Why We Turn to Intersectionality to Confront Anti-Asian Violence

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost, with permission from Northern California Grantmakers, an essay by Alice Y. Hom, coeditor of the forthcoming Q & A, about the recent anti-Asian violence.

This has been a hard week of swirling emotions since I learned six Asian women and two other people were shot in Atlanta amidst the rise of anti-Asian violence here and nationwide. The names identified so far are: Soon Chung Park (74), Suncha Kim (69), Yong Ae Yue (63),Hyun Jung Grant (51), Xiaojie Tan (49), Daoyou Feng (44), Paul Andre Michels (54), and Dalaina Ashley Yaun (33). I am sending my deep condolences to their loved ones, families, and communities. Rage, grief, and sadness course through me as I wake up and tend to my work, check in with kin and kindred, read the news, and skim social media. It’s hard not to be overwhelmed.  

I am not surprised the shooter, a white man, denied that race motivated his attacks against three massage parlors and spas. But I’m angry at the denial and the shortsightedness of law enforcement, the media, and others who relay the shooter’s explanation and enable the claim that racism doesn’t play a role in his actions.  

Instead, let this be a moment to challenge the idea that anyone might ever be entitled to inflict violence on the pretext that they are driven by “sexual addiction.” This violence should be understood as the deadly expression of racialized and sexualized stereotypes of Asian women, specifically migrants who work at massage parlors and spas whose low income and status as immigrants expose them to risk. Our country’s wars and military operations throughout Asia and the Pacific Rim have, over many years, reinforced sex trades and racialized sexual violence toward Asian women.  

Here we must challenge ourselves to consider race, gender, heterosexuality, and class not as separate forms of identity, but interacting together, to deepen our understanding of the deaths of these women and our Asian elders here in the Bay Area. This concept of interlocking identities is not new and comes from Black lesbian feminists organizing in the 1970s under the Combahee River Collective.  

The term intersectionality was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, who explains, “It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these.”  

This approach helps us make sense of the violence against Asian women and the way it’s connected to violence faced by women of color, Black and Indigenous women, in particular.  I hope the following articles, statements, and interviews provide some insight and support you taking action to strengthen our collective fight against the intersecting oppressions of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism.  

In these moments, we draw strength by calling upon the rich connections of our movements, the power of our voice, and the resources for social justice over which we have influence.   

Gender Politics in Brazil

This week in North Philly Notes, Pedro A. G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, coauthors of Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil, address how the election of the first female president of Brazil triggered a gendered backlash culminating in her impeachment and ushered in a new era of male political dominance.  

Former Brazilian president Luiz Inácio “Lula” da Silva recently had several criminal cases against him dropped, positioning him to possibly run against President Jair Bolsonaro in 2022. Lula’s immense popularity and support helped Brazil elect its first female president in 2010, Dilma Rousseff. Rousseff’s presidency is noted for three years of high popularity and a strong economy followed by three years of economic and political chaos and eventual impeachment in 2016. While she was never found guilty of corruption in a criminal court, the political crisis ensnared several politicians: Lula was arrested in 2018, and President of the Chamber of Deputies Eduardo Cunha was impeached and arrested. Since Rousseff’s impeachment, the country is facing its worst economic recession, elected far-right populist Bolsonaro, and has been recognized as one of the countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

Bolsonaro’s election and Lula’s possible presidential run are the latest developments in Brazil’s male-dominated presidential history. Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, examines the six years a woman led the country. Based on a decade of fieldwork and over 150 original interviews with politicians and political experts in Brazil, findings suggest that the ascension of a woman to a powerful and historically masculine institution can affect women in various ways, including triggering vicious backlash against women’s empowerment.

Technically speaking, Rousseff was impeached over a common but questionable budgetary procedure used by previous presidents such as Lula (2003-2010) and Cardoso (1994-2002). Currently, Bolsonaro’s presidency has been riddled with political scandals and possibly impeachable offenses, including a disastrously incompetent response to COVID-19. And while Rousseff is now out of the political spotlight, Lula is being welcomed back to politics with open arms.

As we think about 2022 and the electoral fight between two “strong men,” we must remember the role gender played throughout Rousseff’s presidency. While misogyny was not the sole reason why President Rousseff was ousted, it was an important element in attempting to disempower the Presidenta and consequently disempower women seeking to enter masculine spaces in Brazilian society. 

