Articles of interest: G.A. Yee, Thinking Intersectionally

I’m going to try to make a habit of writing a few short notes on articles I read that may be interesting to the five or six of you who frequent this blog. These are not reviews. More like recommendations with some key take-aways. I begin with Gale A. Yee’s “Thinking Intersectionally: Gender, Race, Class, and Etceteras of Our Discipline”, JBL 139.1 (2020): 7-26. This article is Yee’s 2019 Presidential Address ‘as the first Asian American and the first woman of color to be elected president of the Society of Biblical Literature’ (p. 7).

What’s the focus?
The focus is on the importance of intersectionality to the field of Biblical Studies. In short, we should recognize different forms of identity—’Race, class, gender, age, ability, nation, ethnicity, and similar categories of analysis’—and how they interact or intersect with one another. Yee applies this to both the discipline of Biblical Studies and the specific passage of 2 Kings 4.1-7.

What did I learn?
A lot. But here are some key takeaways:

  1. Intersectionality is a “justice-oriented approach” (quoting Vivian May) that ‘grew out of movements with a social justice agenda such as those focused on civil rights and women’s rights’ (p. 12).
  2. We must recognize that the alternative to intersectionality risks ignoring the real-life threats to people. For example, Yee talks about how this phrase ‘intersectionality’ was coined by African American lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw to address legal matters. In case of DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, GM, who hadn’t been hiring Black women, GM argued that they weren’t bias against Black women because they had hired Black men. If the sole focus was of antidiscrimination law’ was race, then GM could be cleared. Likewise, if sex, GM could be cleared because they hired white women. But if an intersectional lens is used, it’s apparent that GM’s discrimination was against Black women, specifically (p. 10).
  3. Whiteness must be a racial category. Too often, whiteness has been set as the ‘universal’ while everything else is ‘a culturally constructed ethnic identity’. But Whiteness is also ‘a culturally constructed ethnic identity’, not a ‘universal’ (p. 13). Pragmatically speaking, we can see this in various articles, books, and commentaries that might just be ‘about the Bible’ if it’s a white, male scholar but if it’s a Black, woman scholar, suddenly it’s an intentional departure from the norm, a niche hermeneutic, but not ‘straight exegesis’. This is misleading, at best.
  4. Yee introduces four ‘domains of power’: structural, disciplinary, hegemonic, and interpersonal. Structural = ‘institutional…legal, economic, educational, and how they reproduce the subordination of peoples over time’ (p. 14). Disciplinary = ‘ideas and practices that characterize hierarchies…legal, criminal, and the police and military’ (pp. 14-15). Hegemonic = ‘ideas, symbols, and ideologies that shape consciousness’ (p. 15). Interpersonal = ‘interactions of people at the day-to-day microlevels of social organization’ (p. 15). Because of these four domains, a person could be the oppressed in one situation (say for gender or sexuality) and oppressive in another (say economically).
  5. Acknowledging these realities will expand our reading of texts. Yee examines 1 Kings 4.1-7 focusing on a variety of social dynamics related to the woman in the story who is a widow: gender, economic, legal, etc. We can miss a lot of presumptions in a text if we’re not intentional. As Yee writes, intersectionality ‘encourages us to think beyond the familiar (and perhaps more entrenched) boundaries of biblical studies to expose the diverse power relations of oppression and uncover subjugated voices that were previously invisible and unheard’ (p. 26).

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