Civil Rights Demonstration - 1965

Civil Rights Demonstration – 1965. Photo by Winston J Vargas.

The queer community encompasses many facets of marginalization. We are gays, lesbians, bisexuals, trans people, disabled people, people of color, people with multiple systems of beliefs, and any and all combinations therein.

Intersectionality is defined as the study of intersections (meetings) of types or systems of oppression, discrimination, or domination. Some examples of this would be me, a queer person of color, or a black woman. But to elaborate, let’s call to attention the hardships of being a black woman.

Intersectionality clearly identifies that the socialized experience of a black woman is not enough to understand the oppression placed on her. As a community, we are aware that black people are oppressed. As a community, we see it in the media daily. We are aware that black people have a layer of struggle directly related to the (many) color(s) of their skin. Within this group of people, there are many different types of oppression, discrimination, and domination going on. In order to better understand what people are going through we have to really look at the situation to identify the way in which society is pushing down.

Let’s call this black woman Dee. Dee has been reminded of her color every day of her life. On the street, in the media, during social outings. Everywhere. Intersectionality comes into play when we take the time to acknowledge that Dee is also a woman.

Temporarily erase your knowledge of Dee’s race, and let’s now focus on her gender. Women have been continually oppressed for basically ALL OF TIME. It’s leaked itself into our contemporary culture, regardless of age or class level. Think about the last time you heard: “so and so hits/runs/drinks/acts like a GIRL.” Those types of statements are an example of negative narrations associated with femininity. They make femininity ‘less than’ that of a man’s ability. BAD. Also, false.

Have you heard of the Women’s Suffrage movement? In a nutshell, it was a struggle for gender equality that begun in 1840 focusing on equal voting rights. This movement eventually led to an assumed equality in the work field for factory and production lines during war. Men were needed in combat, so women were allowed to labor. Women in the US were finally allowed to vote in 1920. YAY 19th amendment to the constitution! What a huge victory for American women. Also, how terrible that it took so long!

But hold on: There is typo here in history’s fine print. I hadn’t realized that AMERICAN directly translated to WHITE. In fact, Asian women weren’t allowed to vote until 1952. Black women were regularly prevented from voting until 1965 when a grassroots movement forbid states from passing discriminatory restrictions on voting. Since the Women’s Suffrage movement began, it took 125 years for black women to get the vote, 45 years after white women were allowed to do so. That’s 29 presidents since the movement started until black women were given the right to vote.

Back to our friend Dee, the black woman. Her struggle as a woman is different from that of a caucasian woman or of a Chinese woman. This is why seeing intersections is so important. The experience of a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black, or being a woman, individually. It MUST include the interactions between the two.

The feminist sociological theory was first named by Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989, though the concept can be traced back to the 19th century. This theory states that it is extremely important to examine how various biological, social, and cultural categories (such as race, class, ability, sexual orientation, religion, and other axes of identity) interact on multiple and simultaneous levels. These interactions contribute to systemic injustice and social inequality.

The concept of intersectionality helps us see that conceptualizations of oppression within society (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia) do not act independently from each other. They interrelate, creating a system of oppression that reflects the intersection of multiple forms of discrimination.

Understanding this has helped me breakdown not only my own oppression, but the difficulties of others as well. I am a Pakistani, Islamic, man attracted to men, with effeminate mannerisms and traits. It isn’t just one of those things that helps shape my identity, but ALL of them. My struggle is different from Dee’s. It’s different from yours.

If more of us can open our eyes to the things that are pushing down on the human race as a whole, we can slowly begin to lift those weights off of us. Sometimes the best way to help yourself is to help somebody else.