The economic crisis that deepened significantly in 2013 was a consequence of falling commodity prices and questionable polices from both Lula’s and Rousseff’s administrations. Yet most blamed only Rousseff for the country’s current history-setting recession. As the institutional crisis intensified in 2014 and 2015, questions regarding Rousseff’s intelligence and leadership became a common thread. Many interviewees saw these intensifying at the height of the crisis and an “incompetence” narrative with an overtly gendered tone took hold. Some recalled Rousseff opponents argued that, as a woman, she needed to be removed from power and that this was a cautionary tale about what happens when women are in charge.

Misogyny was present in the impeachment process in both covert and overt ways. In the ten-hour long Chamber of Deputies session voting to start the impeachment process, very few references were made to the actual fiscal crime Rousseff allegedly committed; other reasons proved far more salient. Deputies said they cast their vote to impeach because they wanted to protect Brazil, their constituents, and their families or even to serve God. Many held green and yellow signs stamped with the expression Tchau Querida, which means “goodbye dear.” The condescending use of the word querida goes beyond mere political satire and into the world of misogynistic tropes against women in power.

Sexism and misogyny went beyond subtle jokes. One Deputy called Rousseff a jararaca, a venomous snake. In Brazil, this is a sexist term to describe women. Making no attempt to hide its misogyny, the speech met applause on the floor. The use of this derogatory expression, combined with the expression Tchau Querida shows that the deputy and his supporters were not just interested in Rousseff’s alleged impeachable offenses, but in degrading the President because of her gender.

Attempts to disempower Rousseff occurred long before the impeachment. The most infamous example was a car decal popularized the year the proceedings. It simulated sexual assault against the president. The decal was meant to protest another increase in gas prices. Such protests have happened before and after Rousseff’s presidency, with the difference being that male presidents such as Michel Temer or Jair Bolsonaro never saw their faces featured on a car decal simulating a sexual act.

The current conversation surrounding the 2022 presidential election feature as front-runners two men: one a former president who can still have his political rights stripped if the decision to drop charges against him is reversed; the other is the current president whose administration is marred by political scandals and a complete failure to protect the country from the pandemic. At least they can rest assure that their gender identity will not be used as a weapon against them.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we celebrate Women’s History Month. Use promo code TWHM21 for 30% off all our Women’s Studies titles. Sale ends April 15, 2021.

Anna May Wong: Performing the Modern, by Shirley Jennifer Lim, shows how Anna May Wong’s work shaped racial modernity and made her one of the most significant actresses of the twentieth century.

The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gap, by Yasemin Besen-Cassino, traces the origins of the gender wage gap to part-time teenage work, which sets up a dynamic that persists into adulthood.

Feminist Post-Liberalism, by Judith Baer, reconciles liberalism and feminist theory.

Feminist Reflections on Childhood: A History and Call to Action, by Penny A. Weiss, recovers a history of feminist thought and activism that demands greater voice and respect for young people.

Good Reasons to Run: Women and Political Candidacy, edited by Shauna L. Shames, Rachel I. Bernhard, Mirya R. Holman, and Dawn Langan Teele, how and why women run for office.

Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America, by Jean Elson, a fascinating story of the troubled marriage and acrimonious divorce of Nina and James Walker elucidates early twentieth-century gender and family mores.

Motherlands: How States Push Mothers Out of Employment, by Leah Ruppanner challenges preconceived notions of the states that support working mothers.

Savoring the Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara, edited by Linda Janet Holmes and Cheryl A. Wall, an anthology that celebrates the life and work of a major African American writer.

Their Day in the Sun: Women in the Manhattan Project, by Ruth H. Howes and Caroline C. Herzenberg, tells the hidden story of the contribution of women in the effort to develop the atomic bomb.

Undermining Intersectionality: The Perils of Powerblind Feminism, by Barbara Tomlinson, a sustained critique of the ways in which scholars have engaged with and deployed intersectionality.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislature: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, by Anna Mitchell Mahoney, investigates the opportunities, resources, and frames that women utilize to create legislative caucuses.

Women’s Empowerment and Disempowerment in Brazil: The Rise and Fall of President Dilma Rousseff, by Pedro A.G. dos Santos and Farida Jalalzai, explains what the rise and fall of Brazil’s first and only female president can teach us about women’s empowerment.

More Kudos for Cwiklinski

This week in North Philly Notes, we repost Boathouse Row author Dotty Brown’s news that 1964 Olympic Gold medal winner/rower Stan Cwiklinski will be inducted into the La Salle University Hall of Athletes.

