Social Justice Usage
Source: Hill Collins, Patricia. Intersectionality (Key Concepts). Wiley. Kindle Edition, p. 2.
Intersectionality is a way of understanding and analyzing the complexity in the world, in people, and in human experiences. The events and conditions of social and political life and the self can seldom be understood as shaped by one factor. They are generally shaped by many factors in diverse and mutually influencing ways. When it comes to social inequality, people’s lives and the organization of power in a given society are better understood as being shaped not by a single axis of social division, be it race or gender or class, but by many axes that work together and influence each other. Intersectionality as an analytic tool gives people better access to the complexity of the world and of themselves.
Source: Thompson, Sherwood. Encyclopedia of Diversity and Social Justice. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition, p. 435.
Our experiences of the social world are shaped by our ethnicity, race, social class, gender identity, sexual orientation, and numerous other facets of social stratification. Some social locations afford privilege (e.g., being white) while others are oppressive (e.g., being poor). These various aspects of social inequality do not operate independently of each other; they interact to create interrelated systems of oppression and domination. The concept of intersectionality refers to how these various aspects of social location “intersect” to mutually constitute individuals’ lived experiences. The term itself was introduced by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, although intersectional understandings of the social world precede her work.
New Discourses Commentary
Intersectionality is a concept developed by the feminist critical race theorist, Kimberlé Crenshaw. It uses the symbol of a traffic intersection where somebody—in her first examples, a black woman—could be hit by a combination of both racism and sexism at the same time and this experience be more complex than either prejudice on its own. Indeed, she points out that not only do black women have to deal with racism as being black and sexism as being a woman, but also the additional issues of specific prejudices about black women in particular and the burden of not knowing which of these three possible axes of discrimination is affecting her. Thus black men and white women should recognize that neither of their experiences of racism or sexism naturally covers that of the black woman whose experiences warrant distinct analysis.
We hasten to note that there is merit in this observation. On a practical, legal level, a genuine loophole in discrimination law existed, and an “intersectional” analysis in the context of critical legal theory was capable of and sufficient for pointing it out and hopefully leading to its correction. Moreover, the observation that a doubly minoritized individual experiences at least three different possible ways she might be discriminated against and lack simple epistemic pathways to understanding and resolving the problem is also legitimate and worth consideration.
Unfortunately, intersectionality did not remain within the theoretical and applicable domains of law or merely make a useful point about the nature of discrimination. Instead, it included from the outset the analysis of systemic power dynamics as conceived under postmodernism (borrowing heavily from Foucault’s notions of power and knowledge, in particular) and was proposed specifically as a mechanism for advancing identity politics (indeed, it was proposed explicitly to link identity politics to postmodern theory, thus giving birth to the contemporary Critical Social Justice approach).
While Crenshaw was critical of some aspects of postmodernism, particularly its willingness to deconstruct identity and oppression, she also criticized liberal approaches and maintained the core ethos of postmodern analysis, which is a combination of radical skepticism and (poststructuralist) deconstructive techniques. To this, she added critical theory and open advocacy for an identity-first model for the application of identity politics (see also, New Left and black liberationism).
In this sense, the development of intersectionality, especially in Crenshaw’s second paper on the topic, called “Mapping the Margins” (1991), can be considered a landmark moment in our cultural turn toward critical identity politics as a potential replacement for liberalism. There, she overtly reifies socially constructed racial categories like “black” and “white,” as did and do genuine racists and as liberalism had been effectively eroding in the decades between (see also, anti-essentialism and strategic essentialism).
Intersectionality very quickly adopted and modified standpoint epistemology, which claims roughly that one’s position (with respect to the systemic power dynamics defining social reality and its interactions) determines the possibilities for one’s knowledge(s) and status as a knower, which in turn reflexively define one’s relationship to dominance and oppression (see also, epistemic oppression and power-knowledge.) This was Theorized by black feminist Patricia Hill Collins as a “Matrix of Domination” in her landmark 1990 book, Black Feminist Thought.
The concept of intersectionality has since been developed to include many other identities considered marginalized including sexuality, gender identity, dis/ability, and weight and even more gradations within all those categories. It has thus become very complicated and difficult to address and sometimes looks like a form of competitive victimhood. In some sense, this is because intersectionality is what results from applying one critical theory of identity to another, beginning with critical race theory to critical theories of feminism. This enabled the various critical theories of identity to problematize one another, which intersectionalists go on to refer to as “sophistication.”
Crenshaw has gone on to describe intersectionality as a “practice,” which is unsurprising since she tied the concept to praxis from the very beginning (see also, critical pedagogy). In practice, intersectionality means, in the words of critical whiteness educator Robin DiAngelo, “positionality must constantly be engaged.” What this means is that one must cultivate an awareness of the various ways in which one’s group identities “intersect” to provide privilege and create oppression, and one must acknowledge these in all situations and reflect (if not act) upon their relevance in all behaviors, especially social interactions. This is considered an ongoing and lifelong practice and is not negotiable. Of note, it requires recognizing that in all social interactions, there are systemic power dynamics (like racism, sexism, heterosexism, and so on, as appropriate) that are in play and must be acknowledged by the relationally dominant participant (as it is Theorized that the relationally oppressed person is aware of them automatically – see also, white innocence).
