I use the word interlocking rather than intersecting to describe how the systems of oppression are connected. Intersecting remains a word that describes discrete systems whose paths cross. I suggest that the systems are each other and that they give content to each other. While one system (here it is white supremacy) provides the entry point for the discussion (language is after all successive), what is immediately evident as one pursues how white supremacy is embodied and enacted in the everyday, is that individuals come to know themselves within masculinity and femininity. Put another way, the sense of self that is simultaneously required and produced by empire is a self that is experienced in relation to the subordinate other, a relationship that is deeply gendered and sexualized. An interlocking approach requires that we keep several balls in the air at once, striving to overcome the successive process forced upon us by language, and focusing on the ways in which bodies express social hierarchies of power.

The problem of language (interlocking versus intersecting) is not simply an academic one. If we view the acts as evidence of the operation of one system that is merely complicated by another, we will end up missing something about the violence and its psychic origins. Jasbir Paur offers an example that illustrates the outcome of analyzing one system at the expense of another. Those who viewed the Abu Ghraib photos of Iraqi men forced to simulate having sex with each other as evidence of rampant homophobia, (the photos show homosexuality as degradation) missed the bodies of the tortured Iraqis themselves.

Paur insists that both gender (Iraqi men are being made to feel like women) and race (Iraqi bodies are the ones marked as degenerate) are effaced if we concentrate on sexuality as a discrete system. In this respect, Paur’s argument is in line with scholars of colonialism who trace how colonizers sought to establish their claim to ownership of the land and conquest of its occupants, not only through the rape of women but through the feminizing of colonial men. As Revathi Krishaswamy has shown in her study of colonial rule in India, “the real goal of feminization is effeminization – a process in which colonizing men use women/womanhood to delegitimize, discredit, and disempower colonized men.” Several systems are in operation in the process of empire and they give content to each other. It is in order to overcome the problem of the discreteness of systems, and the obscuring of the full tangle of oppressive relations that I propose a focus on the bodies of the torturers rather than the tortured, a focus that requires an interlocking, historicized approach.

Sherene Razack on interlocking systems vs. intersecting systems (via kawrage)

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