Intersectionality and tokenism
Originally posted at: https://www.mennoniteusa.org/menno-snapshots/intersectionality-and-tokenism/
Self-described “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” Audre Lorde said, “There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
The way Lorde identifies herself is not simply a list of descriptors. I believe it was intentional and in order. Each identity intersects with another, and you cannot separate her Blackness from her being a mother or separate her being a poet from being lesbian.
Recently, I was interviewed, along with fellow BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) on a Zoom webinar, hosted by Raleigh Mennonite Church and Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests, called, “Racial Justice/Queer Justice: Fractures and Intersections in the Mennonite Church.” For some of us, queerness is not separate from one’s race or ethnicity, nor is it the single defining feature of one’s identity.
In my life, the concept of intersectionality is a daily reality. I sometimes forget that it’s a new concept to some, especially folks coming from non-minoritized communities.
Intersectionality is a term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Cresnhaw, and it seeks “… to describe how race, class, gender, and other individual characteristics ‘intersect’ with one another and overlap.” In other words, the identities of “Latina” and “woman” intersect with one another and create a unique situation in patriarchal and white-supremacist-dominated societies. “Black” and “disabled” identities intersect and create biases in white supremacy culture and ableist cultures.
White liberals are ever in search of the “Mennonite Unicorn”: the BIPOC LGBTQ+ individual.
More conservative folks claim no Mennonite Unicorns exist, and even if they do, they probably have been, as I’ve heard, “influenced by white people.” More liberal folks are ever-developing their radar to find unicorns “in the wild” and profile them as much as possible. “See? Unicorns exist!” The next thing you know, our faces are on a poster.
It seems as if erasure or tokenization are the only options.
Don’t get me wrong, after years of being told I’m not “fill-in-the-blank” enough, it feels good, I guess. Is it tokenizing? Well, yes. Is it an opportunity to preach the liberating gospel of Jesus and show up authentically? Certainly. You can tokenize me, however, I have something to say. Or if Tyra Banks were to phrase it, “Tokenizing, but make it Jesus.”
On the other hand, I wholeheartedly affirm Glen Guyton’s essay titled: “Please stop tokenizing immigrants and people of color in MC USA: We’re not your political pawns.” Things don’t always fit into nice binaries for us, and this erasure/tension is always something we’re struggling with.
Imagine, if you will, life outside of Mennonite and Anabaptist circles.
Anyone who engages in pop culture, local and national news, or with their own family knows that LGBTQ+ liberation is not a “white issue.” It’s a struggle that knows no race or ethnicity. Additionally, there can be other identities that BIPOC, queer and trans people hold that lead to further marginalization. There are also privileges associated with being able to “pass” as straight or white.
We are a “boutique” denomination, for better or worse. We’re small and unique. If you come from outside “ethic Mennonite” circles, you may find the denomination overpriced. Our religion was propagated by white colonizers and brought to America by European immigrants. Both of those are not unique, and yet, here we are.
So maybe we have an excuse for lacking diversity. If only white supremacy and bigoted rhetoric in American society were not a part of the equation.
Let me be clear and say our denomination is by no means alone in its prejudices, and yes, I’ve contributed to the problem myself. Also, we have hope! By working on our white supremacy mindset and opening our doors to LGBTQ+ folks without judgement, we might be amazed at who starts knocking on our doors, looking for a safe place to call church and home.
In my interpretation of taking discipleship seriously, I must practice what philosopher Jacques Derrida talked about when he wrote about radical hospitality. “Radical” is my word; Derrida used the term “Absolute Hospitality.” This concept is not just for queer people but for all. I am not saying I accept or condone people who actively dehumanize others in word and deed, but I extend this hospitality to those questioning, searching, looking to be faithful. These are people with a different point of view than me, whom I listen to, as they listen to mine. It’s a work in progress, just as it is for any of us.
Do I believe in being “saved”? Being personally convicted? Following in the way of Jesus? Being biblically literate? Putting faith into practice? Yes! Do I believe in LGBTQ+ inclusion? Also, yes! I desire to include as much as I seek to open my door to anyone of any identity.
1 John 4:7 (NIV) states: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.”
Let’s love God — and one another — together.
Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference