At the bottom of the totem pole of inter-sectionality sits the straight, white male. Oh, how he has sinned! Oh, how he must be punished! But after all the straight white men are gone, who should we turn on next? Who, after the straight white man, bears the most blame for the ills of the world – maybe the gay white man? Or is it the white woman? They have both been oppressed, but they also both bear the indelible stain of their white skin. Maybe we take them both out at the same time and kill two birds with one guillotine. Then on to the gay white women – or is it? Maybe we move next to the black men. After all, the men only suffer the oppression of being black, not the double whammy of being a woman and gay. But perhaps the black man is also a Muslim and overweight, the victim of racism, Islamophobia and body-shaming all at the same time. Unless he lives in a predominantly Muslim, predominantly black society, of course, then we’re back down to one. Actually, come to think of it, what if the straight, white man we got rid of at the beginning was born an orphan in the slums of Detroit and was forced to live homelessly for the first ten years of his life. Surely he’s suffered more than his black counterpart born and brought up in a stable family in Beverly Hills? And so it goes, and goes and goes.
Even if we could work out the appropriate order, would knocking each group off, one by one, actually make things better? What would be the aim: to whittle the world down to one type of person, the last few years of humanity spent trying to decide if someone with big ears has had it worse than someone with a lazy eye? And what should be the appropriate atonement for sins as egregious as slavery and the Holocaust? How long would we have to pay penance for the sins of the British Empire, or is the mere idea that such a thing would be possible contemptible and offensive in the first place?
How helpful is it, when we are trying to move forward as a people, constantly to pit one group against another, endlessly dividing humanity into smaller and smaller tribes based on their immutable characteristics? How healthy is it to move through life feeling as if you are a victim and that certain other groups are responsible for your misery and therefore owe you some kind of debt? Perhaps the way forward is to do everything you can to improve your own life before looking to blame others. Perhaps the atonement for some sins is simply to learn from them. Perhaps the way forward is to judge people by the content of their character rather than the colour of their skin (now, who said that?)