Stan Cwiklinksi was just 20 years old when he took a year-long leave from what was then La Salle College to train for the 1964 Olympics. He then went on to win a gold medal in Tokyo with one of the most unlikely eight-oared crews ever to take that prize. This week, Cwiklinski [(Quick-lin-ski), 77, learned that he is being named to the La Salle University Hall of Athletes.

“I think he’s the only living member of La Salle who has an Olympic gold medal,” said New Jersey businessman Bucky Durney, who was coxswain with Cwiklinski in 1962 when the crew won the Dad Vail Championship.  “But there’s more to Stan than just the rowing.” Which is why Durney in 2018 started lobbying for Cwiklinski to be honored.

“Someone who goes into the hall of fame should be someone who not only did something remarkable at La Salle but someone who did something remarkable afterward,” Durney said.

Stan’s lifelong success, he said, demonstrates to current La Salle rowers “what a person who rowed at La Salle can do with their life.” 

Cwiklinski went from LaSalle to Navy officer training school, and over a 23-year career in the service “did a lot of things I can’t discuss,” he told me this week. “I went to Vietnam. I was skipper on a patrol torpedo boat…. It was dangerous, yes, but exciting. I saw a lot of combat operations.” He rose to become a commander, and won numerous medals including a Meritorius Service Medal for the work of his career – “the whole shebang,” he said.

Along the way, he became a salvage diving officer and as such did a clean up job in Antarctica after an Argentine vessel dumped oil, spent 3 ½ years with the British Royal Navy, and went down to 1,800 feet in a submersible capsule, marking the deepest anyone in the Navy had ever gone, he said. Cwiklinski ended his career as the “Atlantic Fleet oil spill guru” –experience that led him to be called upon to help direct the clean up of the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

In retrospect, he said, his experience training for the Olympics proved a foundation for his life’s work. “When you are in a warfare situation, you learn by experience. You’ve had the training but you have to apply leadership training with personnel, leading them into battle. I think that rowing is a natural building block of character.  In the type of activity I was doing in the Vesper Eight, it was high performance, where you have to really approach other people in the boat. You have to interface with these guys and do so with absolute perfection at a very high level.”

That’s just how Durney saw Cwiklinski way back in college. “Always humble, a terrific oarsman…extremely serious when in the boat, and worked as hard as anyone. A fantastic teammate. You can’t have any heroes outstanding on a crew.”

Cwiklinski, at 6-foot-two and a half, started rowing out of the Fairmount Rowing Association during his time at Central High School. “I got pretty good at it and kept at it,” he told me when I interviewed him for my book, Boathouse Row.  While rowing crew for La Salle, he was encouraged to switch over to Vesper to train for the Olympics by Hugh Foley, who had transferred to La Salle from California specifically to train at the world class club.  Foley “encouraged me to drop everything else I was doing, including LaSalle rowing. It all came together.”

The two became the youngest members of a boat that was variously called a “motley crew” or “old men” because of the unlikely span of their ages and their mostly disheveled comportment.  The crew included a 46-year-old coxswain (Hungarian refugee Robert Zimonyi), a 34-year-old businessman and father of six (Bill Knecht) and several rowers in their late 20s whom the military had transferred to Philadelphia specifically to train for the Olympics. There was a lot of drama in the boat, particularly between the two Yale crewmen (Emory Clark and Boyce Budd) who sparred with brothers Tom and Joe Amlong, who had grown up as Army brats and were known for their tough talk salted with more than spicy language.

Nonetheless Cwiklinski found a way to survive and thrive. Tom Amlong, he said, “had a way of instigating. He was always trying to make me be better than I could be. He would turn around and shout words – do or die kinds of things. He was a real disciplinarian.” Cwiklinski said that on the one hand, “I had to stand up to him. He was a lot older,” but, he added, “at my age at that time and level of experience, I fell into place and didn’t ask a lot of questions.”

The award, according to LaSalle spokesman Dan Lobacz, will be formally announced in the next few weeks. It will not be Stan Cwiklinski’s first for rowing. In 1965, the Vesper Eight was inducted into the National Rowing Hall of Fame.  But he will stand out in La Salle’s Hall of Athletes, where only two individual rowers were previously honored: Thomas Conville of the Class of 1953, for stroking his crew to 13 victories out of 15 races (Conville has a cup named for him at the Dad Vail.),  and Bob Morro (class of 1958) for his multiple successes at the Dad Vail. Lobacz said he believes the late Joe Verdeur (200 m Breast Stroke, 1948), is the only other Olympic gold medal winner in the Hall

Said Durney, “Stan was the ultimate team player in the ultimate team sport.”

For more of the story of the surprising Vesper run to the 1964 Olympics, read Boathouse Row.

