Saturday, February 13, 2010

Over and Under Inclusion as Acts of Racism and Androcentrism in That's Gay: DADT

The show, That's Gay, is often somewhat amusing. The latest episode, about Don't Ask Don't Tell has been making its rounds, and the point is well-taken: rhetoric against the repeal probably has much less to do with military strategy than with blatant homophobia. Watching military men squirm about "cramped submarines" and the possibility of arousal when men are "huddled together for warmth" or in "foxholes" is for sure funny and revealing, but a problem with this framing of anti-repeal efforts is that it is an analysis that suffers - very typically, I think - from what Kimberle Crenshaw calls "over inclusion."

Crenshaw's has added a lot of theoretical sophistication to the idea of intersectionality - a long-standing intervention against single-issue analysis that feminists of color, among others, have articulated at least since Sojourner Truth asked, Ain't I a Woman?.

Intersectionality is a method of analyzing the "interactive effects of discrimination" which are generally thought of as mutually exclusive, but are in fact:

never fully distinct, and always affect people who are also trapped in other systems. Intersectionality frames these convergences as a series of multiple intersections that often cross each other, creating complex cross-roads where two, three, or more of these routes may meet in overlapping dimensions.1
To the point then: as the excellent blog, Racewire, has shown (see a report from the Palm Center as well), all women, and black women particularly, have been disproportionately affected by DADT:

According to U.S. Census data, black women with same-sex partners serve in the military at 11 times the rate of women overall. And new pentagon data shows that while women make up approximately fifteen percent of the armed forces, they account for nearly half of all "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" (DADT) discharges from the Army and Air Force. Pentagon data show that African American women are discharged under "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" at three times the rate that they serve in the military.2
DADT is an issue of race, gender, and sexual orientation, among other aspects of subjectivity, and it is unfortunately all too typical of the mainstream gay rights movement to over include intersectional discrimination as a "gay rights" issue, when in fact a proper analysis would take into consideration a number of other factors.

Over inclusion, argues Crenshaws, occurs when discrimination affecting multiply marked subjects is absorbed into a framework privileging a single factor without acknowledging the role of multiple identities in creating such discrimination.

In this sense, framing DADT as an issue of men is an act of over inclusion in which gay women are over included in the category of gays without acknowledging the particular ways in which they are discriminated against as gay women. Lines from the show like "they're all afraid of one thing: the gay penis." are perfect examples of this.

On the other hand, the show's failure to acknowledge the racial basis of DADT is an act of under inclusion. Under inclusion occurs when discrimination against a subset of already-marginalized subjects (black women in relation to women for example) fails to be understood as an issue affecting the marginalized group (women), but rather as one only affecting the subset. Crenshaw uses the example of prisons, which are often framed as a racial issue, despite women representing the fastest-growing group of prisoners. Because the women are black, they are not taken as representative of women, but only as blacks.

In terms of the frame of That's Gay then, Black lesbians are also being under included within a framework that privileges the experience of lesbians. Black lesbians then, can represent only gayness - just like black women in prison represent only race.

In other words: Focusing on sexual orientation over includes women within an androcentric frame, while it under includes blacks within a racist frame.

This framing is an act or androcentrism and racism, and it's an unfortunately too-typical example of how white gay men sometimes seem more interested in shoring up the privileges associated with those categories than with allying themselves against racism and sexism.


1. Crenshaw, "Traffic at the Crossroads: Multiple Oppressions," in Morgan, Sisterhood is Forever. New York: Washington Square Press, 2003.

2. Scheper, Jeanne. "Black Women Disproportionately Impacted by “don’t ask, don’t tell." Oct. 14, 2008.

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