Black feminism; Black liberationism; Critical; Critical legal theory; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Deconstruction; Dis/ability; Dominance; Gender; Gender identity; Feminism; Foucauldian; Identity; Identity-first; Identity politics; Knowledge(s); Liberalism; Marginalization; Matrix of Domination; New Left; Oppression; Position; Postmodern; Poststructuralism; Power-knowledge; Praxis; Problematize; Race; Racism (systemic); Sexism (systemic); Sexuality; Social construction; Standpoint epistemology; Strategic essentialism; Systemic power; Theory; Victimhood; White; White innocence; Whiteness; Whiteness studies
Source: Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8, p. 140.
This focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination. I suggest further that this focus on otherwise-privileged group members creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism because the operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in experiences that actually represent only a subset of a much more complex phenomenon.
After examining the doctrinal manifestations of this single-axis framework, I will discuss how it contributes to the marginalization of Black women in feminist theory and in antiracist politics. I argue that Black women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race and gender. These problems of exclusion cannot be solved simply by including Black women within an already established analytical structure. Because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated. Thus, for feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse to embrace the experiences and concerns of Black women, the entire framework that has been used as a basis for translating “women’s experience” or “the Black experience” into concrete policy demands must be rethought and recast.
Source: Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8, p. 149.
This apparent contradiction is but another manifestation of the conceptual limitations of the single-issue analyses that intersectionality challenges. The point is that Black women can experience discrimination in any number of ways and that the contradiction arises from our assumptions that their claims of exclusion must be unidirectional. 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 the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination.
Source: Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989, Article 8, pp. 150–151.
DeGraffenreid, Moore and Travenol are doctrinal manifestations of a common political and theoretical approach to discrimination which operates to marginalize Black women. Unable to grasp the importance of Black women’s intersectional experiences, not only courts, but feminist and civil rights thinkers as well have treated Black women in ways that deny both the unique compoundedness of their situation and the centrality of their experiences to the larger classes of women and Blacks. Black women are regarded either as too much like women or Blacks and the compounded nature of their experience is absorbed into the collective experiences of either group or as too different, in which case Black women’s Blackness or femaleness sometimes has placed their needs and perspectives at the margin of the feminist and Black liberationist agendas.
While it could be argued that this failure represents an absence of political will to include Black women, I believe that it reflects an uncritical and disturbing acceptance of dominant ways of thinking about discrimination. Consider first the definition of discrimination that seems to be operative in antidiscrimination law: Discrimination which is wrongful proceeds from the identification of a specific class or category; either a discriminator intentionally identifies this category, or a process is adopted which somehow disadvantages all members of this category. According to the dominant view, a discriminator treats all people within a race or sex category similarly. Any significant experiential or statistical variation within this group suggests either that the group is not being discriminated against or that conflicting interests exist which defeat any attempts to bring a common claim. Consequently, one generally cannot combine these categories. Race and sex, moreover, become significant only when they operate to explicitly disadvantage the victims; because the privileging of whiteness or maleness is implicit, it is generally not perceived at all.
Source: Crenshaw, Kimberlé. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.” Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6, 1991: pp. 1241–1299, pp. 1295–1296.
This article has presented intersectionality as a way of framing the various interactions of race and gender in the context of violence against women of color. I have used intersectionality as a way to articulate the interaction of racism and patriarchy generally. I have also used intersectionality to describe the location of women of color both within overlapping systems of subordination and at the margins of feminism and anti-racism. The effort to politicize violence against women will do little to address the experiences of nonwhite women until the ramifications of racial stratification among women are acknowledged. At the same time, the antiracist agenda will not be furthered by suppressing the reality of intra-racial violence against women of color. The effect of both these marginalizations is that women of color have no ready means to link their experiences with those of other women. This sense of isolation compounds efforts to politicize gender violence within communities of color, and permits the deadly silence surrounding these issues to continue. I want to suggest that intersectionality offers a way of mediating the tension between assertions of multiple identity and the ongoing necessity of group politics.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, pp. 115–116.
Intersectionality is the term scholars use to acknowledge the reality that we simultaneously occupy both oppressed and privileged positions and that these positions intersect in complex ways (Collins, 2000; Crenshaw, 1995). For example, poor Whites, while oppressed through classism, are also elevated by race privilege, so that to be poor and White, for example, is not the same experience as being poor and Asian. Further, because of sexism, to be a poor White female will create barriers that a poor White male will not face due to gender privilege. However, while the poor White female will have to deal with sexism, she will not have to deal with the racism that a poor Asian female will face. Indeed, race privilege will help a poor White female cope with poverty, for example, when looking for work or navigating social services such as welfare and health care. Facing oppression in one area of social life does not “cancel out” your privilege in another; these identities will be more or less salient in different situations. The challenge is to identify how our identities play out in shifting social contexts.
Source: Sensoy, Ozlem, and Robin DiAngelo. Is Everyone Really Equal?: An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education, first edition. Teacher’s College Press: New York, 2012, pp. 135–136.
The dynamics of intersectionality are deeply significant and it is impossible to develop critical social justice literacy without an ability to grapple with their complexities. For example, in addition to the other intersections of oppression, classism and racism affect the gay community; racism and heterosexism affect people with disabilities; heterosexism and sexism affect people who are poor or working class; heterosexism and classism affect people of Color. Rather than rejecting the possibility that we can have any privilege if we experience oppression somewhere in our lives, the more constructive approach is to work to unravel these intersections to see how we may be upholding someone else’s oppression.
Revision date: 2/4/20