perpetrators of prejudice!
    More frequently the case of intersectionality in India involves the more deadly toxins of caste, class and colour in addition to the usual brew of misogyny and racism. Northeast Indians across the nations and South Indians in North India and North Indians in the South regularly are viewed with suspicion and ususally it’s the womenfolk who bear the brunt of the daily prejudices in the quest for a better life away from home. But if you think it’s only “outsiders” who face discrimination think again! Caste succeeds in dividing even the same race, again hurting the soft targets first!
During the Jat agitation for reservation which brought the national capital region and the connected cowbelt region to a standstill witnessed gangs of men stopping cars on National Highway 1 and gangraping women less than 50km from Delhi in Murthal in Haryana! The authorities instead of capturing the perpetrators advised the victims and their families to save their “honour” and forget the incident. Political pressure continues to hush up the entire incident, and major news channels continue to brush off the incident which is more of a blot on our national consciousness and humanity than any of the “anti-national” and communal debates that rocked the media simultaneously.
While the politically connected can curb the “freedom of expression” of others, many women and women journalists writing about the issues of dalits and other such sensitive issues especially face unrelenting online harassment. The perpetrators roam free no matter how much proof is produced.
Even in the case of coverage and response to acid attacks, there were instances of prejudice. In the cases of Vinodhini and Vidya – both of whom succumbed after acid attacks in Tamil Nadu less than a month of each other, there was greater coverage and response from political parties for Vinodhini than Vidhya as it was reported the latter was a Dalit and the parties left the protests the latter case of caste political representatives who had other priorities then!
Intersections of racism, chauvinism, patriarchy, misogyny make for deadly Molotov cocktails that incinerate human security, especially security of women. A weak tokenism is the only response to norms of gender equality and racial and communal harmony. The safety and security of women and “the other” rarely rocks the halls of parliaments and leads to actions that change the prejudiced ground realities!
Short Takes: Power-Packed Talks with Prajnya – “Sexism in the Media,” March 11, 2016.