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CULTURE

The Lived Experience of Candace Owens.

Culturally appropriating intersectionality.

Breitbart’s Allum Bokhari reports that Facebook has a ‘hate agents’ list which includes Candace Owens. This helps explain why Owens was briefly suspended from Facebook on Friday for a post arguing “liberal supremacy” is more of a threat than “white supremacy”. She included a screenshot of one of her tweets suggesting absent fathers are a bigger contributor to poverty among African-Americans than white people.

According to a statement given to Bokhari, Facebook claims it “mistakenly applied a temporary block” to Owens’s account, and affirmed that she “was not one of those people” recently banned from Facebook for “violating [their] policies.”

The revelation that Facebook has a ‘hate agents’ list and is monitoring conservative accounts, waiting for a pretext to ban them, is chilling.

This statement should not reassure conservatives. The revelation that Facebook has a ‘hate agents’ list and is monitoring conservative accounts, waiting for a pretext to ban them, is chilling. It demonstrates the urgency of protecting platform access as a civil right.

But for Owens, it’s part of a pattern.

Despite her nominally “oppressed” identity as a black woman, she is treated in appalling fashion by the left. For example, when she spoke at the University of Pennsylvania last month, mostly white protesters screamed epithets and harassed her. This was not the first time she was confronted by a rabid mob of (mostly white) leftists. Last August in Philadelphia, Owens and Charlie Kirk were attacked by a mob outside a restaurant.

Many conservatives point out the obvious double standard: Candace Owens is treated in a way that no liberal, black or white, would ever be treated. But just pointing out the double standard doesn’t fully capture the texture of Owens’s interactions with Facebook and with the left more generally. Another analytic lens is more appropriate.

Intersectionality.

Kimberlé Crenshaw (CC/Flickr/Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung)

THE CONCEPT THAT SHALL NOT BE NAMED

Conservatives often have a reflexive disgust when someone brings up intersectionality. Ben Shapiro’s description of the concept from his latest book, The Right Side of History, is par for the course:

“Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw of Columbia University came up with a term to describe this coalition of victims: intersectionality. According to Crenshaw, human beings are members of various groups: racial groups, gender groups, religious groups, sexual orientation groups. And we can describe their ‘lived realities’ by referring to the intersection between these groups. Thus, a black female lesbian Muslim has a different lived reality than a white male heterosexual Christian.”

“Furthermore, we can identify the level of difficulty someone has experienced in life simply by referencing the various groups of which she is a member. The more minority groups to which you are a member, the more you have been victimized, the more your opinion about the innate institutional bigotry of the United States ought to carry weight.”

Shapiro’s characterization of Professor Crenshaw’s argument isn’t close to fair. Crenshaw has not, to my knowledge, made any claims about “the level of difficulty” in someone’s life being inexorably tied to the number of oppressed groups they are a member of. Nor has she argued that the more groups one is a member of, the more weight their opinion carries.

To understand intersectionality, it’s best to let Crenshaw speak.

INTERSECTIONALITY: A PRIMER

In 1989, as a young law professor, Crenshaw published what became a seminal paper in the social sciences. The catalyst was a failed class action lawsuit, DeGraffenreid v. General Motors. In that 1976 case, the plaintiffs had alleged that the car company was discriminating against black women. As Crenshaw explained in a recent op-ed:

“[T]he black jobs were men’s jobs, and the women’s jobs were only for whites. Thus, while a black applicant might get hired to work on the floor of the factory if he were male; if she were a black female she would not be considered. Similarly, a woman might be hired as a secretary if she were white, but wouldn’t have a chance at that job if she were black.”

Crenshaw’s point is simple: the experience of a black woman is not simply the combination of the experience of a black man and the experience of a white woman.

Despite this clear discrimination, the trial court threw out the case, refusing to allow plaintiffs to combine their racial discrimination claims with their sex discrimination claims. Crenshaw notes, rightly, that this was a “big miss” in the law. She explained in her op-ed how this led her to coin the term “intersectionality”:

“Intersectionality… was my attempt to make feminism, anti-racist activism, and anti-discrimination law do what I thought they should – highlight the multiple avenues through which racial and gender oppression were experienced so that the problems would be easier to discuss and understand. Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power.

Crenshaw’s point is simple: the experience of a black woman is not simply the combination of the experience of a black man and the experience of a white woman. It is a distinct social phenomena that must be analyzed independently to be explained properly.

