Issues in Youth Work: Intersectionality and Identity Politics

no singleissues

Ta to pinklarkin.com

Further to my recent post on the return of patriarchy I’ve had a couple of conversations about the how far the concept of intersectionality is influencing youth work practice. A  thread in these chats was the relationship between intersectionality and the notion of identity politics. Were they the same, different, even at odds with one another? Of course, much depended on our definitions of these ideas. For what it’s worth our rough and ready understandings were that intersectionality speaks to the crucial interconnectedness of who you are in terms of relations of power – your class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith, whereas identity politics focused on a specific sense of who you are can fail to speak to the connections. Perhaps it needs to be said that we weren’t talking about identity politics as caricatured in a Daily Mail editorial.

intersect

Our tentative conclusion was that youth work practice, where it does engage with relations of power, leans towards identity politics rather than intersectionality. We presumed this tension is present in discussions about power on  Youth Work and allied courses in Higher Education and wondered if any lecturers and students might chip in their thoughts. Then, lo and behold, I tripped over a challenging piece by Sincere Kirabo on Open Democracy, entitled, Why criticisms of identity politics sound ridiculous to me.

Naysayers associate intersectionality with their favorite bogey monster: “identity politics.”

The phrase “identity politics” is merely a pejorative blanket term that invokes a variety of ambiguous, cherry-picked ideas of political failings.

Declaring something is “identity politics” is often a measure taken to trivialize identity-based issues that make many members of dominant social groups uncomfortable (e.g., Black Lives Matter critiquing anti-black racism, feminists critiquing sexism, LGBTQ activists critiquing cis-heteronormativity, etc.).

Basically, “identity politics” is used as an expression to identify political deviance — to describe political actions defying imbalanced political structures we’ve been conditioned to accept.

I hope you might read the piece in full as it poses many important questions and offers a useful historical backcloth to the emergence of intersectionality as an analytic tool.

Writer, educator, and social activist Sikivu Hutchinson explains it this way:

Intersectionality is the human condition. It addresses the multiple positions of privilege and disadvantage that human beings occupy and experience in a global context shaped by white supremacy, capitalism, neoliberalism, patriarchy, heterosexism, ableism, segregation and state violence.

Intersectionality upends the single variable politics of being “left” or “right.” It speaks to the very nature of positionality in a world in which it’s impossible to stake a claim on a solitary fixed identity that isn’t informed by one’s relationship to social, political and economic structures of power, authority and control that are themselves rooted in specific histories.

 

How did the left radicalism of my Manchester youth give way to Islamism?Kenin Malik ponders.

black star

Back in 2013 we drew your attention to the appearance of a fascinating book, ‘Black Star: Britain’s Asian Youth Movements’, written by Anandi Ramamurthy.  At the time Gus John wrote, ‘we can only hope that young people and their parents, of whatever ethnicity, demand this book is included in the school and college curriculum. It shows that even before the ‘war on terror’ and Islamophobia, South Asian communities needed to engage in a defensive war in the face of a neo-fascist and state terror that was relentlessly visited upon them.’  A later review by Matloub Husayn-Ali-Khan, who was personally involved, underlined the significant role of youth workers in the emergence of the Sheffield Asian Youth Movement, which was initially called the Asian Youth Council. It was born out of a meeting on October 12, 1980 between Bradford and Sheffield activists held at the Attercliffe Youth Centre in Sheffield. He recalls, ‘an atmosphere that brought out a feeling of togetherness, commitment, comradeship; oneness and unity between all those who felt the struggle.’

AYM Sheffield

With the Manchester tragedy very much to the fore in many people’s minds this historical context is revisited by Kenin Malik in ‘How did the left radicalism of my Manchester youth give way to Islamism?’ — After the atrocity, we recall a past when to be young and Muslim was to be engaged in class politics’

To take, but one aspect of his argument, he remembers his ‘real fury at a society that would not embrace [him] as an equal, legitimate citizen. But it was a very different kind of anger to that which many young Muslims feel now and the ways of expressing it were even more distinct. My fury towards Britain was not expressed through the prism of being “Muslim”. Partly this was because I was not religious. But partly, also, because few adopted “Muslim” as a public identity. We thought of ourselves as “Asian” or “black”, but these were political, not ethnic or cultural labels.’

He concludes,

Perhaps the question to ask is not: “Were I 20 today, would I be attracted to Islamism?” but, rather: “Had Salman Abedi or Mohammad Sidique Khan been born a generation earlier, would they have rejected Islamism?” It is impossible to answer, but in asking that question, we can begin to tease out some of the social reasons for the Abedis and the Khans of this world becoming as they are.

I am not suggesting that anyone apart from Salman Abedi (and his co-conspirators, if there are any) bears responsibility for the carnage at the Manchester Arena. The reflex response to anyone digging deeper into the motives of jihadis is to denounce them as “apologists”. Witness the Tory onslaught against Jeremy Corbyn for what was a largely innocuous speech on Friday. What I am saying, however, is that while individuals bear responsibility for their acts, they also act within particular social contexts. If we are serious about combating the scourge of homegrown jihadism, we need not just to denounce jihadis as evil, but also to look at how the shifting social landscape has given them space to act as they do – and at how we can remake that landscape.

How might youth work contribute to such a remaking? As a minimum aren’t we obliged to engage afresh with the politics of our work? Whose political agendas have we been embracing in the era of neoliberalism? Is there the possibility of turning at least some of this world upside down?