Subsection 6.2.1 Intersectionality
At the root of writing with awareness about identity is an understanding of intersectionality. Despite its frequent use, there remains a great deal of misunderstanding about what the term actually means (even among scholars!). Consequently, the aim of this guide is to help you begin thinking about intersectionality, and ultimately write more inclusively about identity.
Intersectionality is a framework for understanding how marginalized individuals and groups of people face complex and interlocking forms of oppression due to the overlapping nature of their identities.
“Intersectionality” is a relatively new word to describe a very old concept. The term was coined in 1989 by Black feminist lawyer Kimberlé Crenshaw to describe how the discrimination faced by Black women is simultaneously based on race and gender. In a seminar at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism, Crenshaw used the metaphor of a traffic intersection to describe how women of color must simultaneously navigate multiple forms of oppression saying “intersectionality is what occurs when a woman from a minority group . . . tries to navigate the main crossing in the city.. . . The main highway is Racism Road. One cross street can be Colonialism, [the other] Patriarchy Street.” Rather than navigate each road in isolation of the others, the woman of color must navigate them all at the same time, their interaction making her task that much more complex. Accordingly, because everyone has intersectional identities oppressive systems are not navigated separately but rather concurrently. Thus, when intersectionality is overlaid with power imbalances, those with multiple marginalized identities—such as being Black and female in the U.S., or disabled, Queer and poor—experience oppression and discrimination against several aspects of their identity.
While the term intersectionality was initially coined to describe the struggles of Black women in the feminist movement, it can be used even more broadly to understand how systems of oppression are interconnected, and how individuals and groups face discrimination based on multiple identities. As you write, consider the ways that intersectionality applies to your topic. For example, if you are writing about salaries in the United States, explore how they intersect with gender (e.g. men make more money than women, gender non-conforming, and trans people), race (e.g. white women make more money than women of color), and ability (people with mental and physical illnesses have a harder time acquiring and keeping jobs than their able-bodied counterparts). At the same time, be careful about highlighting an aspect of someone’s identity if it may not actually be relevant (see the guideline in Section 6.1
which contains other important notes about people-first language and writing with specificity). As you write, we encourage you to use the following subsections in conjunction with one another.