Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Intersectionality of White, Male, European

I ran across an article about intersectionality recently. This is a fairly recent concept or strategy unfurled in the culture wars. Elizabeth C. Corey provides an overview:
Thus the metaphor of “intersectionality” was born. Black women found themselves at the intersection of two different kinds of prejudice—about race and gender—and could not receive remedy by addressing one or the other alone. Writers since Crenshaw have expanded the term to cover studies that integrate the disadvantages caused by sexual orientation, class, age, body size, gender identification, ability, and more. Personal identity results from the combination of these many aspects of identity, they say, and each one signifies a measure of either oppression or privilege. As a whole, these traits determine an individual’s position in the “matrix of domination.”
You should read the whole piece, but here is another excerpt:
In demonizing non-radical political views, white men, and tradition in general, intersectionality ­theorists make precisely the same mistake they so vehemently abhor: They classify people in terms of names and characteristics that they often have not chosen, and then write them off as enemies. The intersectional project of oppositional, activist scholarship demands it, for nothing brings people together like a common enemy. When that enemy must be eradicated in a quasi-­religious movement of destruction, we are in for a long and bitter fight.
It seems to me that it is the white, European male composer that is the prime candidate for some intersectional analysis. In today's university climate, at least viewed from certain places (Musicology Now, for example), the one group that is experiencing the most bias, prejudice and bigotry is the group of composers that have been the most prominent in Western civilization: Machaut, Josquin, DuFay, Palestrina, Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Wagner, Mahler, Schoenberg, Stravinsky, Prokofiev.... Well, the list goes on forever. Every one of these people is white, male and European (a couple are Jewish, but that doesn't seem to matter) and for precisely those reasons the new on-campus progressivism demands that their role be demeaned and diminished. Sounds like intersectionality to me!

It is rather painful to have such a successful, even though intellectually vacuous, tactic used against you, isn't it?


Anonymous said...

I teach music at a liberal arts college and had the experience last year of being called a "white supremacist" by a student in my intro to Western Music history class because of the focus on white male composers (all of those you list, plus a few more). Needless to say, intersectionality and identity politics are thriving at this school.

Jives said...

The whole intersectional mindset is such a rabbit-hole of misery, I'm surprised any of its adherents can function (I suppose they don't very well). To my mind, even the term (intersection) conjures up bad associations in this context, like being transfixed or pinned down in a place with traffic coming at you from all directions. Stuckness, immobility, oppression. What a toxic brew of ideas. Sounds like the intersection of self-pity, paranoia, and propaganda. I believe, as others have noted (Pinker, Paglia, Peterson..) that this is the decadent end-stage of the once-vital Civil Rights movement, from which I have benefited enormously, I might add. But it seems the basic concept of dignity and equality under the law has given way in some circles, to this poisonous, myopic viewpoint.

As to what drives it, Gauguin says "Life being what it is, one dreams of revenge — and has to content oneself with dreaming"

Marc Puckett said...

The great majority of names on that list (on the full list, as it were) are Christian, too, and there are vanishingly few if any POC, Muslims, and women-- so while it's amusing to try to play that intersectionality nonsense back in their faces, it's very much gallows humor, isn't it? I reckon that while there is nobody in that crowd who seriously wants to put us into camps (although that there is someone certifiably crazy in any large crowd is a lamentable fact) I don't doubt that there are some who would be happy to go from proscription in the university classroom to legal proscription in the public forum if they were not... resisted. The Euros and Canadians seem to be further along in that project than the US is.

Bryan Townsend said...

I have the sense that this battle started long ago in English departments and is only recently cutting a swath through music departments. The very abstraction of music insulated us for a while. But as Anonymous recounts, those days are over and if you simply do your job of transmitting the great stream of Western culture, you will be accused of being a white supremacist.

I don't think we should simply give in, by the way. We can fight back.