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Denying Human(s) Categories

March 1, 2015

On this first day of the month, I just read Mysia Anderson‘s “Celebrating black women during Women’s History Month.” And I was just as shocked just now reading Ana Marie Cox’s “Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian” (and confessed to my fb friend who posted the article that she is braver than I).

Let me quote a bit from each respectively and then respond.

Anna Julia Cooper was born to a black mother and a white slavemaster father and …. notably wrote, “Only the BLACK WOMAN can say, ‘when and where I enter, in the quiet, undisputed dignity of my womanhood, without violence and without suing or special patronage, then and there the whole Negro race enters with me.’”

With this bold assertion, Cooper poignantly articulated intersectionality. This term, coined by contemporary black feminist scholar Kimberle Crenshaw, acknowledges the interconnectedness and nuance of various forms of oppression, domination and discrimination. Crenshaw’s scholarship focuses on the double bind of gender and race. Her analyses of oppression looks at the ways that systemic oppression interacts with multiple aspects of identity.


I’ve lately observed conservatives questioning Obama’s faith with more than professional interest. Because if Obama’s not Christian, what does that make me?

I have not been public about my faith. I am somewhat tempted to embrace the punk-rockness of being a progressive, feminist, tattooed, pro-choice, graduate-educated believer—and then I have to remind myself that believing in God is about as punk rock as wearing pants, maybe even less so. Almost nine in ten Americans believe in God; in any given moment, how many are wearing pants?

In my personal life, my faith is not something I struggle with or something I take particular pride in. It is just part of who I am.

Well, Anderson, who is a woman, does not make a big explicit deal out of the fact that Cooper was “out” as a Christian, calling herself “black” when the proper term of her day was “Negro.” And, Cox, who is white, does not make a big explicit deal about Obama being as black as Cooper.

I find the human agency to self-label incredibly important. “Coming out” gay or black or Christian or woman is incredibly important and takes — in our days and months and years and centuries and millennia of homophobia, misogyny, black hatred, racism, and religion or science or intellect bashing — bravery.

It’s not just me. Some of my co-bloggers with me, and many of you thinkers and readers here and elsewhere, struggle with our human categorizations and categories. It’s the doubly and triply and mutiply marginalized who we do well to show the most attention and to give the most care and to allow the most agency.

I still think Carolyn Osiek is astute in helping those of us in our current set of categories recall the ancient set; let me re-quote (from a blog comment of several comments made by Kristen, Suzanne, Theophrastus, and me — at T.C. Robinson’s blog — before we commenters there decided to co-blog here); Osiek writes:

From a modern perspective, we would say the categories ‘women’ and ‘slaves’ are partially overlapping. Some women were slaves, but not all were; some slaves were women, but not all slaves were. But, in fact, in ancient categories it is the expression ‘women slaves,’ which seems to us more inclusive, that is a conceptual contradiction. While women and slaves of the ancient Greco-Roman world shared much in common within the male perspective of the patriarchal household, they did not belong to overlapping categories. Both were in Aristotle’s categories fit by nature to be ruled, not to rule. Both shared intimately in the life of the household, including its religion, economy, child production and nurturing, and burial. . . .

Both women and slaves in many ways remained in a state of perpetual liminality. Ancient literature regularly ascribes to one the vices of the other. But if females who were slaves had to be fitted either into the category of women or of slaves, the ancient thinker would have considered them slaves, not women. As females who were slaves, they were doubly fit by nature to be ruled and dominated.

Osiek gets at the rape consequences of the different categorization of humans as “‘women’ and ‘slaves’”:

There is an astonishing lack of specification about slaves even in the literature of marital advice. More ancient authors than might be supposed advocate the marital fidelity of husbands, including Aristotle . . . and Pythagoras . . ., but it is doubtful whether sex with one’s own slaves is included. Plutarch, on the other hand, considers it normal for husbands to take their debauchery elsewhere, to go wide of the mark . . . with a . . . slave. . . . If Plutarch is consistent, then his advice about educating freeborn males not to be overbearing with slaves . . . does not prohibit rape of slaves.

Rape today represents for us all one of the most egregious sins that any in our societies might perpetrate. And we startle at the fact that our forefathers metaphorically and physically might have allowed it, legally, ethically, and culturally. We know women (and in some cases children and men) who have been raped. We (in some cases) have been the victim. We share the devastation caused when a human with a penis sexually violates another human.

We would do well, in my humble opinion, to pay attention to the human categorizations that rape metaphorically.

Here’s some what I intend by that. I struggle to get to the issues, the marginalizing categories, objectively, especially when it becomes so personal and subjective. After my friend posted Cox’s “coming out as a Christian” I found myself wanting to write the following as a comment on facebook (and so I did):

It’s ironic that Jesus Christ never came out (had to come out) as a Christian:
It’s the first day of Women’s History Month in the USA this year. We all would do well to pay attention and give care to those who multiply self identify as (black) (Christian) (manifold categories) women.
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