This week we celebrate the end of Black History Month and the beginning of Woman’s History Month. It is a calendared example of the lived reality of many of the women I know, the reality of intersectionality. The term intersectional is borrowed from a Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics originally authored by Kimberle Crenshaw (Crenshaw 1989). Her original work focused on the intersection of race and gender as it pertained legally to the ways in which race and gender cause separate, and yet compound, issues of marginalization. The work also lifts up the extreme and compound marginalization of race, sex, class, sexual orientation, age, and physical ability. A Black female law professor, Crenshaw points out how the dominant conceptions of discrimination condition us to think about subordination as disadvantage occurring along a single categorical axis.
Intersectionality addresses the combination of individuals’ multiple social groups and the identification, experiences, and worldviews that result from this combination (Yarber 2015). In particular terms, intersectionality defines the ways in which the most disinherited of the marginalized experience their lived reality in the face of imperialist white-supremacist capitalist heteropatriarchy. A poor immigrant Black African Lesbian woman experiences the effects of intersectionality in ways that a white heterosexual male member of the wealthy class never will. The reality—i.e., interlocking political systems that are foundational to our nation’s politics—serves to create an extreme underclass. In the Christian tradition, identity theologies of liberation have heretofore been guilty of the same construct without taking into consideration the ways in which multiply-burdened intersectional realities might impact our words about God and the church.
This week calls us to begin to explore a new intersectional theology. This new stream of theology arises from the lived experiences of the Black bodies in and out of the Black Church. It is honed and fleshed out in conversation with Black, Queer, Other-abled, Anticapitalistic, and Immigrant theologians. It is a queering of Black and Womanist theology. To queer Black theology is to force the radical potentiality of Black Liberation and Womanist theologies in their enactment; a fresh modality and way of living the church (Crawley 2017). This Intersectional theology is a heuristic constructive theology that engages a hermeneutic of hunger that reads the Bible as an answer to what all forms of oppression bring to bear on human dignity. It has not been suspicion that turns people away from the church; it is hunger that drives them to seek help wherever their rights to have a life are being respected (Soelle 2001). By building an Intersectional theology, the Church responds theologically to the call for respect and human dignity.
Intersectional theology is not the work of liberal erasure; it is the intentional honoring of the ways in which social systems collude to marginalize, disenfranchise, and disinherit people considered non-normative by the oppressive social systems of those in power. Racial erasure is the sentimental idea that racism would cease to exist if everyone would just forget about race and see each other as human beings who are the same (hooks 1992). This concept of erasure is not limited to race, it has become a sentimentality that moves to make all “otherness” invisible, without considering the systems that problematize difference.
Intersectional theology is talk about God that doesn’t privilege the authoritative universal voice found in eurocentric theological musing. This theology does not abide an undifferentiated whole that obliterates individuality. The authoritative universal voice usually indicates white male subjectivity masquerading as nonracial, non-gendered, objectivity (Crenshaw 1989).
In other writings, I put the meat on the bones of intersectional theology. My goal here is to call us to fall in love with the idea of new talk about God. To be brave enough to consider our God-talk from the voices of Black women, Other-abled siblings, and the Immigrant voices among us. How would the reading of the text differ if we took seriously the non-normative body of Jesus as we proclaim to the world Immanuel, God is with US!
Peace Is Possible,
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Director of Liturgy and Worship | Assistant Clinical Professor
SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY | SEATTLE UNIVERSITY
Crawley, Ashton T. 2017. BlackPentecostal Breath: The Aesthetics of Possibility. New York: Fordham Press.
Crenshaw, Keberele. 1989. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum 1989 (1): 139-168.
hooks, bell. 1992. Black Looks: race and representation. Boston: South End Press.
Soelle, Dorothee. 2001. The Silent Cry: Mysticism and Resistance. Minneapolis: Fortress Press.
Yarber, Cody J. Sanders & Angela. 2015. Microaggressions in Ministry: Confronting the Hidden Violence of Everyday Church. Louisville : Westminister John Knox Press.