Intersectionality: the theory of the interaction between different identities based on experiences with systemic discrimination
Kimberlé Crenshaw, writer and current law professor at UCLA and Columbia, coined this term. In her essay "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color," she explores "the various ways in which race and gender intersect in shaping structural, political, and representational aspects of violence against women of color."
More succinctly, Crenshaw works to highlight the experiences of women of color who have been excluded from the white feminist movement as well as from male-focused anti-racist circles. But the concept also extends to class, sexuality, disability and citizenship status.
Social justice is like an incredibly complex network of dialogue. To recognize every speaker, it can't be a one-way conversation. It's more of an exchange of similar identities to establish common ground and work toward recognition and solutions. Think multiple mini-breakout sessions that reconvene for a common vision.
The following quote from Odyssey Creator Kayla Clark's "Crash Course: Intersectional Feminism" really sums it up.
"You cannot be a feminist and be against the Black Lives Matter movement. You cannot be a feminist and be homophobic. You can not be a feminist and use slurs like 'tranny' or use the n-word. You cannot be a feminist and stand for your friend's racist joke."
Discussing women's issues such as equal pay and healthcare access without including the context of other identities is ineffective, exclusionary and harmful to the feminist cause. For instance, the statistic that the average woman earns $.77 to the average man's dollar only accounts for white women. But, in the context of this conversation, black women only earn $.65 cents and Latina women only earn $.58 cents. Not addressing these disparities in the wage gap focuses the conversation on the white female experience and erases that of women of color.
As a white, middle-class, straight, able-bodied, American-born woman, I have more privileges than experiences of discrimination. This doesn't invalidate my perspective, but it does show the need for me to listen intentionally. Latina or transgender or lower-class or immigrant women (or a combination of all of these four identities) experience a completely different life from mine. It is in our differences that we as women can unite our strengths to take one step further from marginalization, toward recognition and change.