In the following essay I seek to present two central concepts, the concept of Intersectionality and Gatekeeping and Passing. The focus will be on using the example of feminism, gender and race and showing how both concepts can be applied to this example.
I will start by explaining first and discussing the meaning of each concept that I have chosen to use in my paper, and then to demonstrate how Intersectionality and Gatekeeping and Passing can be applied to feminism, gender and race and how they illuminate different aspects and issues related to them.
According to Crenshaw she defines intersectionality: “Where systems of race, gender, and class domination converge, as they do in the experience of battered women of colour, intervention strategies based solely on the experiences of women who do not share the same class or race backgrounds will be of limited help to women who because of race and class face different obstacles” (Crenshaw, 1996: 363). Her main focus is to explore the race and gender dimensions of violence against women of color, and how the experience of women of color are frequently the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism.
To discuss and analyze intersectionality is very important to understand what it really means. To my understanding intersectionality is something that overlaps and it depends on each other, just like how race, gender and class depend on each other. The way people would explain intersectionality is the combination of their identity and how they are viewed by the society. You could be a poor black female who is discriminated and at disadvantage because of her race, gender and class which is an overlapping, and they all depend on each other which makes it intersectional.
The theory of intersectionality first highlighted by Kimberle Crenshaw, is known as a feminist sociological theory that highlights the relationships among multiple features and the characteristics of social relationship and subject formation (Crenshaw, 1966). Citing again Crenshaw, the key features of intersectionality are gender, race and class it operates to oppress, dominate and discriminate among people. Gender, gender in/equity, males and females rights, and the battle for feminism even though very old, are still very realistic subjects nowadays. So, the concept of feminism is at the same time very old and it is also differing a lot; depending on whom you ask a male, female, black or white, you will get different answers about it (Crenshaw, 1966). Does feminism differ when race overlaps with gender and what struggles do black women and other women of color have to overcome that white women do not? When searching in the literature using words like feminism, black feminism, gender, race and intersectionality, we will get plenty of hits with both negative and positive information. In case of feminism, that is because there are so many different personalities of feminism, but again it is all dependant on the one who it affects (http://www.markfoster.net/struc/intersectionality-wiki.pdf, 2013).
Feminism by definition is the belief that women regardless the race they belong to, should be allowed same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way (Cambridge Dictionary). In our modern society, in developed countries, women should ideally be allowed same rights, power and opportunities as man and have the same treatment. This treatment at the first glance seems as existing, and quite realistic, but in the reality in some cases it shows to be existing only on paper. The intersectionality of race and gender has been shown to have a visible impact on the labor market where we can see the impact of intersectionality in wages and domestic labour (http://www.markfoster.net/struc/intersectionality-wiki.pdf, 2013).
In Balkan countries, it is pretty usual that Gypsies,- Egyptian descendants and other people who fall into the bottom of the social hierarchy in terms of race or gender are hired in most of the cases for exploiting positions in public or private sector of economy or for domestic positions, where they receive lower wages. Both groups have shown to have fewer opportunities for formal employment than the majority population but if we take into consideration the position of females belonging to the same social groups, they seem to be at even more discriminated, having much less access to education and job opportunities compared to males (ERRC, 2019). The situation of women in third world countries seen through intersectionality lens seem to be the same. In those countries, females face a lot of troubles, on top of gender issues they do face in their everyday life racial discrimination as well. Black feminism, the battle of African-American women against the issues of not only gender, but also class and race, is quite realistic even in American countries. Hence, in one study conducted by Nora Stephens (Stephens, 2013), is shown that she was very impressed by the fact “that women of color often referred to themselves as an “Asian woman” or “African American woman,” whereas the white women more often referred to themselves as women without adding their racial or ethnic identity”. This difference led the researcher wonder why it is the women of color more often attached their race or ethnicity to their gender?
To sum up the discussion above, when looking at today’s society, everyone might have the impression that women are able to compete and are actually competing with their male counterparts, in many ways, from education, government, and even television (Oprah Winfrey Show, 2015), regardless the class or the race they belong to. While this might be true, there is still an existing divide between the two genders. As seen through intersectionality perspective the divide was clearly obvious when using the feminism approach. Intersectionality has recently taken more space in public discussions about feminism, gender inequality, and racial discrimination, and it is not even new. But because of the limitations we have in this essay, could not discuss it further.
