by Zara Zrudlo
Intersectionality is a term that has become more common in the past five or so years. It was coined even before that by scholar, writer and activist Kimberlé Crenshaw. While the term is common, there are a lot of conflicting definitions. So, what exactly was Intersectionality intended to mean?
Intersectionality is a way to bring people’s overlapping identities into the light. A person can have multiple identity factors that influence how they experience life based on their race, socioeconomic status, gender, Indigeneity, sexual orientation, age, ethnicity, religion, disability, etc. We can use intersectionality to design better policies and social systems that take into account the entirety of people’s identities. For instance, policies that promote women’s rights are very important; however, they may not help a gay, Japanese woman with a disability. That policy would only address the female part of a person’s identity, it wouldn’t combat the ableism, homophobia and asiaphobia that person experiences. Therefore, the policy wouldn’t reach and aid them as much.
Let’s use a Black woman applying for a job as an example. She doesn’t receive the job even though she has twice the qualifications that the other applicants do. She asks the company about it, wanting to know why. They simply tell her that she isn’t qualified enough, which doesn’t make sense. While she is there, talking to the company, she gets a look at the employees. There are a ton of white women, and a few people of color who are men. However, there are no women of color. The company is too big for it to be a coincidence. She tells the company this, but they tell her that she doesn’t make any sense. There are people of color working there, and there are women. But there are no women of color, no people with those two overlapping identity factors.
Creating policies that combat transphobia or policies that combat racism won’t be as effective as creating policies that combat transphobia and racism together! Otherwise, people who are trans and Latinx won’t feel the positive impact of the policies.
Looking at someone’s gender and race as things that can overlap rather than two completely separate things is the root of intersectionality. For instance, in the media, when you see people who are 2SLGBTQIA+ most often, they will be white. Taking intersectionality into consideration in hiring practices, and in the way we act around other people, is really important. Especially if we want to live in an aware, equitable and safe world.
Some people interpret intersectionality as changing the social hierarchy. This is definitely not true. Intersectionality is about removing any social hierarchy so that there is no ‘top’ or ‘bottom’. It can help everyone can feel safe, heard and supported. It doesn’t require the people at the top to sacrifice anything or to be trampled on by others.
Intersectionality simply asks us to be aware of the way that multiple identities can overlap and increase discrimination for people. It asks us to view the world differently and acknowledge our privilege. That can be an uncomfortable journey, and make sure to talk to people or reach out for help if you need. However, just because it’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go there. If we leave the problems of discrimination alone, they will only get worse. We have to learn, we have to go to the uncomfortable places. In summary, people who have multiple identities, (such as being 2SLGBTQIA+ and being a part of a racialized group) face discrimination from both of those together. They face more discrimination than someone who is part of a racialized group but is not 2SLGBTQIA+, or someone who is 2SLGBTQIA+ but is white. We need to structure society and build government policies so that those with multiple identity factors are included and not left on the margins.