Let’s Talk About Intersectionality
Have you been to a Pride Day celebration? Or maybe a women’s march? How about a Black Lives Matter Rally?
All of these are important groups facing amazingly important issues, but are all of these issues as separate and compact as we want to think they are? When talking about the issues that impact minority or oppressed groups, a concept that may get thrown out there is the term intersectionality. However do most of us really know what that means and why it’s important to look at it?
Intersectionality is defined as the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect. The term really became a buzzword in the activism community beginning in the 1980s due to the works of UCLA and Columbia law professor Kimberly Crenshaw, who wanted to draw attention to how the separation or compartmentalization of concepts like gender discrimination and race discrimination can cause harm in groups where they overlap, such as Crenshaw’s own main group women of color. Crenshaw pointed out that in antidiscrimination law suits women of color had difficulty filling discrimination based on both their gender and color, even though they clearly experienced these multiple levels of discrimination.
Today, the word gets thrown around in a different context – protest intersectionality or the need for intersectionality in activism. It has come to mean fighting not just for one group but many. The problem with this is we aren’t making much head way with the concept. Some of that is from difficulty to hold the hard conversations.
For myself, I almost feel wrong writing or speaking about the issues facing the black community. I am a white woman, an outsider. I have little to no idea what kind of discrimination these people are going through on a daily basis beyond what I see told in the media, or hear from friends. It is not my place to tell their story, but it is my place to ask you to sit down and listen to it with me.
Now on a personal note, I am both a member of the LGBTQA community and a woman, this gives me a different view of the feminist narrative then say a straight white women would have. For that side I can see a little, though most definitely not all, of where feminists of color come from when they say the standard narrative isn’t theirs. As an openly admitted pansexual woman, can I fight for both fair wages as a woman and the right to give a female spouse my benefits and insurance? You bet I can, but that isn’t all I should be fighting for or hearing.
The lesson of intersectionality is here to teach us is that we need to hear the different voices and truly support them. Support and working together is how we, as a multifaceted and multicultural society, can make a change for the better. All of us need to listen and hear.
I need to listen to the voices of women of color, of indigenous women, of women of Asian heritage, of straight black men, gay black men, gay white men, transgender men and transgender women. I need to hear the voices of those who feel and see oppression around me, and I need to shout their war cries along with mine.
Look around you, see who you can see and what they need heard. Be part of a change and have that conversation you aren’t comfortable with – it can make all the difference.