The term “intersectionality” certainly is one of the more popular academic terms these days.
Coined by black scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw to show how racism and sexism made it tougher for black women compared to white women (and black men), it has since evolved into entire college courses … with one academic even considering “combining intersectionality and quantum physics.”
Thankfully, the Tulane Hullabaloo’s Shahamat Uddin doesn’t quite go that far with the term in his meandering November 7 op-ed, but he never can quite figure out what to say when faced with harassment of his (white) female American peers, and the culture of his native Morocco.
The essential questions: “How do we combat patriarchy without villainizing men of color?” and “How do we displace this patriarchal indictment from the racial context of the country?”
Involved in a study abroad program, Uddin is caught between a rock and a hard place: American (Western) vs. Moroccan value systems. See if you can follow:
My experience is unlike many of my peers in my program. While Moroccans will approach me in colloquial Dareja, my female friends tell me about how they fear the walk home from school. I bear witness as men will holler sexual innuendos, follow them to their destination and even spit in their faces. Watching and listening to these experiences has forced me to really struggle with allyship. As we understand allyship to be a verb, I want to elevate my male privilege and challenge these men. I cannot dignify myself as a true ally when I am inactive in these situations of injustice. Our study abroad coordinators were indignant in reaffirming to not validate these street harassers in fear of any potential danger, yet my upbringing around social justice has taught me that this is the cost of privilege. If I am to be an ally to the woman’s cause, I should not be silent because I fear the danger that my female friends are constantly exposed to. In my interactions with the white students in my program, however, our conversations about street harassment truly lack a lens of intersectionality, as is common to the plight of whiteness in international intercultural communication.
Has Uddin so quickly forgotten the culture from which he (just) left — the American college campus? How would Tulane deal with male students who “holler sexual innuendos, follow [female students] to their destination and even spit in their faces”?
You know the answer … and so do I.
Nevertheless, Uddin has not forgotten the philosophical word-soup associated with various classes he attended on that campus. He just cannot state outright that this particular (male) aspect of his native culture — contemptible street harassment — is troubling in and of itself; he has to tie it into that nefarious catch-all known as “whiteness.”
In fact, Uddin uses the term to rip his Caucasian peers for some of the opinions they have about his country:
The way that white people are stared at in Morocco is by no means a form of oppression. White people are held on the utmost pedestal in countries even where they are the minority. …
Whiteness is an entitlement to be at the center of a revolving world, to find comfort wherever you go. The complaints of the lack of similarity to the western world (not having bars/clubs, having different cuisines, listening to the adhan five times a day) are not transgressions against Moroccan society, they’re an indication of a continuing function of white entitlement.
Yet at the same time … Uddin suggests Western men and women should “contribute to reporting and policing these [street] harassments” so that there can be “a unified fight against the patriarchy.”
So, white entitlement is good … for some things, at least.
Read the full op-ed (if you dare).
IMAGE: Denis Film/Shutterstock.com