Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam withdrawing ‘intersectional’ motion that clashed with Black activists: Paradkar

Eating their own rather than moving forward – action starts with awareness:

Toronto councillor is withdrawing a motion asking the council to establish an “Intersectional Awareness Week” after it ran afoul of detractors from unexpected quarters.

“I will be withdrawing the motion,” said Kristyn Wong-Tam, who also released a statement Wednesday morning, barely five days after the motion was launched. “I was hoping . . . that it was the beginning of a powerful movement to raise awareness that we are not single-issue people.”

The city council had directed Toronto’s city manager to create an “Intersectional Gender-Based Framework to Assess Budgetary Impacts” in next year’s budget, her statement said.

“A dynamic young, LGBTQ2S+ racialized woman working with my office proposed the creation of an Intersectionality Awareness Week. She diligently did her research and with the input of my office staff, drafted a motion which was wholeheartedly endorsed.”

The opposition to her proposal came not from the usual suspects such as Councillors Giorgio Mammoliti or Jim Karygiannis, who tabled an openly hostile motion against Black Lives Matter couched as support for Toronto police, but from several high-profile Black scholars, activists and community workers.

Intersectionality is the term coined by the American scholar and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw to describe the invisible overlapping or intersection of issues of class, race, gender, ethnicity and sexuality when it comes to discrimination. She first applied it in the context of Black feminism.

While she used the term in 1980s, it has entered the mainstream only in recent years, and though I have a distaste for what I call “academese” — jargon that serves to obfuscate rather than clarify — the word “intersectionality” has expanded into an exceptionally effective descriptor of marginalized people at the crossroads of multiple identities.

Wong-Tam’s proposal aiming to commence an educational campaign fell apart after her critics released an open letter asking for the motion to be withdrawn.

At issue were the following points:

  1. The timing. The proposal came on the heels of the inquest that ruled the death of Andrew Loku — a mentally ill Black man killed by police — a homicide, a verdict with no criminal liability. The timing suggested it was, yet again, a token gesture of mollification by the city, a symbolism without substance.
  2. The motion did not take into account the contribution of Crenshaw (an omission that was later amended) for the term intersectionality, and the work of other Black feminists, and it did not reference Blackness, suggesting it ignored Black struggles.
  3. The exclusion of Black activists from the planning of the proposal that suggested a disregard for their experiences.

“I was prepared to amend it after some of the comments I heard. I recognize there are individuals deeply attached to the discussion,” Wong-Tam told me. She says Crenshaw, whom she reached out to after the initial motion, was supportive of her proposal and described it as incredibly exciting news. The hope was that city council could partner with local universities to bring Crenshaw to Toronto to launch the initiative, she said.

The proposal also had the support of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations.

“Now that there’s this open letter,” Wong-Tam said. “I also want to be respectful of what they say. I understand their skepticism especially in light of police shootings.

“There was nothing behind the motion that was meant to harm anybody. It would allow us to create a forum to better understand the concept of intersectionality.”

Her critics didn’t see it that way. They saw the proposal as celebratory.

“What exactly has the city done in order to warrant the celebration of Intersectionality Awareness Week? What awareness does the city have that it feels that it can lead such an initiative?” asked OmiSoore Dryden, chair, department of women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Thorneloe University (at Laurentian). “I would really like councillors to focus on this job, instead of the time and energy they have put into the pretence of this ‘awareness week.’ ”

There are no bad people in this conflict — a rarity these days — only people on the same side disagreeing on the way forward.

As a racialized immigrant woman of colour in the LGBTQ community, Wong-Tam gets intersectionality.

As people experiencing daily oppression, Black people are opposed to yet another government awareness program with brochures and seminars.

There’s also a chicken-and-egg tension; Black activists want Wong-Tam to establish credibility and see action before words. “We want a commitment from the City of Toronto to actually do some substantive work in helping Black people live our lives fully,” the activists’ open letter says.

For Wong-Tam, spreading awareness would lead to action. “I don’t believe we can get to a place of full equity by not having these dialogues. This is how we build allyship.”

There is a gap in the understanding of the term “intersectionality” in the broader population, and Wong-Tam has identified it as one that needs to be addressed.

It does.

With the shock waves of the Loku verdict still reverberating, the time to address that gap may not be right now. But in time I hope these two sides get together to hammer out concrete steps to make it happen.

Source: Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam withdrawing ‘intersectional’ motion that clashed with Black activists: Paradkar | Toronto Star

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About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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