A concept that most of society’s woke have come across, intersectionality is the relationship between two or more characteristics whereby, at the points where they meet, the effects of marginalisation are compounded. Coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality was first applied to the ethnicity-gender intersection as an academic critique of (white) liberal feminism, though it has since been applied to areas such as sexuality, disability and class, successfully emphasising the historical tendency of treating categories of inequality as one-dimensional entities.
Crenshaw recognised how the ever-growing field of identity politics fell into this same trap, thus, defined two sub-categories of intersectionality:
Firstly, political intersectionality argues that one’s subordinated group status directly influences which political agendas target them, meaning that, with limited energy to fight multiple forces, one group is focused upon at the expense of others. For instance, in a social experiment, Crenshaw discovered that Black women are less recognised than Black men in relation to murders by American police, highlighting the overlap between racism and sexism (injustice²).
Secondly, structural intersectionality relates to the way conditions in society, for instance, popularism encouraging the election of Republican Donald Trump in 2016, can worsen situations for oppressed people, accumulating to generate far-reaching effects. However, as Collins noted, people experience the world differently as liable to have privilege in some areas and not in others.
Meanwhile, Lorde discussed intersectionality as a Black lesbian in 1950s New York. Growing up around other women of colour, she used her (relative) class privilege to support those oppressed by apartheid in South Africa, developed communication with other Black lesbians and shared her strength with others following a mastectomy. Lorde discussed ideas around survival, safe spaces and Blackness in a society that deeply lacked understanding and shunned her existence, offering to many a role model, inspiration and source of representation.
So, information around intersectionality is now pervasive in activism, academia and literature. And so it should be when its significance is greater than ever. We live in a time where police brutality towards people of colour is strong, education is still heavily colonised and gender relations a cesspit of conflict. One that could improve or get worse depending on how we respond to it.