Intersectionality is a term that Kimberle Crenshaw brought about in 1989, while writing her prolific essay, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.“Although the existence of intersectionality, itself, has been around since humans developed the absurd ability to discriminate against other humans, Crenshaw originally coined this term to capture the congruity of black feminism to anti-discrimination laws. She used the following analogy to help individuals gain a better understanding of the term:
Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.
Intersectionality is, now, used to describe the interaction of various power structures (homophobia, classism, ageism, etc.) in the lives of minorities, in addition to Crenshaw’s concentrated definition that honed in on sexism and racism.
A prime example of intersectionality is Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s nonsensical and purely ridiculous Matriarch Stereotype. In 1965, Moynihan conducted a “study”to show that the decline of the nuclear family, within the African American community, would continue to disrupt their progress toward equality, both socially and economically. He felt that because so many African American women were having children out of wedlock (therefor raising children in female-headed households) these women were undermining black men and allowing them to relinquish their responsibilities as husbands and fathers. This was the cause, Moynihan believed, of the overwhelming rates of poverty in the African American community at the time.
Moynihan’s Matriarch theory illustrates the importance of the term, intersectionality, because not only did these women have sexism and racism working against them, but also their classism. With intersectionality in mind, we see that the aforementioned elements of oppression (sexism, racism, classism) were actually the culprits behind their struggle to shift out of their low-income situations while Moynihan’s theory simply rationalizes the oppression of these women.
To get less specific, though, let’s think about trans women of color, a gay individuals with disabilities, single mothers who struggle, financially- whatever the case may be. Does it make sense to ask any of these individuals to choose which part of their identity deserves to be liberated?
Every issue that we see- sexism, the wage gap, or the alarming rate of trans women of color being killed- they can all be related back to the presence of intersectionality. These injustices will not dissipate if we, as advocates, as feminists, as allies, are only fighting against bits and pieces of the puzzle. By refusing this theory, we are leaving out a substantial amount of individuals suffering. In order to truly understand, and attempt to successfully dismantle systematic oppression, we must fight for all or we are fighting for none. This theory must be included in our rhetoric, so that we may truly make a difference.