Intersectionality and Men of Color

Quote from a very interesting article linked in an Open Thread (hat tip to Matthew Swank):

I also said that [the documentary] marginalizes MOC because for example, the women make 70-something cents per dollar thing (that white feminists *always* use) is white women to white men. Black men, for example, make less than white women. And black women make even less than that. And this can really be applied to a lot of situations where white women have privilege over MOC. And then WOC are even less privileged than that. But white feminism erases the plight of MOC.

Economic inequality is one of the ways in which oppression is the most clearly unidirectional. Holding all other things equal, it is easier to be rich if you’re born in the professional class as opposed to the working class, white as opposed to a person of color, male as opposed to female. Obviously, there are a lot of people who are white men who end up broke, but if you’re a white man who grew up in a middle-class or wealthy family, you have a lot more options and opportunities than other people have, and it is easier to be one of the One Percent (still not easy, of course).

Of course, that’s when we fall into intersectionality.

Ozy’s Law (dude, it feels so weird to cite my own law) states that most forms of modern gendered oppression are bidirectional: that is, anything that oppresses one gender also oppresses another gender (although perhaps one may suffer more). However, because of intersectionality, even things that don’t oppress one gender more than another on aggregate may oppress members of one gender more than another. For instance, economic inequality. A middle-class white woman will likely make less money than a middle-class white man (partially because of the expectation that women do childcare); however, a poor black man will make far less money than her.

Of course, the feminist movement might quite rightly point out that it is primarily concerned with gender, and while fighting against racism is a perfectly legitimate thing to do, perhaps the anti-racists should be left in charge of it. Which is true! But the problem is that, given the nature of privilege, if we want to talk about economic inequality between men and women, unless we pay attention to the racial and class dimensions, we’ll end up talking about economic inequality between white, upper-middle-class men and white, upper-middle-class women.

That is hardly our most pressing topic.

Admittedly, there are a lot of reasons why white feminists don’t talk about race. I don’t talk about race a whole lot myself: I am continually afraid that I will end up saying something mistaken or out-of-touch or disingenuous-liberal-y, and so I end up saying not much of anything at all. But the problem with not saying much of anything at all is that you erase the very real struggles men of color experience with economic inequality.

Also, seriously, can we stop with the “men make more money than women” thing? White men tend to make more money than white women, who make more money than black men, who make more money than black women. And yet whenever the wage gap comes up people think you’re talking about gender. Christ.

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. pocketjacks says:

    I think there’s inherent sexism behind why men tend to die earlier than women, and racism in why blacks die earlier than whites, but that’s a ridiculous way to describe SS that you heard, Nancy. How is that different from saying that welfare is transferring money from white men to black single mothers? That’s not the point of the program, and it’s hideous demagoguery to frame it that way.

  2. I’ve seen Social Security described as a way of transferring money from black men to white women– black men start working younger and die younger.

  3. Also, it’s so uncomfortable to talk about race for me partially because I’m not one thing, and such conversations so often assume one identifies as only a single race. I’m like four races, where am I supposed to fit?

    For me, that just makes it all the more important. I’m mixed race: a ghostly white kid growing up in a brown family. I’m going to have opportunities that my great aunts and great uncles (I don’t have any aunts and uncles, so they’re my stand-ins) couldn’t even conceive of just because of my skin color. I’m humbled by that, and I want to better understand the complexity of my privilege, what with being able to ID as Latina and white. (That’s why I’m so fascinated by the discourse surrounding Zimmerman’s race, since he’s technically in the same racial category that I am. I learn about myself when I learn about him, as painful as it is.)

  4. However, because of intersectionality, even things that don’t oppress one gender more than another on aggregate may oppress members of one gender more than another.
    And I think the desire to make a remark on aggregate may have something to do with why things like this are missed. Its a much heavier blow to just flatly declare “one gender has it better than the other” that to say “in some things one gender is better off than the other but then in this thing over here it switches but look at this one over here where pretty much all genders are fucked over”. Adds more emotional charge, sounds more definite.

    Also, seriously, can we stop with the “men make more money than women” thing?
    What gets me is that people will drop this like its a nuke to shut down the arguments of others (and it gets funny when one person says, “women make 77% of what men make.” a second responds “but the gap is really….”, to which another responds “its not the amount of the gap but its the gap itself that’s the issue” to which I wonder “then what was the damn point of putting a number on it in the first place?, why not just say men make more money than women.”)

  5. P.S. @daelyte: Ah yes that too. Ozy’s law does apply. Well at least it applies for the male/female portion. Some of the things that likely contribute to the wage gap are things like mocking of men trying to take care of children in the media, or being seen as a pedophile for taking your child to the park. Those things push men out of childcare, and in turn into making more money.

  6. Hmm… in retrospect I sort of realized my wall of text didn’t touch on the article a whole lot. (This is what happens when I don’t make outlines*…) So the point I wanted to make in regards to the OP, one, as daelyte said, black women make more money than black men if you don’t try and control for things like education. Two, things like “the wage gap” are really complicated. When it comes to racial gap a huge part of it is probably things like lack of education, unfair courts, and other general troubles in addition to any direct racism. And for gender things like different career choices, different amounts of work towards the job and such also play a role, in addition to any outright sexism.

