Considering Intersectionality to Strengthen the Fight Against Racism
Intersectionality is an idea that recognizes that humans hold myriad identities that have the potential to overlap and inform each other to result in a complex experience. It considers that each complex part of an identity plays a role in the overall combined experience of a single person. It recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways, and certainly not in others. Intersectionality allows us to examine these varying dimensions and degrees of discrimination while raising awareness of the result of multiple systems of oppression at work. Individuals have unique and simultaneous engagements with race, gender, class, ability, sexual orientation and citizenship.
Oppression and domination do not exist with neat boundaries around where one system ends and another begins, there tends to be overlaps that can and inform and even exacerbate the experience of one another. Of course this is not the oppression Olympics of who is the most oppressed, moreover highlighting the importance of approaching systems of oppression in a holistic manner that recognizes and creates space for the complexities of identity. Interlocking oppression is not a new concept, but one that women of color have particularly been talking about in terms of overlapping domination in racism and sexism. You can hardly address racism without addressing sexism, and you can’t really fight sexism without an anti-racism agenda. Or considering classism, sexual orientation, trans phobia, ability, and citizenship.
Once you start to consider how linked forms of oppression are with one another, it can seem overwhelming, like you can’t take on fighting ALL forms of oppression. However in what some call a specific target to fight oppression, like only taking on racism, or only taking on feminism, such a narrow focus denies individuals from a whole vision of themselves and their experience. In denying someone’s whole experience to inform our fights against oppression, I think we become complicit in enforcing other systems of oppression. A specific example is in white power feminism working to challenge sexism, without creating space to talk about feminism in the context of racism. Or Classism. What you end up with is an idea of feminism that becomes complicit in white privilege dominating and enforcing systems of oppression like racism and classism rather than opposing.
Bell Hooks write in her essay The Integrity of Back Womanhood, “Challenging and changing devaluation of black womanhood in this society is central to any effort to end racism.”
From the website Black Girl Dangerous,
Glimpse into the mind of Christal, an 18-year-old Black queerling, who ponders events and ideas pertaining to race, queerness, gender, feminism, awkwardness, etc., while making crafts.
An excerpt from Barbara Amolade – It’s a Family Affair – talks specifically how systems of oppression around race, gender, and class intertwine in the US.
“Black women who do need welfare are subjected to a system whose implicit assumption is that it’s a crime for men not to support women and children and women not to force men to support them. That system blames black women for ‘allowing’ men to impregnate them without the benefit of marriage or money. Welfare policies confuse the economic issue of how to support a family with the personal issues of sexuality and procreation, and this confusion shapes the perception of black female headed households as lacking men rather than money.”
An in depth view of Black Feminism and Intersectionality can be found here
Author Sharon Smith starts with Black legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coining the term “Intersectionality” in 1989, and finishes calling for black feminism as a politics of inclusion “that provides a strategy for combating all forms of oppression within a common struggle.”