There is no Hierarchy of Oppression: Intersectionality and a Brief History of Our Movements

Much like Kimberlé Crenshaw described in her TED talk called “The Urgency of Intersectionality”, intersectionality is defined as the overlap of many social justice problems like racism and sexism, creating multiple levels of injustice.

“She critiques a “single axis” framework within the law that renders illegible discrimination and violence against black women who do not fit neatly into categories of race and gender because these categories are implicitly coded male and white, respectively.”

Clear examples of this type of treatment are evident within fights for equality going back to the founding of the United States. For the purpose of staying within length restrictions, I will limit my explanation of intersectionality to gender and race, although it could be applied to any persons identifying outside of white heteronormativity. This introductory essay will give several examples of the ways in which women, avid participants in social and civil rights movements were still the recipients of oppression and discrimination.

The simplest example is the nineteenth century advocacies of Ida B. Wells and others in the battle for women’s suffrage. Susan B. Anthony is given significant credit for her role in advocating for the rights of women and highlighting the need for women’s suffrage. Though advocates like Anthony had, in part, championed the fight for black inequality, others like Frances E. Williard were known to say what they had to in order to preach women’s suffrage. In attempts to garner support from the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, Williard said in an 1890 interview with the New York Voice that, “Better whiskey and more of it’ is the rallying cry of great, dark-faced mobs. The safety of [white] women, of childhood, of the home, is menaced in a thousand localities.” Ida B. Wells, a proponent of both women’s suffrage and African American civil rights (and co-founder of the NAACP).

Ida B. Wells- Wells responded to the Williard later by saying “unhesitatingly slandered the entire Negro race in order to gain favor with those who are hanging, shooting and burning Negroes alive”.

Yet another example is the case of Gloria Anzaldua, Sandra Cisneros, Dolores Huerta and others in the Chicano civil rights movement. What would become self identified as the Chicana feminist movement was both a critique of both societal and cultural expectations of Chicanas. The term machismo is often thrown around in conversations about Chicana feminism, but the reason being Chicana is existing in a state of oppression goes deeper than the traditional overbearing presence of males. Stereotypes of machismo, and la domesticana chicana propagated the idea that women were to be submissive, motherly, and reflections of the virgin Mary. Authors and strong voices like Huerta and Anzaldua were instrumental in restructuring the ideal Chicana.

A connection can be drawn to the modern understanding of the 21st century woman of color, more specifically the black body. Although Mammy stereotypes persist, new ones have also been created, some hostile ( masculine and aggressive, living welfare, the single mother) and others benevolent (the BET stereotype, not that kind of black girl). Such stereotypes make Beyonce’s Lemonade controversial, and force liberal allies to quit stockpiling moral capital and make alt-righters uncomfortable. Additionally, they make it difficult to address real and problematic issues of American society. Black lives matter, but rarely are the names of dead black women’s trending on twitter. Stereotypes and patriarchal culture make it all too easy to ignore the real and intersectional struggles of women of color in 21st century America. Quite simply, “there is no inherent reason why legal protection from discrimination is organized on the basis of categories.” Crenshaw said it best in her article Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color.

Where systems of race, gender, and class domination converge, as they do in the experiences of battered women of color, intervention strategies based solely on the experiences of women who do not share the same class or race backgrounds will be of limited help to women who because of race and class face different obstacles.
“There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions” — Audre Lorde

Women’s Rights- LGBT Rights- Black Rights- Native Rights- Latino Rights Matter
Photo of Korryn Gaines

Although the reasons for highlighting intersectionality should be transparent to everyone, they are not, and become a way for those claiming to be an ally to gain moral capital. I’d argue that is why Ida B. Wells addressed liberal voices operating under the guise of suffrage, firmly, and why we as those with an education should speak up.

As time goes on, countless black, latino, native, and trans women- all operating at the intersection of race and gender, continued to be reduced to nothing. It is hypocritical to say you supported slave insurrection led by Nat Turner but not the choices of Korryn Gaines. In “There is no Hierarchy of Oppression”, Audre Lorde said “I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of one particular group and I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination…” Continuing the fight of antiracism also means addressing gender based discrimination and violence, homophobia, islamophobia, among other things because there is no hierarchy of oppression.

Sandra Bland Facebook Video
“I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of one particular group and I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination wherever they appear to destroy me and when they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you.” There is no Hierarchy of Oppression, Audre Lorde
The Urgency of Intersectionality. A TED Talk by Kimberle Crenshaw