Written by: Ariana Tsegai 🇪🇷
Mural at Nyumburu Cultural Center on Dec 1, 2023. (Karenna Aparece)
Intersectionality once appeared to me as a complex term. In the ever-evolving landscape of social activism, intersectionality has emerged as an essential framework – an analytical tool and a crucial political tool in achieving social liberation. As emphasized by Kimberlé Crenshaw – an American civil rights advocate who coined the term “Intersectionality” to describe the interconnectedness of social categorizations such as race, gender, class, and sexuality to acknowledge that individuals can experience multiple forms of oppression concurrently, overlooking intersectionality within social movements can stunt the potential for meaningful change.
At the core of intersectionality stands a magnifying glass that exposes the multiple layers of oppression. Intersectionality recognizes that an individual’s experiences are not only shaped by the single facet of their identity but also by the various societal structures and power dynamics that place them at a disadvantage. Crenshaw’s analysis of three legal cases that dealt with the issues of both racial discrimination and sex discrimination found conceptual limitations in how the law considers both racism and sexism as single-issue analyses. Although intersectionality has served as a prism to illuminate the dynamics within discrimination law, the concept of intersectionalityt is now viewed through a social lens.
Intersectionality has created a necessary shift in the strategies of social movements. Historically, we’ve witnessed movements that often prioritize singular issues or identities, inadvertently alienating those of various intersecting identities. Since the summer of racial reckoning in 2020, the invisibility of Black women as victims of police violence has become widespread – we may know the names Eric Garner, George Floyd, and Tamir Rice, but do you recognize Breonna Taylor, Kayla Moore, or Tanisha Anderson?
Black women and girls are more likely than any group of women to be killed by the police. Black women make up around 10% of the female population in the U.S., yet they account for “one-fifth of all women killed by the police and almost one-third of unarmed women killed by the police.” The invisibility of Black women as victims of police violence is prevalent, and the stories of Black women being victims of police brutality do not fit the frame that is centered on men. The failure to recognize and incorporate the intersecting perspectives of individuals leads to the undermining of various social goals.
When social movements embrace intersectionality, there’s an emphasis on amplifying voices that have long been silenced. Navigating social movements through an intersectional lens compels people to dismantle the many systemic barriers that have perpetuated inequality across various axes; we can identify current movements, such as Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), that have recognized the interconnected nature of social injustices. They've incorporated these principles into their advocacy for justice in Palestine and its opposition to other forms of discrimination. By aligning themselves with groups fighting against racial discrimination, economic inequality, and gender discrimination, they have highlighted the benefits of approaching social movements through an intersectional lens.
Using and understanding intersectionality as a political strategy transforms the nature of advocacy. By watching how organizations build coalitions to bridge diverse identities and experiences, we can recognize that collective liberation is contingent on dismantling all forms of oppression. Modern social movements become more resilient and interactive when they acknowledge the complexities of social inequalities and prioritize inclusivity in their movements.
Navigating the complexities of intersectionality empowers social movements to confront systemic injustices on hand; it’s a lens that reveals the layers of oppression and a strategy that prioritizes unity and collective liberation. To entirely dismiss or sideline intersectionality is to compromise the true essence of justice and equity that many movements have strived to achieve. Embracing intersectionality is a vital step toward breaking the divide – it is a call for solidarity where everyone’s voice matters and everyone’s rights are upheld.