In the black feminist tradition, examining the points of various structural processes where they most numerously manifest is a way to isolate the form and function of those processes in ways that can be obscured when we study them up the privilege hierarchy (Hill Collins 2000). Essentially, no one knows best the motion of the ocean than the fish that must fight the current to swim upstream. I study fish that swim upstream.
Millions of people use social media to navigate identities too complex for single analytical frames like race, class, gender and sexuality to fully capture. We are messy and complicated and we seem to want our digital tools to reflect that. But, intersectionality was never intended to only describe lived experiences. Intersectionality was to be an account of power as much as it was an account of identities (Crenshaw 1991). Here, the potential of intersectionality to understand the reproduction of unequal power relations have not yet been fully realized.
In brief, intersectionality is one of those rare social theories to combine precision of theoretical mechanisms with broadness of method (Lykke 2011). That combination has served intersectionality’s diffusion through social sciences and humanities quite well.
Intersectionality, the belief that our social justice movements must consider all of the intersections of identity, privilege, and oppression that people face in order to be just and effective, is the number one requirement of all of the work that I do. When I first learned about intersectionality in college, I honestly had no idea what a huge part of my life it would later become. What was at first an interesting if not abstract theory I wrote about for college papers became a matter of my political, social, spiritual, and yes, even physical survival. Because I am not capable of cutting myself to pieces. I’m not capable of cutting away my blackness in order to support feminism that views the needs of women of color as divisive inconveniences. I’m not capable of cutting away womanhood in order to stand by black men who prey on black women. I’m a black woman, each and every minute of every day—and I need you to march for me, too.
The idea of intersectionality provides a more inclusive alternative to the status quo. Coined by the brilliant race theorist and civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, the term “intersectionality” was born from Crenshaw’s work to shed light on the ways in which experiences in both race and gender intertwine to uniquely impact the lives of black women and women of color. Crenshaw referred to those intersections of race and gender as intersectionality and stressed the need to consider intersectionality in our social justice movements.
Intersectionality as a theory and practice was quickly adopted by prominent black feminists to describe the need they saw for a more holistic view of race and gender. From there intersectionality spread to a large section of feminist scholarship and activism and was expanded to include class, ability, and sexuality as well.
Intersectionality, and the necessity of considering intersectionality, applies to more than just our social justice efforts. Our government, education system, economic system, and social systems all should consider intersectionality if they have any hope of effectively serving the public.
Intersectionality helps ensure that fewer people are left behind and that our efforts to do better for some do not make things far worse for others. Intersectionality helps us stay true to our values of justice and equality by helping to keep our privilege from getting in our way. Intersectionality makes our systems more effective and more fair.
So if intersectionality makes all of our social justice efforts so much better, why isn’t it a more prominent part of our social justice movements? I believe there are many reasons that may be why social justice movements have been slow to adopt intersectional practices:
- Intersectionality slows things down.
- Intersectionality brings people face-to-face with their privilege.
- Intersectionality decentralizes people who are used to being the primary focus of the movements they are a part of.
- Intersectionality forces people to interact with, listen to, and consider people they don’t usually interact with, listen to, or consider.
It’s not enough for you to personally believe in intersectionality. We need to start demanding intersectionality of all those who seek to join us in our social justice movements.
Everything we do publicly can be made more inclusive and uplifting with intersectionality, and everything we do can become exclusionary and oppressive without it. Intersectionality, and the recognition and confrontation of our privilege, can make us better people with better lives.Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race (pp. 74-75, 77-79, 81-82). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.
It’s basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.
Intersectionality is simply about how certain aspects of who you are will increase your access to the good things or your exposure to the bad things in life. Like many other social-justice ideas, it stands because it resonates with people’s lives, but because it resonates with people’s lives, it’s under attack. There’s nothing new about defenders of the status quo criticizing those who are demanding that injustices be addressed. It’s all a crisis over a sense that things might actually have to change for equality to be real.
The term intersectionality is used more broadly today to describe the cumulative effect within one’s lived experience of being in the world with two or more socially constructed identities; and the world’s perception, storying, and interaction with them.
The crux of intersectionality as a philosophy is that it does not allow for socially constructed identities to occur discreetly in the sociopolitical and sociocultural sphere. When someone like me walks into the room, I don’t have the opportunity to negotiate with others which of my identities they intend to hyperfocus on or criticize. I am a package deal. We all are. This is what I feel is so important when advocating for affirmation of intersectional autism. Just as we seek to discuss misogynoir, we need to bring in the complexity of these sorts of social dynamics into the autistic experience. Intersectionality can serve as a silencer of autism if the other seeks to home in on some other stereotype or archetype they find more threatening or — said with disgust — fascinating.
Autism doesn’t occur in a vacuum, and neither do any aspects of our intersectionality. They all happen at once, in the moment, and influence our being in the world, and how the world is with us at all times.
Intersectionality is not only arguing for factualizing these marginalized identities as inextricably intertwined, but also acknowledging that their accumulative interactions are absolutely inseparable.
It is unjust to only think of intersectionality as a crossroads of one dependent and independent variable. Instead, we must grow to see intersectional disability as a radial: multiple streams of energy coalescing at one central point of consciousness and lived experience.
And we can’t BE a community unless we get past white supremacy,
You cannot get there. The parts we need to survive are scattered All amongst us.Tinu on Twitter
We all find a way to love & live interdependently.
Or we all die.
The whole of humanity.Tinu on Twitter