What is Intersectionality?
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Talks and theories of intersectionality have dated way back to abolitionists such as Sojourner Truth. In 1851, Sojourner Truth gave a speech at an Ohio women’s rights convention. In this speech, she called out the hypocrisy of the movement, declaring that when they talk about women, they really only mean white women.
“That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody helps me any best place. And ain’t I a woman?
Look at me! Look at my arm. I have plowed (sic), I have planted and I have gathered into barns. And no man could head me. And ain’t I a woman?
I could work as much, and eat as much as any man—when I could get it—and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?
I have borne children and seen most of them sold into slavery, and when I cried out with a mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?”
After Truth stirring up the conversation on intersectionality, the ideology gained more and more popularity. However, nobody was able to put it into a word, until Kimberley Crenshaw came along. When she coined the term intersectionality in 1989, she was criticizing work that treated race and gender as exclusive parts of human experience and that as a result ignored black women’s experiences. Her analysis meant to highlight that black women’s experiences of oppression differed from white women’s, whose main focus was on gendered discrimination, and also from black men’s, who predominantly were focused on racial subjugation.
To explain black female experiences, she used the metaphor of traffic ‘intersections’:
“Intersectionality is what occurs when a woman from a minority group tries to navigate the main crossing in the city. The main highway is ‘racism road’. One cross street can be Colonialism, then Patriarchy Street . . .. She has to deal not only with one form of oppression but with all forms, which link together to make a double, a triple, multiple, a many layered blanket of oppression.” – Kimberley Crenshaw, 1989
Audre Lord an African American writer, radical feminist, womanist, lesbian, and civil rights activist. As a poet, she is best known for technical mastery and emotional expression, particularly in her poems expressing anger and outrage at civil and social injustices she observed throughout her life. Her poems and prose largely dealt with issues related to civil rights, feminism, and the exploration of black female identity. In relation to white feminists in the United States, Lord famously said, “the master's tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”
Today, intersectionality is used to address identities beyond race and gender. These identities include but certainly aren’t limited to: class, religion, sexual orientation, age, ability and ethnicity. People who do social justice work have come to realize that talking about people in a multifaceted way, instead of focusing solely on one aspect, produces a much more open and safe environment!
While intersectionality in the past mainly focused on the multiple identities of women, this concept is one that is applicable to all genders. One person’s identity can’t be talked about without addressing all their other identities. Practicing this will allow us to move towards being more inclusive as well as unlearning our own internalized dominance and oppression and thus, moving closer to liberation.
1797 - November 26, 1883
How were women of color treated during the Women's Rights Movement compared to white women?
What is the importance of recognizing intersectionality?
1959 - Present
How do our identities impact our daily lives?