by Unglid Paul
“All inequality is not created equal,” says Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia Law School. (Columbia Law School, Crenshaw) Crenshaw saw she needed a way to explain why the complaints of black women were valid, even if they were not shared by white women or black men. Thus, Crenshaw advocated a way for all the identities that are inhabited in an individual voice the way in which they shape that person's lived experiences. As a way to reflect on the intersections of oppressions that often silences the unique lived experiences of black women, Crenshaw successfully coined the term, “intersectionality.” Once realized, this term has been a popular tool for scholars to understand the complicated relation of power and deconstruct the group dynamic of one identity as it interacts with other characteristics such as race, class, gender, ethnicity, ageism, ableism and sexuality.
Intersectionality has been at the center of contemporary feminist works that guage the experiences of what it means to be a person of perceived inferiority or privilege based on the identities they belong to. For example, a white woman has to exist with the privilege of being white and with the oppressions of womanhood. A straight black man can enjoy the privileges of his sexuality, while feeling the imposed challenges that are placed on him based on the color of his skin. These privilege identities are seen as the “norm,” and for them to exist, other identities must be seen as “the other.” To be poor, to live with a disability, to have old age, to be a person of color, all of these groups face oppression and discrimination they are simultaneously silenced by the forces that seperated them from the norm.
The implications of intersectionality also extends beyond the books and articles. As Patricia Hill Collins wrote in her work, “Intersectionality,” “it speaks the language of activism and community organizing as much as it speaks that of academia or of institutions.” (Collins 5) Intersectionality provides scholars and activists alike with the language to start centering different identities into the conversation of social justice. Feminists now have the tools to re-focus the center on different idenities with the understanding that, even if all feminist are fighting for freedom, not all women live the same way, suffer the same way, fight for the same issues, or have the same vision of what a femenist future should look like. What we use to dismiss these diverse experiences, with the simple phrase, “it’s complicated,” can now be explained through the lense of intersectionality.
Collins, Hill Patricia, and Sirma Bilge. Intersectionality. Polity Press, 2020.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. On Intersectionality: Essential Writings. New Press, 2020.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later.” Columbia Law School, 8 June 2017, www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality-more-two-decades-later.
Women, UN. “Intersectional Feminism: What It Means and Why It Matters Right Now.” UN Women, 1 July 2020, un-women.medium.com/intersectional-feminism-what-it-means-and-why-it-matters-right-now-7743bfa16757.