Intersectionality was a term first penned by Kimberly Crenshaw, a prominent figure in Critical Race Theory and a proponent of race and gender issues. A succinct definition of Intersectionality is stated by Fellows and Razack as they content that our strategies and practices must account for the relationship among hierarchical systems.
“…Systems of oppression (capitalism, imperialism, and patriarchy) rely on each other in complex ways. This “interlocking” effect means that the systems of oppression come into existence in and through each other so that class exploitation could not be accomplished without gender and racial hierarchies, imperialism could not function without class exploitation, sexism and heterosexism, and so on. Because the systems rely on each other in these complex ways. It is ultimately futile to attempt to disrupt one system without simultaneously disrupting others” (Peel School Board, 2002).
Furthermore, Intersectionality is about the ways that various forms of discrimination occur simultaneously. It is about personal identity, social group membership; and how people experience or react to these intersections. Through these facets of Intersectionality, we are able to critique and understand important social justice issues from more complex perspectives. For instance, we can’t understand gender violence in a countries context without understanding the intersection of issues in regards race, gender, and class. Intersectionaly came into fruition through a movement known as black feminism. (Gopaldas, 2013). Black feminism was kickstarted by the notion that interests of black women were not being represented equally. At that time, women’s movements were directed by Caucasian women and were dedicated to achieve equality with Caucasian men. Furthermore, African American men led African American movements, in a pursuit to gain equality amongst the Caucasian majority. Alienated by the separate movements focused on equality, the black feminism movement was created to bring forth a fight against class discrimination, race issues, and gender discrimination. In summary, the concept of Intersectionality arose out of black feminist scholars’ attempts to conceptualize both the particularity and universality of their social condition (Gopaldas, 2013).
In conjunction with the emergence of Intersectionality, Critical Legal Studies were also apparent at the time. Although not a single theory, many aspects of critical legal studies were being purported through these movements in order to eliminate class, gender, and race inequities. The aspirations to eliminate these characteristics were echoed by feminist jurisprudence and critical race theory, but because of limitations within CLS, they developed their own analyses and strategies (Pavlich, 2011). Hence, we see that Intersectionality and CLS conceptualized different ideologies and theories in order to look at different issues.
To divulge into a phenomena displaying Intersectionality, we can look at the works of Karma Chavez, a professor at the University of Wisconsin and how she helps us understand the labour issue in Wisconsin last year from an Intersectional perspective. I’ve attached pages from her journal article as she thoroughly explains the issue at hand.
What this case study illustrates is that intersecting identities of workers make a difference on how they are perceived.The significance of this case study is to show us how Intersectionality reveals how having singular identity categories can misinterpret the meanings of culture and power. A movement on behalf of “workers” as a generic identity category, may fail to interrogate the specific ways legislation impacts different “cultures” of workers differently (Chavez, 2012). Furthermore, Intersection helps us emphasize the plight faced by all workers, not just White male workers who are undoubtedly affected yet coded in a way that “workers” erases all complexities of the cultural and economic collective. Finally, an intersectional approach to critically analyze the case study provides resources in which we can investigate the multiple dimensions of power and identity that need to be prominent as we work towards social reform. As Chavez illustrates,
“For instance, at several rallies and protests, speakers and protesters with LGBT and queer identities highlighted the importance of consdering sexuality and gender in the labor context. Signs I saw including “queers for labor,” and “queers are laborers too,” point to the need to think in terms of alliance.”
This notion was supported by many Wisconsin LGBT organizations who encouraged the protest. Coalition and alliance politics only emerge from acknowledging differences and finding ways to work with and through them towards a collective end. An intersectional approach can both lead activists to coalition building, and coalitions can further aid in developing an intersectional perspective that strikes at the grass roots of oppression (Chavez, 2013), creating a new intersection into the theory, one that expands on race, class, and gender.
Finally, I’ve added a video of Nilanjana Bardhan, an employee in the department of Speech Communication at Southern Illinois University. Through her video, she expands on Intersectionality through personal experiences of her everyday life in praxis.
Chavez, K. (2012). Doing Intersectionality. Power, Privilege, and Identites in Political Activist Communities, 22-32.
Gopaldas, A. (2013). Intersectionality 101. Journal of Public Policy & Marketing , 32, 90-94.
Peel School Board. (2012). Intersectionality. A Discussion on the way “isms” are inter-related.