Intersectionality simply refers to the overlapping identities of a person and the recognition that all of these influence each other. (The Google and Wikipedia definitions incorrectly limit it to overlapping forms of oppression.)
Originally, scholars used intersectionality in a very limited way. For example, this framework would be used in the case of Black Women. Intersectionality helps us specifically recognize that such an individual would face discrimination for being Black and for being a Woman – that you can’t study the racism or the sexism such a person would face without simultaneously looking at both. One example of how intersectionality is unrecognized/under recognized I read has particularly stuck with me. I believe it was from this book. A Black Woman face discrimination at work. The EEOC will not help her even though it is clear to everyone (including her boss) that her boss purposely discriminates against her. The EEOC will not help because the boss has no problem with Black people as a category or Women as a category, only Black Women as a category. For purposes of the EEOC, an individual has to face discrimination in one category.
Lately, I’ve been really thinking about the intersectionality of income and other variables – especially how money adds Whiteness to an individual.
Last night a twitter conversation and this excellent article got me thinking further about the complexities of intersectionality.
When we study or think about any person or even ourselves, it is essential to consider all associated identities and statuses.
For example, compare and contrast Elton John, Judy Brady (author of the excellent “Why I Want a Wife“), Anderson Cooper, Barack Obama, and George Bush using the “YOUSOUP Recipe” from the website linked above. How do all of these variable not just influence who a person is but how do they combine to create an identity? and combine to create what is possible and impossible? How would things be different if various variables were adjusted?
The implications are that while we need to actively study racism and sexism since it is still largely in the domain of the historical unconscious, we need broader focuses as to not miss forms of discrimination and to not miss the richness and complexity of identity.
(Intertextuality will be another post at some point. The concept is similar but intertextuality looks at the relationship various texts–and anything and everything or anyone is a “text.” Notions of hermeneutics and intertextuality allow for awesome cultural inquires!)
Added 12/30: This article from Everyday Feminism is the best I’ve seen so far on Intersectionality and Privilege.