Skip to main content
Logo image

Sound Writing

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.
A sketch shows a person with their hands raised in confusion standing in an intersection. Signs reading Colonialism Ct., Racism Rd., and Patriarchy Pl. point in different directions. A dotted red path enters the image on one side and leaves on the other.

Student Perspective 6.2.1. More than a Single Identity.

When we step into a place we are not just Black; we are Black males, we are Black women, we are people who are part of the LGBTQ community, we are more than just one single identity. These identities do conflict and they do affect us, sometimes equally and sometimes one more than the other. I’ve been in a situation where I knew for a fact that it was my gender that got me into the problem, but because I was Black, it was worse.
―Member of the Black Student Union
University of Puget Sound
May 2019
“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.

Student Perspective 6.2.2. Intersections within an Identity.

Latino is not one identity. Someone who identifies as Afro-Latino is probably going to have a very different experience than someone with lighter skin and hair. It’s important to acknowledge that not only do we have different national identities, but there are also other differences within those places.
―Member of Latinx Unidos
University of Puget Sound
May 2018

Student Perspective 6.2.3. Identity and the Cultural Context.

Gendered expectations in different cultures are just different. So what we in American view as masculine expectations are very much not masculine expectations in a large variety of Asian cultures. . .When you’re going to do research about, like, the intersections of gender in Asia you really need to think about why is it that we gender Asia a certain way, why is it that like when we think about Asian American men we think that they’re really like feminine, really castrated, really nerdy, non-social, those kind of things. But then on the other hand, Pacific Islander men, and just Brown men in general, get hypersexualized; [it’s sometimes assumed that] the darker your skin is the more sexual you are, and then the lighter your skin is the more virginal and pure you are.
―Member of the Asian and Pacific Islander Collective
University of Puget Sound
May 2018
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.