    *No, I don’t make outlines for internet posts. I just get sidetracked.

  7. @Lamech:
    I think Ozy’s Law applies. Men do stuff they don’t like to make more money because they’re expected to, because women have to work less hours so they can take care of the kids, because men can’t stay home and take care of the kids.

    Young, childless, single women earn more than men.

    Right now I think thanks to the efforts of feminism, women may have more freedom to have a career than men have freedom to be a homemaker, but this may come at the expense of having a family in some cases.

  8. I’m uncomfortable with the way the “gaps” are used. First its a correlation, that could have any number of factors, now you could make an argument that logically the only thing that would result in a gap is “nurture” because “nature” has nothing to do with it. Therefore a certain gap is evidence of discrimination. Even so it doesn’t tell us what kind of discrimination.

    Take the pay gap* for example. Men make more than women. It could be due to sexist employers. Or it could be the success myth pressuring men to achieve, and take on more stress and work then they really would want to otherwise. Or it could be that women are pressured out of high paying fields. Or it could be men are pressured into high paying fields. Or it could be women or men are pressured into or out of childcare, and childcare harms your career.

    So now the point of this: One if you are going the route of “it must be nurture somehow”, you shouldn’t exclude nurture. So no excluding things like college education, when seeing if black males make more or black females make more. Two, don’t jump to conclusions after you have found a gap. OTOH, if you want to actually check for “sexist employers” you need to do a good job of controlling for confounding variables. Because if you don’t, it could also be “sexist cops arresting dads who take there children to the park mean moms need to do the childcare”.

    A bit of a digression: Also a question about the pay gap: Make sure this isn’t the “gap among full time workers”, but based on how long they actually work. Someone who works 80 hours a week is full time. So is someone who works 40. If person A makes 100 dollars for 80 hours of work and B makes 90 dollars for 40 hours of work who has the better pay?

    Also fairly unique to the pay gap, is that pay comes from work which most people don’t want to do; they just want access to money. Which goes to the next point, money is shared in marriage, and a fairly significant portion of society does male/female marriage, so just because one gender is payed less doesn’t mean they have less access to cash.

    So since being paid more is so very closely tied to things people don’t want to do it makes it hard to determine who is better off without careful study. If the men make more money because they get pushed out of childcare and pushed into high stress/risk jobs they wouldn’t otherwise take, then it would be men who are discriminated against. (And reverse this to see how women would be discriminated against.)

  9. dancinbojangles says:

    As I see it, intersectionality means that no person is free from some manner of oppression, so making blanket statements that X is better off than Y without having experienced both will always be unfair, especially when they ignore additional factors. Such oppression-olympics shit is useless and only leads to poor feeling. Action and cooperation is what’s needed, not bickering over who’s the worst off. Honestly, taking the example of men vs. women, I think that “I don’t think women have it worse off than men, but want to help with both genders’ problems” should be more than enough to be considered a useful ally. Same thing with any other form of oppression.

    Secondly, the unstated assumption is “X is better off than Y, so Y should just fix it!” Take the example of men vs. women, and specifically the wage gap (let’s not get into a numbers fight, please). Men make more than women, so it’s completely on men to fix it, and somehow just magic women into positions of power influence and wealth. I mean, agency can be taken away, but it can’t really be given. If you want agency, you have to take action! Falling into the trap of blame-laying can too easily lead to a feckless malaise, a “why should I even bother if the deck’s stacked against me” attitude. It can also too easily lead to an attitude on the part of the supposed oppressor of “well, if I’m the bad guy, you obviously don’t want my help.” That’s not good.

    So my suggestion is, instead of saying “women make less money than men” or “black people make less than white people,” we should say “women/black people need to be paid equally/have access to equal opportunities.” That’s actionable without laying blame, and without implying that men or white people should be paid less.

    Also, it’s so uncomfortable to talk about race for me partially because I’m not one thing, and such conversations so often assume one identifies as only a single race. I’m like four races, where am I supposed to fit?

  10. “White men tend to make more money than white women, who make more money than black men, who make more money than black women.”

    Wrong. College educated black women make more money than white women with the same level of education.

    Black women also make more money overall than black men, due to a combination of higher employment rate, and the education gender gap (even larger than between whites IIRC).

    “White women’s income appears to be lower than that of black women partly because college-educated black women are less likely to leave their careers in order to raise children, according to Census Bureau surveys.”

    “Today, black women enrolled at some historically black campuses outnumber men by 2-to-1.”

    How’s that for intersectionality?

  11. PS- I’ve got a big androgyne ace-crush on you this week, Ozy. :B

  12. The wage gap, I think, should be argument enough for intersectionality (not that it should have to be argued in the first place). Those numbers just bring the whole thing crashing down and points out just how irrelevant “men make more than women” can be.

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