Post 2: Understanding Intersectionality and Structural Violence

In the class “Anthropology of Power and Violence” with Professor Ferry, we learned about various sociological theories about power, violence, and how they materialize in the real world. Some of these theories and terms included intersectionality, a term coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, and structural violence, from Johan Galtung’s work.

Intersectionality is a crucial aspect of any social justice work since acknowledging that each person has interconnected identities and experiences is one of the first steps toward effectively supporting that individual. An indigenous woman is both a woman, and indigenous, so the marginalization she experiences would be informed by both of those identities simultaneously. This is a concept commonly used at Cultural Survival. Most of the interviews conducted with indigenous people invite the individual to discuss how their other identities intersect with their indigenous identity.

Indigenous men and women are both indigenous, but women are bound to have different life experiences because they are women, and acknowledging that with the tool of intersectionality makes it possible to adequately get indigenous women the support they really need. Even when a group shares something in common, like being indigenous, respecting differences within that group allows each person to feel fully seen for who they are.

Structural violence is another incredibly relevant concept to the work Cultural Survival does. It is violence that is embedded in government policies and practices, where a social institution prevents someone from getting their basic needs met. Colonization brought with it structural violence toward indigenous peoples. Some examples of violence are requiring indigenous children to enroll in schools where they must learn English and are not allowed to speak their native languages, and also governments forcing indigenous peoples off their lands and onto new lands that do not provide the same resources that the community would need to sustain itself. Another example is the use of caricatures of Native Americans as mascots for schools and sports teams. On June 25, there was a public hearing at the Massachusetts State House where one of the potential bills was one that would ban the use of Native Americans as mascots for public schools. This is an issue that Native American communities have been fighting for decades, but the governing structures have yet to enforce this ban. 

The Joint Committee on Education public hearing on June 25, 2019.

Generations of structural violence have led to many indigenous communities struggling with poverty and unemployment. One thing Cultural Survival does is provide small grants and assistance for communities that submit project proposals. The aim is to help provide indigenous peoples with the monetary support that structural violence has prevented them from accessing. Lack of funding is a major problem communities face when they are the victims of structural violence. Cultural Survival also helps provide monetary support for community-led radio programs that are trying to get off the ground. The purpose is so the indigenous people concerned have full control over their content, and they can discuss topics that are relevant in the language that is most fitting for their community. Cultural Survival is there to help the community get access to equipment and get on the air, which are things that structural violence can prevent. 

You can’t solve a problem you don’t understand, and social problems are generally bigger than what any one person can solve. Conceptual tools like intersectionality and structural violence help us understand the large-scale issues so that we can better address them.

-Christy Swartz

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