Have you ever had a discriminatory experience and were unsure which of your identities (race, class, gender, etc.) provoked it? Have you ever felt you had to select one anti-oppressive movement to advocate for over another? Have you ever felt privileged in some areas but underprivileged in others?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, an analytical framework known as Intersectionality explains why those crossroads, dichotomies, and overlaps exist.
Intersectionality, a term coined by American civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw, describes the interconnected nature of social categorizations, such as race, class, and gender, as they apply to a given individual or group. It is regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.
To illustrate, using one question asked, the concept of Intersectionality suggests it doesn’t have to be just ONE identity targeted for discrimination as it could have been multiple. So, you don’t have to worry all day if that person said that rude thing to you because you were a Woman or BIPOC or Neurodivergent as it could have been because you were ALL of those things. Our identities are always intersecting, and the different social categorizations we belong to are interconnected.
Intersectionality merges the strict distinctions society places on social categorizations by highlighting the intricacies of our experiences. Hence, understanding the concept of intersectionality makes us aware of our overlapping identities and their corresponding oppressions.
If we can’t entirely separate our identities, we can’t separate their interlinking forms of oppression. As a Black woman, I am affected by racism and sexism, which uniquely intertwine into the disturbing disparities we see today. Crenshaw originally articulated intersectionality on behalf of Black women to shed light on the many anti-oppressive movements (ex: Feminism) that claimed Black women as members but often failed to represent them. Intersectionality, therefore, opposes analytical systems that treat oppressive factors in isolation and/or fail to consider others.
Oppression, often defined as an unjust exercise of power experienced by a person or group, is also not a singular experience that marginalized populations face in similar ways. Iris Marion Young’s thesis of the “Five Faces of Oppression” suggests that marginalized groups can experience oppression in five distinctive ways: Exploitation, Marginalization, Powerlessness, Cultural Imperialism, and Violence.
Individuals in marginalized groups can experience all, multiple, or just one of these forms of oppression and find themselves simultaneously in dominant groups/positions in other contexts. This is why you might be privileged in some areas but underprivileged in others.
How does the concept of Multiple Oppressions relate to the concept of Intersectionality?
At a surface and literal level, these two concepts may seem different, but they are, in fact, closely related, and Audre Lorde’s argument proves this to be true. Referencing her experience as both a Black and Queer person, Lorde proclaims: “There is No Hierarchy of Oppressions.”
Lorde’s race and sexuality are interlinked with their corresponding structural oppressions (racism and queerphobia) and cannot be separated in anti-oppressive movements.
The need for Intersectionality in Anti-Oppressive Movements matters because if we are to dismantle multiple facets of oppression, we must do so with an intersectional lens whereby a group's experience of oppression is not prioritized over another's but equally dealt with through holistic solutions.
So, you shouldn’t have to select one anti-oppressive movement to advocate for over another because you CAN support both and if they were genuinely anti-oppressive, both movements would complement each other. For example, June is both Pride Month and National Indigenous History Month. It would be silly to pick one to amplify over another because Two-Spirit people exist and are disproportionately affected by multiple oppressions.
“I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that freedom from intolerance is the right of only 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…” — Audre Lorde.
What does this mean for Anti-Oppressive Movements?
If there are many faces of oppression, each with its unique characteristics, then there are many ways to fight them all purposefully.
Anti-oppressive movements can work together on holistic solutions to tackling oppressive systems and ideologies. I understand the benefits of specialization, but when each face of oppression is harming communities and ever-present in the public consciousness, there should be more cross-communication of anti-oppressive movements instead of completely isolated systems.
Anti-oppressive efforts should involve intersectionality because overlaps between the faces of oppression exist and are interlinked with people of multiple identities.
For example, anti-oppressive movements focused on women’s issues can embrace intersectionality when advocating for marginalized communities by recognizing their distinct needs and the multiple sources of oppression they face.
Since “women” is quite a broad categorization of people, such movements should examine the other identities and social categorizations their community falls in to have a more holistic view and develop better advocacy strategies. Doing so would also avoid the danger of a single story. Additionally, anti-oppressive movements can utilize the wheel of power/privilege (individual, interpersonal, and systemic) when creating programs for their communities.
“The better we understand how identities and power work together from one context to another, the less likely our movements for change are to fracture.” — Kimberlé Crenshaw.
March 15, 2021
Priscilla Ojomu is a Nigerian-Canadian 3rd-Year BA student majoring in Psychology and minoring in Sociology at UAlberta. Priscilla's work at WEW is fuelled by her passion for promoting awareness of the experiences of marginalized communities through accessible information and resources. Literature, tea, podcasts, Studio Ghibli movies (Fun fact: she has 100+ collectible postcards of the feature films from 1984 - 2014), art, volunteering and advocating for equity keep her busy.