When Intersectionality Becomes Paralyzing

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

3 Responses

  1. there is a non-profit i really admire that does housing renovations for low-income elderly people as well as after-school programs and the like for underprivileged kids. they could tell a million and one inspirational stories about the remarkable, transformative work they do in the community–but a central tenet of their fundraising is to uphold the dignity of the people they serve and not exploit their stories or lives as fundraising props.

    i didn’t read any race-based criticisms of this ad, but i can definitely see how the spectacle and shock value of her bruises could be construed as objectifying or in poor taste, even if their intention was good. and i don’t think it is a bad idea at all for PR to take the time to consider the insights of marginalized groups–particularly those they intend to serve. rushing a job so that it’s timely and memeworthy is just careless.

  2. Micah Bales says:

    Great food for thought, Ryan. Thank you!

  3. Tim Nafziger says:


    I agree that different groups have different focuses and that’s alright sometimes. As I have experienced useful conversation around intersectionality in Christian Peacemaker Teams, it’s been less about being all things to all people and more about how to recognize the way our organizational culture assumed whiteness or patriarchy or heterormativity.

    When I see your basic question: “is it wrong to help one group if you aren’t helping every group at the same time?” I immediately think of this quote from an Aboriginal activists group in Queensland in 1970s: “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” This connection between our own liberation and that of the marginalized other is key.

    For me, intersectionality often means stepping outside the “helping” paradigm. It’s not that helping is wrong, but an intersectional framework invites us to work to challenge systemic oppression that are often invisible. I think Jesus modeled this from his manifesto in Luke 4 all the way to his powerful social change soundbite when he cleanses the temple: “‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But(E) you have made it a den of robbers.” Here his is indicting both the personal and social sins of the temple state by referencing Jeremiah 7:5-11 (Den of robbers) and casting a vision of liberation that specifically welcomed the eunuch (and other sexual minorities) and the foreigner in 56:4-8 (a house of prayer for all nations).

    For me, Jesus’ shalom way is about making the connections between our own liberation and that of others in the same way that the Aboriginal activists group in Queensland describes it. It’s sometimes hard to see the connections because of the way so much of Jesus’ parables and sayings around justice, debt and liberation have been sunday-schoolized in our minds to the point where we site of their radical, liberationist roots.

    I’d also note that I think intersectionality work is done best in long term relationships in small groups of people that know each other well, not through highly public Twitter and FB exchanges between people with minimal to no relationship. But we all have to figure out some where to start and sometimes a prophetic, public word in the context of a high profile ad campaign is a way to get people to listen who otherwise wouldn’t.

    Finally, one of the reasons that an analysis and practice of intersectionality is important is because it helps avoid one group being pitted against another.

    Thanks for raising these questions. You certainly got me thinking.