Democratic National Committee Deputy Chairman Keith Ellison is a powerful player in the party's efforts to reconfigure before the 2018 midterm elections. After losing ground with the white working class in 2016, and suffering devastating down-ballot loses over the course of the Obama administration, Democrats are on a mission to more effectively pitch their policies to skeptical voters.
Ellison, a Democratic congressman from Minnesota, implored progressives gathered at Netroots Nation on Friday to embrace the philosophy of intersectionality. "All of us in this room have got to defend intersectionality as a concept," he said from the stage, drawing cheers from the crowd.
"That applause ain't quite loud enough!" Ellison went on, riling up the crowd.
Seated to his left was Kimberlé Crenshaw, the feminist scholar credited with introducing the philosophy of intersectionality in the 1980's. Crenshaw said she's been "astonished" by the attacks on her work, which even prompted her to go back and read it herself, wondering if perhaps she said something wrong. From that, Crenshaw explained she came away "with an even greater feeling that the distortion isn't accidental."
The professor called attacks on intersectionality a kind of "ideological gentrification" where detractors saw an opportunity to "take it around and turn it on its head."
"Smear is their tool," Ellison said, speaking more generally of conservatives. The DNC deputy chairman, a longtime progressive activist, called intersectionality an "incredibly powerful idea" and a "good way to understand linked oppression."
The concept is popular on college campuses where professors of race and gender theory pass it along to student activists. Like most academic theories, intersectionality's definition varies, but the Oxford English Dictionary says the concept describes "the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage."
To sum up intersectionality in brief, it means that once you've accepted that everything is racist, consistency demands that you also accept everything is sexist, everything is transphobic, everything is Islamophobic, and so on and so forth. Think of it as the grand unified theory of victimhood.
Crenshaw herself has explained it "came from the idea that if you're standing in the path of multiple forms of exclusion, you are likely to get hit by both."
The doctrine is characteristic of the brand of progressive radicalism from which many centrist Democrats believe the party must disassociate in order to broaden its appeal and recapture working class voters between the coasts. With Ellison perched in power at the DNC, those pleas probably won't be persuasive.
Emily Jashinsky is a commentary writer for the Washington Examiner.