“Intersectionality” is a concept that a lot of people — including me, when I first heard it — find challenging to really understand.
At first it seems fairly straightforward. Merriam-Webster has a very pithy summary:
When forms of discrimination combine, overlap, and intersect
And their Words We’re Watching page gives a short history of the word:
The term was coined by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in a 1989 essay that asserts that antidiscrimination law, feminist theory, and antiracist politics all fail to address the experiences of black women because of how they each focus on only a single factor. Crenshaw writes that “[b]ecause the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”
Though originally applied only to the ways that sexism and racism combine and overlap, intersectionality has come to include other forms of discrimination as well, such as those based on class, sexuality, and ability.
Crenshaw has described intersectionality as “a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.” In Intersectionality as Critical Social Theory, Patricia Hill Collins presents intersectionality’s cognitive architecture as including multiple dimensions (metaphor, heuristic, and paradigm), core constructs (including rationality, power, social inequality, and social justice), and guiding premises such as “Race, class and gender as systems of power are interdependent” and “Solving social problems requires intersectional analyses.”
So intersectionality’s a rich and important enough construct that it’s worth spending the time and energy to really dig into it. In aid of that, here are some videos and links as potential starting points.
- Intersectionality 101, by Teaching Tolerance, is a three-minute, student-friendly video.
- Kimberlé Crenshaw’s The Urgency of Intersectionality TED talk (from October 2016) is a great starting point for going deeper. It’s the video at the top of the post; here’s the link. [To see captions, you may need to view it on the Youtube site.] An October 2017 audio interview by Callie Crossley is a great companion piece, looking at the concept’s grounding in black feminist thought and critical race theory, how the term is used today, and the Women’s March. No Single-Issue Politics, Only Intersectionality, a 2017 interview with Crenshaw in Truth Out, relates intersectionality to today’s political landscape. Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait, from 2015, starts with her observation that “Intersectionality was a lived reality before it became a term,” and is part of a Washington Post series on intersectionality that also includes perspectives from Latoya Peterson, Brittney Cooper, and others. When a Theory Goes Viral, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and Jane Coston’s Intersectionality, explained (in Vox) have Crenshaw’s and others’ reactions to the increasing adoption of the term.
- Patricia Hill Collins’ Black Feminist Thought, published in 1990, used the term “matrix of domination” to refers to how intersections of oppression are structurally organized, and is often listed with Crenshaw’s work as one of the foundational texts. Collins’ 2016 book Intersectionality, co-written with Sandra Bilge, is a solid introduction. Her 2015 talk on Sharpening Intersectionality’s Critical Edge is more theoretical than some of the other links, but still very approachable [once again, you may need to visit the Youtube site to see the captions]; the aforementioned Intersectionality as Critical Social Theory goes into more detail.
- There is a rich tradition of earlier work that we’d now describe as “intersectional.” The Combahee River Collective Statement, from 1977, based its analysis in the “the fact that major systems of oppression are interlocking.” [2018’s How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective, edited by Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, reflects on the legacy of the statement’s contributions to Black feminism and its impact on today’s struggles.] Brittney Cooper’s Beyond Respectability: The Intellectual Thought of Race Women, from 2017, looks at the far-reaching intellectual achievements of 19th and 20th century African American women thinkers and activists like Anna Julia Cooper, Mary Church Terrell, Fannie Barrier Williams, Pauli Murray, and Toni Cade Bambara.
- Ange-Marie Hancock’s Intersectionality: An Intellectual History is a deep dive into the background of intersectionality’s histories, genealogies, and meanings — including a lot of attention to precursor work by bell hooks, Audre Lorde, Cherríe Moraga, Gloria E. Anzaldúa, and others. Jennifer Nash’s detailed review in Hypatia is a good overview.
- And speaking of bell hooks, her public dialog with Laverne Cox at New School (from 2014), is as insightful as it is entertaining.
These links only scratch the surface. Blackfeminisms.com outstanding Intersectionality 101: A Reading List has tons of worthwhile links to books, academic articles, blog posts, and videos. And there’s lots of other good stuff out there as well … if you have some favorite links, feel free to share them!
Originally published at A Change Is Coming. Last updated: October 2019.