Each individual has different identities that make up their full person, whether these be around their gender identity, race, spirituality, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, age, or ability. These identities intersect and inform the way that an individual functions in and through the world around them. The term intersectionality might sound as simple as the intersection at which our identities meet within a person. However, the term intersectionality takes on a greater meaning in a socio-political context when it comes to power, privilege, and oppression.
Intersectionality is rooted in critical race theory, and was originated by Kimberle Crenshaw in her 1989 work Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex. Crenshaw’s work outlines legal case examples that discriminate based on one identity of the individuals involved rather than all of their intersecting identities, dismissing the fact that there were multiple factors at play. Vox cites Crenshaw as saying: “Intersectionality was a prism to bring to light dynamics within discrimination law that weren’t being appreciated by the courts,” Crenshaw said. “In particular, courts seem to think that race discrimination was what happened to all Black people across gender and sex discrimination was what happened to all women, and if that is your framework, of course, what happens to Black women and other women of color is going to be difficult to see.” Looking through the lens of intersectionality, and examining race and gender, what is exposed here is the exclusion of Black women from being considered as a whole being, rather than singularly a woman, or solely Black.
It has become clear that once the term intersectionality went mainstream, it seemed to take a life of its own and veered away from Crenshaw’s original meaning. However, the overall idea that individuals hold multiple identities and are impacted by their differing levels of privilege and oppression withstands the tests of time and is projected onto different situations. We all show up in our respective spaces containing our intersecting identities, and acknowledgement of that will make the difference in the finding of our vulnerabilities, our individualism, and power in the world.
Additional Resources on Intersectionality
If you want to learn more about understanding social identities, the social constructs that have formed our systems, how our different identities intersect and conflict, here are additional resources that you may want to read or watch.
- What’s Intersectionality? Let These Scholars Explain the Theory and Its History
- Understanding Social Identities
- Creating Inclusive Learning Environments
- Social Identity
- Self concept, self identity, and social identity
- Why Your Customers’ Social Identities Matter
- Why I Wear Purple
- How disability intersects with race