You're Being Divisive
I can admit freely, with no shame or trepidation, that I am a logophile. I am a lover and an appreciator of words. The way they sound, the structure, the meaning, the art, the composition of words are enchanting. However, as marvelous as I find language to be, there are some words that are simply unfavorable. Some words, I loathe. They’re rough on the eardrums, scathing. Other words, while unblemished in their own right, are often misinterpreted and used incorrectly by those who dare utter them. And then there are those other words. Those singular gems that we always knew the meaning of, that we were aware needed to be utilized in particular spaces, but had not yet come fully into creation. One such word is “intersectionality”.
Brought to prominence by American critical legal race scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (1989), the term intersectional solidifies the principle that the human experience is not singular. We are not to be defined by one distinct facet, but that our lives and personal characteristics have dimension and all of these traits contribute to the way we experience life. “Human lives cannot be explained by taking into account single categories, such as gender, race, and socioeconomic status. People’s lives are multidimensional and complex. Lived realities are shaped by different factors and social dynamics operating together.” (Hankivsky, 2014, pg.5) The adherence to the one dimensional system of judging individuals and sticking them into singular spaces on the basis of only one of the traits they possess is destructive, particularly as it pertains to the feminist movement. For example, when you search for “Alice Paul” in a Google toolbar one of the first things to appear is her Wikipedia page. The first line of the article reads as follows: “Alice Paul (January 11, 1885 – July 9, 1977) was an American suffragist, feminist, and women's rights activist, and the main leader and strategist of the 1910s campaign for the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits sex discrimination in the right to vote.” There are a couple of key things wrong with this depiction. Firstly, Alice Paul was NOT a feminist. What she was, to put it quite plainly, was an “advocate for the advancement of white women”. You may not endow yourself with the title of “feminist” or “women’s rights’ advocate” if you do not defend the freedoms of ALL women regardless of race, social class, ethnicity, origin, sexual orientation etc. As well, “women” were not granted the right to vote in 1920. White women were. Native American women could not vote until 1925. East Asian women in America could not vote until 1952. And Black women were not afforded the right to vote until 1965. The structural systems that operate within our world not only disregard the coexistence of “color” and “woman”, but even go as far as to extirpate women of color from history.
In “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color”, Kimberlé Crenshaw (1991) elaborates upon how the overlooking of intersectionality and identity politics allows specific circumstances within society to perpetuate, specifically violence against women of color. “Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of domestic violence/intimate partner violence than White women. And while Black women only make up 8% of the population, 22% of homicides that result from domestic violence happen to Black Women and 29% of all victimized women, making it one of the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35. Statistically, we experience sexual assault and domestic violence at disproportionate rates and have the highest rates of intra-racial violence against us than any other group. We are also less likely to report or seek help when we are victimized.” (Jones, 2014) The issues of race and sex collide harshly for black women and leave them in a state of proverbial limbo where they must chose to adhere to their “blackness” or to their womanhood. Black women are seldom regarded as equals in white “feminist” spaces. And when they are “included” by white women, the narrative is set women of color are guests at their table being invited to join in a movement that wholly theirs, allowing their experiences as they pertain to the merging of other factors, non inclusive of race, to be forgotten . Paradoxically, the same spaces that are allegedly created for the benefit of women at large, often ignore and discredit how racism and socioeconomic status affect the lives of the women they claim to help. Without acknowledging the ways in which classism and racial disparity, as well as all of the other issues a women may have (immigrant status, marital status) affect her experiences, proper dialogue cannot ensue and adequate assistance cannot be given. Choosing to view an individual's life from one perspective only is incredibly detrimental because one facet of their life does not properly document and show their experiences in a broad, all encompassing sense.
Ignoring race and role it plays in the female experience continually serves to invalidate the experience of how race and gender intersect and allows particularly women of color to be trapped in the same vicious cycles. All the while these problems are never addressed because everyone, exclusive of the women who shoulder the burden of this suffering, has decided to erase the problem completely. The creation of the idea that there is a dissonance between one’s attributes is a phenomenon that has existed through time, is still present today, and has played a large role in ending the lives of many black women from Crystal Hamilton to Joyce Quaweay. Recognizing the interrelation of traits encompassing race, gender, origin, social class and status, environment, time, is the only way to begin to alleviate the social problems that are endured by the people in our society. Acknowledging all the aspects that make your life what it is, is not “divisive” nor does it take anything away from others. Acknowledging all of the different pieces that when placed together compose who you are, is a crucial part of the human experience.
Crenshaw, Kimberlé “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color” Stanford Law Review Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul., 1991), pp. 1241-1299
Hankivsky, Olena PhD “Intersectionality 101” The Institute for Intersectionality Research & Policy, SFU , April 2014
Jones, Feminista “Why Black Women Struggle More With Domestic Violence” TIME Magazine 14 September 2010, Web 14 September 2016
Paul, Alice (n.d) In WikiPedia. Retrieved September 14, 2016 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice_Paul