In our commitment to the fight for equality, we must familiarise ourselves with the terminology used in many of the conversations that will help us to expand our knowledge and join into meaningful dialogue.
Intersectionality is an important construct in the drive for racial equality. First coined by Professor Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, intersectionality refers to the “interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.”
To put it simply, intersectionality hones in on the various ways different classifications within society interlock adding additional layers of complexities in the fight to create a level playing field for all.
As an ambitious black woman, I unintentionally became aware of intersectionality when I landed on the shores of the professional working environment. Never one to put my destiny in the hands of others, I quickly began to analyse this new territory I finally found myself in, to formulate a progression plan. It took less than a week to find out that there were no black women in positions of seniority and that I was one of the only black females in a company of over 500 employees.
Although a blow, I saw pockets of progressive thinking as there were women in positions of influence. For a younger me, seeing the potential of some opportunity pleased me; but how that journey would look, I wasn’t sure.
This is what makes the experiences of black people so compound. There are so many external forces at work that are designed to create barriers for black advancement. Many of us are left with the option of hope; hope that we will be one of the few to make it up the ranks; one of the few to break boundaries; one of the few to be the example. This reaches nearly, if not every, corner of society. This impacts black people’s economic growth, political gain, and societal egalitarianism.
I am Dionne. I am a woman. I am black. I am British. I am of Ghanaian heritage. I am working class. I am straight. I am state school educated. I do not belong to a religion. For every part of my identity, being black adds a dash (or more) of oppression in Western society. You can test this out yourself by adding black to each one of my statements.
Black people cannot easily mitigate the multifaceted nature of the discrimination and disadvantages faced due to the woven blueprint of racism and intersectionality. Our identity markers can seldom be separated as they make up who we are as individuals. Just being seen as a woman is not enough. As a black woman, I’m not always afforded the same privileges as white women. This is historical and can be demonstrated through the suffragette movement which only provided voting opportunities for white women in 1918. It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act was passed nearly a half century later, on August 6 1965 that black women were able to exercise the right to vote.
Recognising intersectionality is fundamental if we wish to avoid superficial solutions that don’t go far enough to create sustainable societal change. I get that it’s not straightforward, extremely nuanced, and requires a deeper level of involvement, but failure to recognise that oppression looks different for many people risks perpetuating the very issues we are attempting to eradicate.
I’ve listed some actions below for those wanting to educate themselves further on this topic. Most are easy to take on and will make a huge difference in making a difference.
- Listen to Professor Kimberle Crenshaw’s TED talk on Intersectionality
- Read Professor Kimberle Crenshaw’s paper Mapping Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color
- Learn the theory
- Self-evaluate. Intersectionality goes beyond colour; reflect on your privilege and check where you may have discriminated against others. Understanding that oppression crosses over many boarders will help you to practice your ‘anti’ and ‘allied’ behaviour
- Know what you’re dealing with. You’ve got to be clear on the overlapping dynamics and its overall impact. Only then can solutions be found that underpin the key issues at work.
Sending love and light always.