And the intersectional method – one that avoids smashing different groups’ experiences together to explain the experience at the intersection – can be used throughout the social sciences. As Crenshaw explained in her seminal paper:

“[D]ominant conceptions of discrimination condition us to think about subordination as disadvantage occurring along a single categorical axis….This focus on the most privileged group marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination…operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in experience that actually represent only a subset of a much more complex phenomenon.”

Professor Crenshaw is not arguing that the “multiply burdened” are necessarily more important or wise. She’s simply demanding that her academic colleagues analyze race, gender, and other axes of “oppression” in a more nuanced way, by avoiding a myopic focus on a “single categorical axis” of privilege.

Primer over. Let’s return to Owens.

Gage Skidmore/Flickr/CC

THE INTERSECTION OF RACE, GENDER, AND CONSERVATISM

Candace Owens is a black woman. Yet she is censored, treated with contempt, and subject to hatred and vitriol that few other people in America deal with. Indeed, almost no other black woman would be treated the way Owens is – anywhere in America.

What’s going on here? Again, most conservatives would point out the double standard and leave it there. But what if we analyzed Owens’s experience through the lens of intersectionality?

All intersectionality requires is that we take a comprehensive look at Candace’s lived experience, and, borrowing from Crenshaw, “understand how identities and power work together from one context to another.”

In 2019, political affiliation is, to paraphrase Crenshaw, an “axis of privilege.” Democrats own the social media platforms, and dominate the mainstream media, academia, and the bureaucracy. They are privileged. Conservatives are on the fringes in all these areas. They are decidedly not privileged. Progressives can spread unhinged conspiracy theories about the President being a Russian agent, and no one blinks; but if a conservative suggests that something might be off about biological males competing with women in weightlifting competitions, they will be banned from social media.

If Owens were a white conservative male, she would probably be disliked, but not hated. There are plenty of conservative white men out there; even if they have it “tough” sometimes, it’s “normal” enough not to generate the same level of vitriol from the left.

If she were a liberal black woman, she would be a valued advocate.

If she were a liberal black woman, she would be a valued advocate.

But because she is a conservative black woman, she is loathed by the left. And her experience is not just the combination of her black, female, and conservative identities. It is a distinct social phenomena at the intersection of those identities. This phenomena that manifests itself in the way Owens is treated. It’s why Facebook put her on a ‘hate agents’ list. It’s why white leftists scream racial epithets at her, while “opposing” white supremacy. It’s why the left wants her gone.

Professor Crenshaw would probably object to this analysis. But that’s the thing about an idea: once it is let free into the world, the creator doesn’t get to control how others appropriate it. In a world where conservatives are silenced on social media and have no meaningful presence in the mainstream media or academia, how is it wrong to say that progressives are privileged?

And isn’t every “double standard” that benefits progressives just a manifestation of unexamined progressive privilege?

Think about Jussie Smollett. He is black and gay; in the standard, myopic intersectional analysis, he would be “oppressed.” And yet he walked away scot-free from his ridiculous hate crime hoax, getting an indictment with 16 felony charges dropped.

Jussie Smollett (Flickr/CC/Ben P L)

The intersectional lens is revealing here. Smollett may be black and gay, but he is wealthy and liberal too. And in Chicago, the “unearned privilege” he possesses as a result of his wealthy and liberal identities overwhelm whatever “oppression” he might suffer as a result of his black and gay identities. Indeed, as Crenshaw might remind Smollett, “[a]cknowledging privilege is hard – particularly for those who experience discrimination and exclusion.”

THE END GOAL

One might argue that appropriating progressive concepts is a bad idea, because doing so reaffirms their framework.  Not so. The weakness of left-wing intersectional analysis is its myopia; it sees membership in specific “oppressed” groups as always and everywhere a disadvantage, and fails to account for how progressivism itself might be a privileged identity. The right can take intersectionality, apply it in a more expansive and nuanced way, and show how the left’s own analytic framework undermines its political project.

This doesn’t require the right to embrace a “victim” mindset. Far from it. Remember, again: as Crenshaw explains, “intersectionality is an analytic sensibility.” It’s not an identity. You can choose, like Owens, to be a victor, and to overcome the obstacles placed in your way. At the same time, you can take your adversaries’ concepts and use them to blow up their entire philosophy.

So when privileged, wealthy, white, liberal Facebook engineers place Candace Owens on a ‘hate agents’ list, it’s not just a “double standard.” Racial, cultural, and political privilege are all at work.

It’s time the right made Facebook’s gleeful censors check their privilege.

Will Chamberlain is the publisher of Human Events

Written By

Will Chamberlain is a lawyer and the publisher of Human Events.

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