Emilia Roig founded the Center for Intersectional Justice (CIJ) in Berlin a few years ago. CIJ’s goal is to research intersectional forms of oppression, educate about them in workshops, and support institutions in structural change. Her book Why We Matter: The End of Oppression now brings together Roig’s far-ranging body of knowledge. Moving at a rapid pace, the book takes a look at the multiple facets of oppression in nearly all areas of life. Why We Matter can thus be read as a wonderfully accessible introduction to the concept of intersectionality.
The book offers a detailed chapter on each of a number of different areas, such as at home, school and university, in the media, in the courtroom, etc. In all the chapters, Roig combines the personal with theory. Beginning with the chapter on “At Home” allows the author to first position herself, and explain how she developed such a keen interest in the intricacies of various aspects of identities and interlocking systems of oppression simply because of her complex family history. Roig makes it clear that she is a product of French colonialism: Her mother is from Martinique and still bears the surname of her ancestral slaveholder; her father is Jewish-Algerian and grew up living a colonial lifestyle in various African countries. Through herself and her family, Roig is thus able to explain very well some phenomena: cognitive dissonance in relation to racism, internalized racism, colourism, language and power, the fetishization of certain bodies, and so on.
Later on in the book, she covers many topics that are less directly related to Roig’s life. Local frames of reference for these tend to alternate between Germany, France, and the United States. Roig is critical of the criminalization of sex work; she questions the need for prisons; and she suggests that the construction of the norm of what counts as “healthy” or “unhealthy” is not only ableist – that is, discriminatory against people with disabilities. The idea of “health” itself is embedded in a dominant heteronormative system of thought. Heterosexuality, for example, has been constructed as a norm and as “healthy”. This is based on particular political opinions and not purely on scientific knowledge. I particularly like that Roig is careful to connect different levels in all of her examples that explain where and how oppression is at work: Forms of oppression are practiced individually, but are usually historically grown, institutionally anchored, and thus work to structure society.
What I appreciate about the book is that, despite necessary criticism, it takes a hopeful stance that an end to oppression is possible. While Roig correctly anticipates that there is no magic formula or simple guide to greater equality, she at least identifies some cornerstones or signposts that serve as orientation. People with privilege, Roig says, have the task of learning to deal with guilt. People who experience oppression need space to heal. Additionally, Roig places a focus on developing more empathy for one another, as well as a certain kind of spirituality. I would wholeheartedly encourage everyone to engage with this book and its apt criticism and constructive suggestions. Perhaps just reading it can be understood as a nudge in the right direction on the path of transformation towards the still utopian end of oppression.
(The book has not yet been translated into English)
Order the book here and support us! The work behind poco.lit. is done by us – Anna und Lucy. If you’d like to order this book and want to support us at the same time, you can do so from here and we will get a small commission – but the price you pay will be unaffected.