Thursday, June 30, 2016

Charles Blow is confused about intersectionality because he wants to downplay class

Mr. Blow quotes my phrase “interracial liaisons and marriages” as though I use them to mask what in reality was rape. He is wrong...Newt Knight was not Rachel’s slavemaster; they were fighting together against the Confederacy. They lived together until her death in 1889.  Not every sexual relationship between a Southern white man and a woman of color was an act of rape, albeit many if not most were exploitative. - Victoria Bynum
What I find fascinating about this exchange is that Blow clearly thinks he is taking on the notorious (and elusive!) class-only leftism we've heard so much about, pushing back against the theory that "that race is merely a subordinate construction of class" and asking for a more intersectional analysis. And yet, it is Blow's lack of intersectionality that leads him into this basic biographical error: he assumes that Rachel was Newt's slave precisely because he neglects any real analysis of class relations.

Consider how this failure not only compromises his basic grasp of the facts, but his entire analysis of coercion. Because Bynum attends to class, she's able to talk about the role that economic relationships play in coercion in a consistent and sophisticated way: for instance, she can acknowledge that acts that are not rape can still be "exploitative".

Blow, on the other hand, seems to have trouble with this. Previously, for instance, he has scolded the "holier-than-thou moral rectitude" of those who had misgivings about an employer having sex with his intern:
They [the critics] could avoid this hypocrisy by focusing more on what happens in their own bedrooms and avoiding the trap of judging what goes on in everyone else's.
What Blow calls "moral rectitude" a lot of us just call intersectional feminism 101: poor women, and women in a subordinate work situation, are exposed to coercion in a way that other people are not. Since we acknowledge this, we can acknowledge that Rachel was in an exploitative situation even if she wasn't technically a "slave" - and we can also acknowledge that Bill Clinton put multiple women in exploitative situations as well without smugly dismissing this as some prudish "judging".

Because Blow does not incorporate class into his intersectionality, his understanding of rape and sexual coercion is utterly incoherent, and he finds himself attacking a poor Southern anti-Confederate while repeatedly defending a rich Southern rapist. And this omission from his analysis isn't just an accident; as I wrote previously, this is the defining feature of liberal identitarianism:
...leftists have maintained their commitment to understanding power and oppression thoroughly by including class identity in their analysis, as all of the great identitarian scholars have always done - whereas liberals, by definition, neglect it.
It is this liberal neglect of class analysis that animates their inconsistent and opportunistic understanding of coercion - and too often, it is poor and subordinated women who pay the price.