What is intersectionality? All of who I am


There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.” ― Audre Lorde (Sister Outsider)

Last year at the Golden Globes, many Hollywood actors got on stage in an act of unity for #TimesUp and #MeToo. Together they wore black and, in an attempt to bring together a diverse range of women, used the word “intersectionality.”

The Hollywood starlets were reflecting a current conversation within progressive and not-for-profit circles. Intersectionality has been recently used within academic fields such as psychology, human rights and political science.

My field — anti-racist, anti-oppression/colonial-centred health equity —relies heavily on the idea of intersectionality. As a concept, the term can help communicate complex realities.

What exactly is intersectionality?

Kimberle Crenshaw, legal scholar and critical race theorist, is generally credited with originating the term in the late 1980s.

Some activists and scholars, however, trace the earliest articulations of intersectionality back to the ’70s in the manifesto by the Combahee River Collective, a collective of Black (lesbian-identified) feminists who, in 1977, said:

“We … find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously.”

To understand intersectionality and how to apply it, I believe it is essential to understand four concepts:

1. All of who I am: Factors of identity

Intersectionality embraces the idea of “all of who I am.”

One of the main critical concepts is “location:” To locate oneself politically and socially means to identify specific factors about your identity. These factors include: race, indigeneity, socioeconomic status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, (dis)ability, spirituality, immigration/refugee status, language, and education.

One of the ideas of intersectionality is for individuals, groups and communities to self-identify. This allows people to choose what they share about themselves.

For example, I locate myself within the African diaspora, as a woman who has survived African enslavement, a feminist from a working-class background, daughter of Caribbean immigrants, mother, living with a visual disability in Turtle Island (Canada). I also locate myself as a researcher, educator, therapist and community organizer.

Another factor of location is to identify power and unearned privilege. Dependent on one’s location(s), one may have power and privilege over others.

For instance, white men have more power and unearned privilege than white women based on systemic oppression supported by patriarchy, sexism and misogyny. Based on anti-Black racism, Black men have less power and unearned privilege than white men, but because of sexism, they have more unearned privilege than Black women.

Even though they experience sexism, white women have more power and unearned privilege than Black women due to anti-Black racism.

If you want to be an ally and support emancipatory changes, it is important to reflect on your location.

Allies are folks who actively support individuals and communities experiencing multiple forms of oppression; they share and give up their power to help make changes in the lives of the disempowered. However, it is important to note: an ally-centred person dependant on time, place and their location can also experience disempowerment.