The other concept that I would like to highlight in my essay is Gatekeeping and Passing. Bryant Keith (2004) in his performative article uses a figurative meaning of “passing” as a reference to crossing racial identity borders to intra/interracial issues of identity and authenticity. Passing is constructed as a performative accomplishment as assessment by both the group claimed, and the group denied. The notion of passing in Black popular discourse is most often relegated to an interracial movement of assumed identity, in which persons of African American descent pass themselves off as White (Alexander, 2004). According to Daniel (1992), “Multiracial individuals for the most part have accepted the racial status quo, and have identified themselves as Black’’ (Khanna & Johnson, 2006: 380). A big number of individuals, however have chosen the path of resistance. Individual resistance has taken the form primarily of “passing” as white. For example, a lot of Americans passed as white to resist the racially restrictive one-drop rule and racial status quo of the Jim Crow era (Daniel 2002; Williamson 1980, quoted in Khanna & Johnson, 2010).
Kennedy (2003) brings a more precise definition and defines passing as a “deception that enables a person to adopt specific roles or identities from which he or she would otherwise be barred by prevailing social standards” (Khanna & Johnson, 2010: 381).
Gender wise, women have shown to be more sensitive when analyzed from the Gatekeeping and the Passing approach. According to Stephen (2013) women belonging to the black race, black women are even more fragile as they are left out from both feminist movement and the black power movement. Therefore, in many cases they try to “pass”. Let’s refer to the example of “Nappily Ever After”, a Netflix film. The film, is a testament to how women’s psyches become linked to our appearances, and how relieving it can be when we are able to shed light to the heavy coils of gendered expectations. Violet the main actress in the film, a 30 years old black lady has seemingly perfect life. She is a perfectionist who embodies every fear her mother ever had about her daughter’s place in the world as a black woman. Her mother Paulette never allowed Violet the freedoms of being a child, afraid that any negligent activity would fluff her daughter’s carefully relaxed hair into a curly mop — a look the girl couldn’t afford if she wanted to be taken seriously in a society dominated by white beauty standards. Here we can see exactly the racial passing, a phenomena in which a person of one race identifies and presents himself or herself as another (usually white) ( Khanna & Johnson, 2010). Her mother always attempted to keep Violet the vision of perfection. Her hair needed to be fixed , only then she was perfect. Every day she used to perform an entire makeup and hair routine before her boyfriend waking up in the morning, pretending that she woke up like that. Everything she did was to escape the social stigma associated with blackness. But Violet was headed toward a breakdown even if no one else realizes it. When she got a puppy instead of marriage proposal from her boyfriend Violet unraveled. She broke up with her boyfriend, shaved her head, gave up her career, started a flirtation with a hairdresser and decided to take care of his precious daughter Zoe. And at the very end she realized that she was much happier by being herself.
For some people, passing was continuous and involved a complete break with the African American community (Daniel 1992). They cut ties with their black community friends, and even family members to gain access to opportunities unavailable to them as African Americans such as to go to school, to get a good job (Khanna & Johnson, 2010) or to have a good future by securing a good marriage as in case of Violet.
Motivations for passing as white, especially during the Jim Crow era, are well documented, but less is known however, about the motivations for passing as black. One of the main reasons why people pass as ‘black’ is to fit in black peers, to avoid a white stigmatized identity, and/or for some perceived advantage or benefit (Khanna & Johnson, 2010).
For example, Kristen grew up attending a predominantly white school and a predominantly black gym he says, “Going to school and going to gym were just two different things for me, so, it is like I had to switch. I was like to Superman.” And she liked that she says: “I would just do little things that I very well knew what I was doing. The ‘little things’ included changing on her clothes and speech depending on the race of her audience. When asked why she altered her appearance and behavior between friends, she says “To fit probably, because I wanted friends in both areas” (Khanna & Johnson, 2010).
But why do people pass? There are several reasons why people pass as “white” or vice versa. Passing can be a strategy to avoid cultural and social stigma, to achieve cultural and social benefits, because it is a conscious and unconscious performance of suppression, other pass because they need new opportunity, access, safety, adventure. Different people can make a lot of assumptions about us based on stereotypes or culture. And when we do not like these assumptions or when the truth annoys us, we try to “pass”.