I updated “Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life” with selections on intersectionality from “So You Want to Talk About Race”.

Intersectionality, the belief that our social justice movements must consider all of the intersections of identity, privilege, and oppression that people face in order to be just and effective, is the number one requirement of all of the work that I do. When I first learned about intersectionality in college, I honestly had no idea what a huge part of my life it would later become. What was at first an interesting if not abstract theory I wrote about for college papers became a matter of my political, social, spiritual, and yes, even physical survival. Because I am not capable of cutting myself to pieces. I’m not capable of cutting away my blackness in order to support feminism that views the needs of women of color as divisive inconveniences. I’m not capable of cutting away womanhood in order to stand by black men who prey on black women. I’m a black woman, each and every minute of every day—and I need you to march for me, too.

The idea of intersectionality provides a more inclusive alternative to the status quo. Coined by the brilliant race theorist and civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, the term “intersectionality” was born from Crenshaw’s work to shed light on the ways in which experiences in both race and gender intertwine to uniquely impact the lives of black women and women of color. Crenshaw referred to those intersections of race and gender as intersectionality and stressed the need to consider intersectionality in our social justice movements.

Intersectionality as a theory and practice was quickly adopted by prominent black feminists to describe the need they saw for a more holistic view of race and gender. From there intersectionality spread to a large section of feminist scholarship and activism and was expanded to include class, ability, and sexuality as well.

Intersectionality, and the necessity of considering intersectionality, applies to more than just our social justice efforts. Our government, education system, economic system, and social systems all should consider intersectionality if they have any hope of effectively serving the public.

Intersectionality helps ensure that fewer people are left behind and that our efforts to do better for some do not make things far worse for others. Intersectionality helps us stay true to our values of justice and equality by helping to keep our privilege from getting in our way. Intersectionality makes our systems more effective and more fair.

So if intersectionality makes all of our social justice efforts so much better, why isn’t it a more prominent part of our social justice movements? I believe there are many reasons that may be why social justice movements have been slow to adopt intersectional practices:

  • Intersectionality slows things down.
  • Intersectionality brings people face-to-face with their privilege.
  • Intersectionality decentralizes people who are used to being the primary focus of the movements they are a part of.
  • Intersectionality forces people to interact with, listen to, and consider people they don’t usually interact with, listen to, or consider.

It’s not enough for you to personally believe in intersectionality. We need to start demanding intersectionality of all those who seek to join us in our social justice movements.

Everything we do publicly can be made more inclusive and uplifting with intersectionality, and everything we do can become exclusionary and oppressive without it. Intersectionality, and the recognition and confrontation of our privilege, can make us better people with better lives.

Source: Oluo, Ijeoma. So You Want to Talk About Race (pp. 74-75, 77-79, 81-82). Da Capo Press. Kindle Edition.

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