Intersectionality is more than a buzzword.


So probably around 10 months ago, I wrote about intersectionality and the importance of remembering the intersections of identities. I quoted Audre Lorde in that post who said something along the lines that we can’t focus on single issues because no one lives a single issue life. We all face multiple issues based on the intersectionality of our identities. I face the world as someone who’s queer and neuroatypical but also face it with my whiteness and class standing. All of those identities (and so many others) impact the way in which I experience the world and it’s difficult (almost impossible) to tease one identity away from another.

During the last several months since I wrote that original post, I still think intersectionality is important and has to be more than just a buzzword or a label in academic circles or ignored completely. White Feminism™ is, for example, particularly great at ignoring intersectionality and focusing primarily on the issues faced by middle class cis white women. And in some instances, when intersectionality is acknowledged, it’s seen as divisive. As Kirstin Moe writes, defending the concept:

Some call intersectionality “divisive,” because they believe it highlights the differences between people rather than the similarities. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The meaning of the term has evolved from a way of describing the problem—the interactions between different forms of oppression—to a way of describing the solution.

Kimberlé Crenshaw was the first to give the lived reality the name intersectionality back in 1989 after black women brought a discrimination suit against General Motors (and unfortunately lost). She started the term as a way to describe the lived reality of black women, whose race and gender intersected in a way where they experienced both racism and sexism but legally, black women couldn’t be protected for that double experience. While intersectionality is now a way to describe a lived reality and is a term that is used more and more, Crenshaw wrote about how there’s still so much work to be done and how intersectionality can’t keep waiting.

And Crenshaw is totally right – we as a society have to acknowledge the ways in which multiple identities and -isms intersect to impact the lives of so many. The #WeCantWait Campaign and #SayHerName both call for inclusive approaches to racial justice, feminism, and other social justice movements and acknowledge the ways in which black women experience police brutality and many -isms (like racism and sexism).

We have to acknowledge intersectionality within all circles of society because black women are not the only ones to experience it. We have to realize that people of color can be a part of the LGBTQ+ community, that feminism has to include more than just white women, that all black lives matter. I think that the mainstream LGBTQ+ community and mainstream (white) feminism have gotten particularly great at ignoring intersectionality issues.

Inclusive feminism is diverse and necessary because rather than being divisive, acknowledging our differences can  bring the more marginalized out of the shadows. We have to be willing to talk about the ways in which racism impact women of color (particularly black women), how the LGBTQ+ community isn’t totally white, how age impacts people (like how LGBTQ+ seniors and elders do in fact exist and face challenges). And we have to do more than talk the talk – we have to work on making spaces more inclusive and accessible as well. We have to start working on centering marginalized voices rather than just using them as a way to be inclusive as well.

Of course I don’t have all the answers and there is still much more about intersectionality to acknowledge, talk about, and work on. There are issues around how Native American populations experience poverty, how class and ableism balance between each other, how higher education can be extremely elitist, how we need to center women of color in the debate about Planned Parenthood.