Why Lynch Mob is Overused … and Underused

Content note for All The Racism, including graphic photos; witch hunt links contain All The Sexism.

A while back I wrote on Pharyngula about losing my patience with the phrase “witch hunt”. Witch hunts were real things, actively targeting real people for death. They weren’t “partisan”. They didn’t seek actual lawbreakers out in both Massachusetts and the Carolinas, but more aggressively sought out Republican lawbreakers in Massachusetts and more aggressively sought out Democratic lawbreakers in South Carolina. They didn’t take actual evidence and hype it more than it deserved: actual evidence did not exist. What was used as evidence came solely from the prosecutorial imagination.

Worse, witch hunts still take place today, and Christian denominations still encourage them.*1 While I don’t know of any recent witch hunts in the US or Canada, I’m more than happy to condemn this trivializing use of “witch hunt”.

All of which to say that I have been even more offended for even longer at hearing the misuse of “lynch,” “lynching” and “lynch mob”.

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On the Corner: Postscript to a Beginning

Taking nothing away from the importance of the post on the birth of intersectionality, it was both a bit long, and it was focussed more on what Kimberlé Crenshaw thought than my thinking about her thoughts. There are some nuggets that I think are important, things that we will need to remember as we continue to explore Intersectionality. But I think they are best placed in this separate PostScript:

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On the Corner: The Birth of Intersectionality

Intersectionality as we know it today was given life by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and social theorist. In the talk that brought the metaphor of the intersection into public discussion, she first noted:*1

in race discrimination cases, discrimination tends to be viewed in terms of sex- or class-privileged Blacks; in sex discrimination cases, the focus is on race- and class-privileged women.

She then explained some of the consequences of this:

This focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination. I suggest further that this focus on otherwise-privileged group members creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism because the operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in experiences that actually represent only a subset of a much more complex phenomenon

But why not simply include Black voices in feminism and women’s voices in anti-racism and call it good? For Crenshaw, it was because the effects of multiple oppressions are not merely linear increases, not merely additive.

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