MSNBC contributor Dr. Jason Johnson (he would like us to not forget that he has a Ph.D., and Ill do my best not to throughout this piece) said Friday on SiriusXMs The Karen Hunter Show that the racist white liberals who apparently love Bernie Sanders (news to me) are coming after black people who dont fall into Sanders so-called orthodoxy (again, that Bernie Sanders presidential campaign represents an orthodoxy, in the context of the Democratic Party, I have never heard before).
Dr. Johnson believes that Sanders is not intersectional, which his host and fellow guestboth black womenseemed to agree with him about, though its unclear that he knows either what intersectionalityas defined by critical race theory scholar Kimberl Crenshawmeans or its true context and ever-evolving political purpose.
In the paper Intersectionality: Mapping the Movements of a Theory, authors Crenshaw, Devon W. Carbado, Vickie M. Mays, and Barbara Tomlinson seek to explain the slipperiness of intersectionality as a tool (and not an ideology) as well as the ways in which all intersectional moves are necessarily particularized and therefore provisional and incomplete. A movement or political campaign, for that matter, cannot wholly be described as intersectional, if youre using the term correctly.
Rooted in Black feminism and Critical Race Theory, the authors write, intersectionality is a method and a disposition, a heuristic and analytic tool. It is not a simple adjective you can tack onto whichever campaign you think talks about the specific policy needs of black women enough. The theory of intersectionality was developed by Crenshaw in order to analyze specifically how the vulnerabilities of women of color, particularly those from immigrant and socially disadvantaged communities are ignored or marginalized in not only antidiscrimination law but also in feminist and antiracist theory and politics.
Unfortunately, as intersectionality has expanded into the mainstream as a tool to apply to other theories and ideologies, its utility, and thus its meaning, has been lost. Thats why there are people who call themselves intersectional feminists, which is well-meaning but doesnt quite mean anything. You can very well use intersectionality theory in your analysis as a feminist, but are you yourself intersectional?
Thats why, in the same breath as laying claim to intersectionality himself, Dr. Johnson blurted out that he didnt even want you to get him started about the island of misfit black girls who indeed support Sanders candidacy and are even staffers and surrogates on the campaign, like Briahna Joy Gray, Nina Turner, and Combahee River Collective founder Barbara Smith (who coined the term identity politics, which is similarly decontextualized again and again by political pundits).
To speak about Grays or Turners politics with any intelligence would just serve to undermine Dr. Johnsons incoherent, ahistorical, and small-minded identification of Sanders supporters, who include many of the women of color from immigrant and socially disadvantaged communities that Crenshaw orients intersectional theory towards.
And its not just the misfit black girls Dr. Johnson is (willfully) ignorant about; he also misunderstands the political orientations of the misfit white people who so fiercely back Sanders.
For one thing, white liberals, as such, are more likely to back candidates like Elizabeth Warren or even especially down-to-their-bones moderates like Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg, and Joe Biden. White liberalswho believe in a kind of justice meted out from above, a benevolent capitalism where non-profits and regulatory bodies abound, while we keep the same age-old systems essentially intact, with training wheelshave also been known to cop for plutocrat Michael Bloomberg, who isif were being honest with ourselvesa Republican. In fact, Republicans can be liberal. too, just as Democrats can be conservative. Its not just intersectionalitythe concept of liberalism, too, has been bastardized.
What Dr. Johnson obscured with his mish-mash rhetoric is that white socialists, not liberals, are among Sanders most fervent supporters, as well as Latinx and Muslims of various ideologies, and independents, whom he is loathe to acknowledge.
The island of misfit black girls, then, are the black women he cant bother to train his intersectional analysis on. Unfortunately for us, it seems that Dr. Johnson does not want to apply his doctoral research skills to find out why, in fact, there would be black leftist women who believe it is worth campaigning for and supporting Sanders.
But Dr. Johnsons nasty words go beyond Senator Sanders and electoral politicssocialist, communist, Marxist, anarchist, truly progressive misfit black women abound through history, and have led and supported movements for justice for all people, while specifically fighting to make sure that poor black women dont get second shrift. Fannie Lou Hamer, Angela Davis, Assata Shakur, Harriet Tubman, Lorraine Hansberry, Nina Simone, Ilhan Omar, and many more have insisted on radical leftist politics without hewing to the expectations of moderate and patriarchal black men in their communities.
Dr. Johnson would be sorely mistaken to think that his sorry attempts at analysis will stop this rich legacy now.