Intersectionality a Revelation: Is it Something You Should Know?

An Introduction to Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a word that’s been around for the better part of 30 years picking up traction recently amongst feminist and activist groups, popularizing the term “intersectionality for feminism”.

But what exactly is intersectionality? 

How did intersectionality emerge?

Intersectionality is a theory coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, the leading scholar in race theory, back in 1989 as a result of her research behind the oppressions caused by the overlapping discriminations between gender, race, sex, class and other individual charastiscts that “intersect” with one another.

Here is a link to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s paper about intersectionality of race and sex: 

“Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” 

Intersectionality is used as a model for understanding elements of a person’s political and social identities that amalgamate to create different means of discrimination and privileges.

Intersectionality enables the detection of the advantages and disadvantages that are felt due to a compound of factors such as:

The discriminations of being solely a woman is different than the multiple layers of discrimination towards being a woman AND Black, or a woman AND Latina, or a woman AND black AND Latina.

culture fuzz intersectionality

The individual discrimination towards being a man is not the same as being a man AND black, or being a man AND handicapped and so on and so forth.

Intersectionality offers a lens through which we can better understand one another and strive towards a more just future for all.”

It’s the idea that people experience discrimination differently depending on their overlapping identities.

How Intersectionality Works

Intersectionality is a theory believed to have an intention of furthering the conversation about discrimination and oppression beyond the singular layers of race, sex, class, age etc. and combine all of these classifications to help bring about an entirely new perspective toward our own personal experiences as well as our others.

The theory of intersectionality allows deeper questions to be asked and offers a better grasp on identifying the disproportionate amounts of injustices that literally define the US nation’s infrastructure.

Kimberle Crenshaw’s paper about Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex, focuses around three legal cases that address both racial and sex discrimination.

One of those cases being Degraffenreid v. General Motors which took place in 1976 wherein five black women sued General Motors claiming the seniority policy exclusively targeted black women.

This means that because General Motors did not hire black women prior to 1964 and all of those same women were let go as a result of an ironically indirect discrimination; which was a seniority-based layoff that took effect during the 1970s recession.

Looking at the situation retroactively, General Motors only addressed the singular layer of race discrimination not taking into account how it would effect the rest of the company’s internal framework and policies.

Another example of race, sex and sexual orientation intersectionality is the Combahee River Collective.

Not included in Crenshaw’s research paper, The Combahee River Collective was a Black, lesbian and feminist organization based in Boston from 1974 to 1980. 

The Combahee collective claimed that the Civil Rights Movement along with the white feminist movement were not tackling their particular problems as Black women and more specifically Black lesbians.

Even though the Civil Rights Movement addressed the issues of discrimination towards black people, and the feminist movement addressed the injustices towards women, the additional blanket of merging all three injustices of being Black, women and lesbians created an entirely new layer of oppression designated to those identifying as all three.

An additional example is the case Parris v Trinity College Dublin (CJEU)

Dr. David Parris was a lecturer for Trinity College in Dublin who sought to establish a survivor’s pension for his same-sex partner of 30 years entitling his significant other to a lifetime pension equal to two-thirds of what Parris was making prior to an unlikely death. 

In order for his partner to qualify for this generous benefit Parris needed to have signed to the terms prior to him turning 60, which was impossible to do since Ireland didn’t recognize same sex civil partnership until January of 2011.

Dr. David Parris married his partner when he was 63 in April of 2009.

culture fuzz intersectionality

Why Is Intersectionality Important?

It’s a fair question.

Intersectionality is an idea that doesn’t resonate with everyone, particularly those not able to find how the term applies to them.

Does the theoretical framework of intersectionality only apply to certain people?

What if the theory behind intersectionality is meant to be utilized as a means to help aid in bridging the gap of communication between races, cultures, genders, classes etc.?

Yes, a utopian thought in theory but perhaps it can be a possibility.

Regardless of whether or not one is able to realize or relate to what constructs one’s identity to define their intersectionality, this theory can at least be used as a “cue” and approach towards expanding one’s own understanding of certain global, cultural and philosophical views. 

Intersectionality can be used as a “tool” when talking to peers, strangers or family members to possibly establish a deeper level of empathy towards who they are and their life experiences.

The importance of utilizing this framework can sometimes determine the difference between someone’s life, job or place in this world for the reason that common injustices, like race, gender and age, don’t necessarily take into account the multiple sub-layers of that same person’s overall identity which can pose a different set of challenges, view on life and how they interpret certain situations.

Possessing the ability to constructively and thoughtfully unpack someone’s intersectionalities can not only theoretically provide a much needed way of connecting with others but can also be used as a medium towards  everyday observances of the world.

As with all theories there’s a choice in how to perceive a framework and how that framework is used in accordance to its original meaning and intention.

So that brings us back to the original question:

Is Intersectionality important?

Well, as with anything, it depends entirely on the understanding of the party pondering the theory of intersectionality.

It appears those who have had direct experience with discrimination and it’s accompanyig sub-layers in accordance to their identity, can attest to the relevancy of intersectionality and have a general understanding of it’s original meaning. 

Examples being:

  • intersectionality and feminism
  • intersectionality and social justice
  • intersectionality vs intersecting identities
  • intersectionality in the workplace
  • intersectionality with age

Intersectionality Negatives

As with everything in life there are negatives, or the “other side of the coin” as some would say.

In Helen Lewis’s NewStatesMan article The Uses and Abuses of Intersectionality she describes how nobody is perfect and even though the concept of intersectionality is asking us to be better people, it can still demand parts of ourselves that are not ready to address or have a constructive conversation about something this heavy.

culture fuzz intersectionality

Intersectionality has taken on an icky-ish kind of energy and agreeing with Lewis’s article, it isn’t a “dirty word”.

Another theoretical draw back with intersectionality is the possibility it creates yet another label people can identify as an “oppression” and virtually label anything as discrimination by combining the right statistics.

Having the important conversations like intersectionality essentially means having to face and accept certain parts of ourselves that maybe we’re nowhere near ready to face.

Which is perfectly okay. 

These types of realizations and truths take time.

However, by adopting and putting to practice an ability to possibly see it as a means of communication and understanding of others, perhaps it can begin to help develop the understanding of self.

How Can Intersectionality Be Useful in Fight For Equality?

The overall fight for equality means to first gain a general understanding of what exactly needs to be equated.

How many fights in the extensive tussle of injustice for what seems to be like an endless fight?

That could very well be the best place to start in trying to understand the positive aspects of intersectionality and how it can be useful.

Between the 3 cases mentioned in this article, those give a pretty broad range as to the different types of inequalities people still face to this very day. 

Becoming aware of cases like these will only help in gaining awareness and perspective into the reality of other people’s lives.

Proving the discriminations I face are not the same as the discriminations you face.

The discriminations your husband or wife faces are not the same as yours.

You get the idea.

How Can Intersectionality Help Us?

A theory like intersectionality can only help us if that’s how it’s decided to be used.

It can either be seen as another negative label or a means of furthering a much needed conversation.

Culture Fuzz is always excited to bridge the gap to ANY tool that will further the conversation.

More About Intersectionality

Rissa SoFar
Rissa SoFar

Rissa SoFar

Rissa SoFar is a lover of building bridges and creating a safe space for people to have important conversations. As the founder and creator of Culture Fuzz, Rissa works to bridge the gap to people, places, products and ideas will surely make a quality difference in your life.

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