A decolonial critique of intersectionality

In decolonial theories racism is not the oppression of individuals but of colonized communities. Racism is institutional. It is institutionalized in economic, political, social and cultural institutions that are interconnected in sustaining the racist system of oppression. The individual experiences this institutional racism in his or her life, but that experience covers only a fraction of the system. Take for example the concept of mental slavery that is instilled in colonized people. It is there in the mind, attitude, skills and knowledge of the individual but it goes far beyond the experience of the individual. An inferiority complex is institutionalized in many institutions. They shape the individual experience through social and cultural institutions. To understand these mechanism we should go beyond the experience to look at how the institutions function to shape the experience. The experience of racism is of a totally different nature than the experience of patriarchy. They are rooted in different historical processes.

Second, the understanding of the powers that benefits from and sustains oppression. This is linked to the critique of the individual experience. Let me clarify it with the example of slavery in the Americas. During slavery the power of oppression was vested in institutions controlled by white people (economic, political, social, cultural). White people are both white men and white women. White women had the power to sell black men and women as cattle. Now let us apply the concept of intersection during slavery. It would be absurd to argue that the black women is on the racism road and intersects the experience of white women on the patriarchy road. Patriarchy – interpreted as male domination – in the white world is totally different from patriarchy in the world of the enslaved. Ramon Grosfoguel explains this by using Frantz Fanon concept of the zone of being and non-being which is divided by the line of the humans. In the zone of being where the whites live people are recognized and as acknowledge as human beings. There is oppression. But in the zone of non-being the oppression is of a totally different nature. In that zone the colonized people are denied their humanity.

The concept of intersection does not understand the power of oppression. If the individual is at the centre of the analysis then the power that limits the individual is the authority (government, system). That generic entity oppresses individuals on the different roads that intersect. That concept is totally unsuitable to understand oppression during slavery. The oppressors in slavery were white men and white women and not some generic entity. The theory of intersectionality does not understand the social nature of oppression nor the powers of oppression.

Decolonial International Network