Friday, April 23, 2010

Collective Liberation - An Alternative to "Oppression Olympics"

by Kristin King

The concept of "intersectionality," also referred to as "the intersection of oppressions" has been cropping up lately in feminist thought. The general concept is that class, gender, race, ability, orientation, age, and other types of oppression intersect with one another and reinforce one another, and that you can't address one while ignoring the rest.

Another, related term has also been appearing in both feminist and activist circles: collective liberation." It's a tantalizing term, nearly self-explanatory. In contrast to "women's liberation" or "black liberation," terms popular in the 1970s, it means everybody getting liberated all at once, together. Where did it come from, and how is it being used? I don't know, but here are a few dots on the map.

In "Circle Unbroken: The Politics of Inclusion," Aurora Morales explains the concept:
Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable.
This is not the work of one person, done in a vacuum. Rather, it's the continuation of theory done by many women, stretching back for decades -- at least.

One precursor, written by black lesbian feminists in 1978, is the Combahee River Statement. This is a must-read. The authors drew their conclusions after doing organizing work and seeing the particulars of how racism, sexism, heterosexism affected their daily lives and their organizing. It was also a step toward consciousness-raising for black feminists who had previously been doing their work in isolation.

Here, the authors introduce the concept of intersectionality:
[W]e are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression, and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking.
This analysis came out of the authors' understanding of their own oppressions:
We also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously. We know that there is such as thing as racial-sexual oppression which is neither solely racial nor solely sexual, e.g., the history of rape of Black women by white men as a weapon of political repression.
The authors noted that their liberation was necessary "not as an
adjunct to somebody else's but because of our need as human persons
for autonomy." At the same time, they also felt their liberation would
benefit everyone:
We might use our position at the bottom, however, to make a clear leap into revolutionary action. If Black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.
Which brings us full circle back to Morales' quote: "our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet."

Works Consulted

The Combahee River Collective. "The Combahee River Collective Statement." Copyright 1978 by Zillah Eisenstein. Found at

Derek Shannon and J. Rogue. "Refusing to Wait: Anarchism and Intersectionality." November 7, 2009. Found at

Morales, Aurora Levins. "Circle Unbroken: The Politics of Inclusion. " Medicine Stories: History, Culture and the Politics of Integrity. Cambridge: South End Press,1999. Article text available online at

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