Urban renewal began back in 1915?

This week in North Philly Notes, Dennis Gale, author of The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, recounts the history of gentrification (you probably don’t know).

Gentrification—the physical, economic, and social transformation of poor and working class neighborhoods primarily by middle- and upper-income people—remains one of the most controversial topics in urban studies today. A simple Google search of the term turned up nearly ten million hits. By the time that I began researching gentrification in Washington, D.C. in the late 1970s, I had already witnessed its unfolding in Boston. Like most observers, I thought that a new trend was underway. At that time, America’s cities were in crisis and millions of middle-class people were leaving them for the leafy suburbs. The conventional wisdom was that poverty, racial strife, and crime were undermining American urban life.

Although gentrification was far outweighed nationwide by neighborhood decline, it raised hopes that not all middle-class households were abandoning cities. With more research, I learned that gentrification was not a new phenomenon. In fact, its earliest U.S. origins date to about 1915. The Misunderstood History of Gentrification, reframes our understanding of this trend’s origins, its interaction with public policies, and its evolution from “embryonic” to “advanced” gentrification. The critical role played by a burgeoning national historic preservation movement is also documented.  

What we now know as gentrification first gained momentum in Boston, New York, Charleston, New Orleans, and Washington, D.C. a century ago. In each city, an older neighborhood experiencing disinvestment began attracting newcomers who renovated aging housing and generated renewed interest in inner city living. Perhaps believing that this trend was a mere flash in the pan, observers referred to it variously by terms such as “remodeling,” “regeneration” or “revitalization.” Since the late 1970s, when it became widely known as “gentrification,” online searches of that word have misled people into assuming that the phenomenon itself first appeared at that time. In fact, it dates back sixty years earlier.

Gentrification confounded conventional wisdom—i.e. that once physical neglect, economic decline, and poor and minority residents appeared, older neighborhoods would inevitably spiral downward to the status of “slums.” As official thinking went, only by tearing down slums, relocating their residents and businesses, and building anew, could such places become viable communities. But early gentrification demonstrated that renovation and reuse was not only a feasible alternative, it helped create one of the most desirable neighborhoods in each of the five cities in which it first appeared. And with time, it spread to other neighborhoods in those communities. Moreover, wherever it emerged, the process evolved with little, if any, government financing or bureaucratic administration.

But there’s more. By the late 1940s Congress grappled with the urban crisis by enacting the Urban Redevelopment program. It stipulated that cities could receive federal funds if they completely demolished and cleared older neighborhoods, displaced most existing residents and businesses, and rebuilt with modern architecture and infrastructure. The subtext was clear: only by destroying a neighborhood, could it be “saved.” Gentrification’s lessons—rehabilitating older structures, retaining their historic architecture and scale, and developing a diverse mix of existing and new residents—were written off as a recipe for failure.  

Even after Congress revised Redevelopment, renaming it Urban Renewal, the insights gained from early gentrification were largely ignored. Meanwhile, over the 1950s and 1960s, gentrification was gradually spreading. And opposition to Urban Renewal and other issues led to civil unrest in dozens of cities. Reacting, Congress scrapped the program in the mid-1970s and federal funds were targeted for housing rehabilitation, neighborhood reuse, and greater socioeconomic and racial diversity in declining areas. The new policies rejected large-scale demolition and adopted others that were more compatible with the “reuse and rehabilitate” dynamics of gentrification.

The first American cities in which gentrification surfaced were all located on the East or Gulf coasts. By the 1960s and 1970s though, the trend was metastasizing to San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Vancouver. Public officials were realizing that gentrification posed one essential part of a new strategy to revitalize the nation’s cities. By that time, hundreds of millions of dollars had been misspent on Urban Renewal—money that could have been used to rehabilitate neighborhoods for a combination of new and existing residents and businesses. As The Misunderstood History of Gentrification shows, the relationship between gentrification and Urban Renewal is widely misunderstood today.  

Gentrification demonstrated that not all middle-class people were fleeing cities. It showed that some were eager to live in mixed income and culturally diverse areas. The challenge for public policy has been to find ways to build and maintain socially and economically vibrant communities. Gentrification is a necessary, but not sufficient, ingredient in the revitalization of America’s cities. President Biden, his domestic policy advisor, Susan Rice, and his nominee for Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Marcia Fudge, are well advised to heed the lessons about urban growth and change evolving over the past century. Avoid policy myopia at all costs. The story of the nation’s cities didn’t begin in 2021. In short, history (still) matters.

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