Alberta Premier Jason Kenney had a lot to say about this week’s Liberal throne speech, which stressed advancement for women, climate action and COVID-19 pandemic recovery.
The Alberta premier is facing online criticism after calling the speech’s intersectional focus a “kooky academic theory.”
During a press conference Thursday, the premier slammed the throne speech, suggesting the emphasis on systemic racism and women came at the cost of attention to the oil and gas industry and transfer payments.
“There was space for every bright shiny object, every possible political distraction, kooky academic theories like intersectionality found their way into yesterday’s throne speech,” he said.
Critics were quick to take to social media and call out the comments.
University of Calgary political science professor Melanee Thomas says Kenney’s comment toes a dangerous line into dismissing systemic racism and is “inexcusable.”
“It’s either gross ignorance on his part, or he’s actually saying that he doesn’t want to take systemic racism seriously,” she told HuffPost Canada.
What is the definition of intersectionality?
Intersectionality refers to the approach to something as being affected by a number of discriminations and disadvantages, based on overlapping identities and experiences.
For example, in Canada, Indigenous women face higher rates of policing than their white or male counterparts. Black women also have a harder time accessing health care than their white counterparts.
WATCH: What is intersectional feminism and why it matters. Story continues below.
The term, intersectionality, was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in the 1980s as a way to describe how race, gender, class and other aspects of identity intersect in the context of the law. It’s seen a resurgence in recent years as a way of highlighting racial and queer issues in the present-day feminist movement.
In response to critiques of Kenney’s comments, the premier’s issues management director Matt Wolf shared a video on the topic from right-wing commentator Ben Shapiro, who was notoriously championed by the Quebec mosque shooter.
In the video, Shapiro claims intersectionality means a person’s opinion is valued more, based on how many “victim groups” they are a part of. The video also features transphobic depictions of trans people, islamophobic rhetoric and the claim that America is “least racist nation on the planet.”
This is all factually inaccurate based on the definition of intersectionality. In a May 2019 interview with Vox, Crenshaw said intersectionality is not about creating a hierarchy with the most oppressed people at the top. Rather, she said, the point of intersectionality is to make room “for more advocacy and remedial practices” to create a more egalitarian system.
In fact, Thomas says intersectionality can be vital to developing good public policy.
“There are very different outcomes that hinge on gender and race working together, often age, income, class and education — if you take this stuff into account, it’s not ‘kooky’,” she said. “If you take this stuff into account you actually build a holistic complete public policy.”
She says Kenney’s rejection of intersectionality as “kooky” suggests he’s okay with issues of systemic racism that have recently come to light in Alberta.
Last weekend, an anti-racism rally in Red Deer was disrupted by members of white supremacist hate groups including the Soldiers of Odin. When asked about social division, a central Alberta police officer said it was important to give equal voice to both groups.
“If you’re looking at the current context of Black Lives Matter in the United States, and the action that we’ve had in Alberta,” Thomas said. “And you want to say that it’s kooky to suggest that people have competing identities that will like compound discrimination […] you’re actually missing the mark in terms of actually writing doing governance, in a way that is appropriate for everyone.”
Thomas said Kenney should apologize for the comments, because they can be read as him being okay with racism.
“It’s either gross ignorance on his part, or he’s actually saying that he doesn’t want to take systemic racism seriously.”
“He’s literally saying with this a reasonable interpretation is that he’s okay with racism, and different negative outcomes structured by race — that is literally a fair interpretation of this — I think most Canadians, including most Albertans fundamentally reject this,” Thomas said.
When reached for comment over email by HuffPost Canada, Kenney’s press secretary Chrstine Myatt called critiques of Kenney’s statement and accusations of endorsing racism “utterly ridiculous.”
“You are suggesting the only way to oppose racism is to accept an illiberal, neo-Marxist ideology which only views people through the lens of group identity and immutable characteristics,” she wrote.
“By that argument, many of the great civil right activists in history — who did not adhere to the tenets of intersectionality — were also racist.”