“I’m sick of being an activist just because I’m fat and black. I want to be an activist because I’m intelligent, because I care about issues, because my music is good, because I want to help the world.”
This half-complaint, half-reflection by singer, rapper, and flautist Lizzo comes to the masses by way of David Letterman’s “My Next Guest” on Netflix. The singer makes an important observation, although she likely didn’t intend to.
Lizzo is an activist, presumably, because she believes in the causes she advances. The career she’s built allows her to support those causes. She is an activist because she believes she can help make a positive impact. But as her comments to Letterman reveal, she sees her work as being attributed to Lizzo’s race and Lizzo’s weight, rather than to Lizzo the individual.
The noted flute-twerker’s performance at Glastonbury last year was reduced to “a paean to body positivity” by The Guardian. Her social media is regularly scraped for listicles with titles like “7 times Lizzo said something that makes you feel good about your body.”
While it wasn’t the point of her comments—and despite her own use of the privilege-oppression binary—Lizzo’s lament is, in a way, an indictment of intersectionality and its divisive, minimizing effect on individuals.
Birthed by Kimberlé Crenshaw, the theory of intersectionality is a framework that came about, in part, as a means to right the perceived wrongs of early feminist movements led by white, middle-class women. Third-wave feminism poured gas on the recently lit fire of intersectionality and popularized the theory.
Soon, it was no longer women fighting against men for equality, it was white women versus black women, rich women versus poor women, able-bodied women versus disabled women, straight women versus lesbian women, and skinny women versus fat women.
Intersectionality’s absurd divisiveness spun out of control from there. The compounding and endless division of intersectional labeling carves up society into smaller and smaller marginalized segments until most people are alone with nothing but their laundry list of oppressions to cling to.
Of course, there’s a good argument to be made that Lizzo is to blame for that which she laments, as she’s leaned hard into using her size as part of her curated persona. The cover of her 2018 album, “Cuz I Love You,” features her sitting on the floor nude and turned to the side. She uses her social media to shame fat-shamers. Many of Lizzo’s lyrics emphasize her fitness journey, or purposeful lack thereof.
The “Good As Hell” singer frequently draws attention to her appearance during performances, too. She surrounds herself with backup dancers known as “The Big Grrrls,” usually in leotards, and brags about how big girls can dance too. She’s not wrong, and I would know—I’ve seen her as the opener for other artists twice, before most people knew her name, including once in the thin air of Red Rocks outside Denver, Colorado, where she took a break just long enough to swig from a bottle of Patrón.
Not being shy about who she is and what she looks like, though, isn’t reason to reduce Lizzo or her work to just her size and race. The fact that her activism and music is seen as “black” or “fat” is still emblematic of intersectionality’s core mandate to gut individualism. Instead of seeing people, their work, and their ideas as unique contributions, the result of intersectionality is a world in which even Lizzo is still reduced to just two of her intersectional labels: black and fat.
If this is how our intersectional culture treats a successful Grammy award-winning artist worth $10 million, what chance do everyday Americans have of being known for their unique character or talents? Perhaps, as Lizzo perhaps inadvertently said, it’s time to look past the convoluted matrices of oppression upon which intersectionality relies to see individuals.