Intersectionality Is More Than Just You

Visual notes of testimonials from East Side residents speaking at the East Side St Paul Listening Town Hall on October 21, 2017.

Intersectionality is a lived reality for me. I am queer. I’m a woman. I’m Black. I’m a first generation college student. I was raised by a single mom. I’m a product of the Chicago Public Schools system. My life and my experiences are directly affected by all of my identities as they exist separately and as they intersect.

Intersectionality, a term first created by Kimberlé Crenshaw, articulates the connection between identity and its relationship to power. The term was first intended to advocate for Black women, who were marginalized in multiple ways: one way for being a woman, another way for being Black, and thirdly for being both. Overall, the term advocates for the realization of who has privileges and who is further marginalized in specific identities. By acknowledging the differences in our individual experiences as they are affected by our identities, we can further come to understand the role of identities in larger group experiences, essentially how intersectionality can not only be reflected upon in individual experiences, but also in group experiences and further the intersection of issues.

How do issues intersect? Think about affordable housing. The issue isn’t just that housing as a physical space, with a monetary ticket price and worth, isn’t accessible to a majority of people, it’s about who housing is unaffordable to, how affordable is being defined, and why some have always had less of a chance at obtaining quality affordable housing; with the array of issues intersecting, the development of a solution becomes so much more difficult due to the different ways people are affected based upon multiple aspects of their identity.

For example, Ta-Nehisi Coates explores the intersectionality of issues surrounding housing by presenting a critical analysis of housing discrimination against Black Americans. In his The Atlantic article “The Case for Reparations”, he analyzes how housing discrimination has existed and evolved in the Black community since the time of slavery in the Americas. He explains multiple transitions of how discrimination in housing continually allows White power to exist. There was a shift from slavery, or not even being considered a human, to not being able to own your own property, to more recent policies such as redlining, including the creation of highways in what were sustainable Black communities, and the targeting of potential Black home owners for subprime mortgages. Coates lists specific systematic policies and social ideas that allow housing discrimination due to race and class to exist, and suggests a solution of investing in the Black community affecting the economy and creating power. His article was written in 2004 and covers generally experiences in the U.S., but what is happening on a smaller scale?

In the Twin Cities area, there is a housing crisis. Everyone is talking about housing, and the absolute need for affordable housing. As a HECUA Inequality in America student I have had the opportunity to meet organizers and community leaders to hear about how pressing housing as an issue is, as well as get an idea of what systematic change people are organizing to combat the issue.

Through my internship at The Alliance for Metropolitan Stability I’ve seen how lack of access to affordable housing affects community members. At the East Side St. Paul Listening Town Hall, hosted by East Side Leaders from The Block and supported by The Alliance For Metropolitan Stability, St. Paul residents gave testimonies of firsthand experiences they have had with housing. Over and over again the residents shared how difficult it is to find housing with an affordable price. They also talked about the role of gentrification in changing not only their cost of rent but access to culture. Another pressing issue was housing conditions such as the presence of lead paint and dealing with slum lords who refuse to properly and timely upkeep a property. Overall issues in income inequality, race, class, and environment intersect when it comes to housing, and when thinking about truly creating affordable housing one has to realize all the factors exist and have to be intentionally changed at the same time leading to equity.

Through my internship at The Alliance I have learned the importance and impact of equitable development. By intentionally developing equitably, one can dismantle racial injustices, create jobs, increase healthcare, increase and invest in the economy, and even have a positive environmental effect. The Alliance even has specific tools aligned to make developing equitably easier. One of these tools is the community developed Equitable Development Principles and Scorecard, in which before developing something, the people working on a project, including developers, planners, and the people affected, assign numeral point values to what would be developing equitably in multiple areas. This allows all involved to advocate for what is equitable in the situation and what is feasible. Thus, throughout the project everyone is on the same page about intentional development and can be held accountable. With tools such as the Equitable Development Principles and Scorecard, changing the norm around housing and around the issues that intersect with housing as a general topic can become an easier process.

With the understanding of intersectionality, and further privilege as well as power, there can be a better understanding of how policies can marginalize people in multiple ways leading to a need for equitable development.

This piece is part of a series written by college undergraduates enrolled in off-campus study programs through the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA). HECUA programs offer students a chance to think deeply about the issues that matter most, and we’d like to share a piece of that experience with you. Every student post on the HECUA Medium page considers a theory or reading that intersects with that student’s lived experience. For more information about HECUA programs, click here.