Well, it is a term that was coined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, a civil rights advocate. Crenshaw came up with this term to describe the ways that different social identities relate to each other. When people discuss intersectionality, they are saying that not all experiences are on the same level. The experiences of a black lesbian, for example, will be drastically different from a white lesbian, and both of those will be different from a disabled lesbian of any race.
What counts as a social identity, though? This term is usually used to refer to anything used to group someone in social terms. So race, ethnicity, gender, sex, physical disability, mental disability, physical illness, mental illness, sexuality, social class, and religion are just some of the examples of social identities.
Intersectionality is important to take into account because different social identities influence our lives in major ways. An Asian woman who uses a wheelchair is not going to have the same experiences as a black man who uses a wheelchair, for example.
One hot topic when it comes to intersectionality is the different ways that groups have privileges in society over each other. Take a white woman and a black man, for example. Which is more equal in society as it is to a white man? Well, that depends on how you look at it. Black men have the advantage of being men, but white women have the advantage of being white.
Intersectionality is important because these intersections of how your social identities meet and relate to each other truly influence the way you see and experience the world. Nearly everyone is part of some marginalized group or another. This changes the way we see the world because society tends to cater to the white Christian heterosexual able-bodied healthy man. That is not a complete list of social identities, either. It could go on. But the point is that if you are not even one of those things, you are going to experience the world differently than someone who fits all of those categories.
If it is hard to grasp this concept, think solely about social class at first. A poor person is going to experience the world differently than a wealthy person. But then think about the other aspects of the people’s identities. Even a wealthy woman is going to experience the world differently than a wealthy man, and both of those will certainly experience it differently than a poor woman.
People who consider intersectionality to be important argue that we need to take all viewpoints into consideration to understand everyone. We cannot understand where someone is coming from if we do not first think about why they are seeing this issue differently than the others.
Intersectionality is ultimately important because we will never understand each other if we do not try to see things from each other’s perspectives first, and understanding each other is the first step to making things better.
(Written by Megan Flint.)