Intersections are where people and ideas meet; where overlapping, interconnecting issues blend and sometimes add up to something more than the individual parts. Intersectionality is an example. Many people like to think that oppressions can be added together like arithmetic: Misogyny + racism equals the same as homophobia + racism. Or class oppression is the same as ageism and ableism. But privilege doesn’t work that way, and neither do the intersections of oppression and hierarchy that determine the way we are perceived and received in our world.
Just as the experience of a white woman is not same as a white man, the experience—and types of oppression—of a black woman is not the same as that of a black man. How the world perceives and treats a black lesbian is quite different from how the world perceives and treats a white lesbian, and so, their experiences of oppression, their protective privileges or lack of protective privileges, form a complex dynamic called intersectionality.
Feminist scholar and social psychologist Dr. Aaronette White wrote that “intersectionality enphasizes how multiple and simultaneous forms of oppression in society interlock, work together, and transform one another in people’s lives.”1
In April of 1977, the black feminist group, The Combahee River Collective, issued a statement that was one of the first full articulations of intersectionality and how it informed their work and their lives:
“[W]e are actively committed to struggling against racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression and see as our particular task the development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives. As Black women we see Black feminism as the logical political movement to combat the manifold and simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face.”2
So what is black feminism? What is white feminism? And what is womanism? The answers are intertwined with the understanding of intersectionality. As the brilliant poet and scholar Audre Lorde explained succinctly, “Black feminism is not white feminism in black face.”3
The following pages describe the histories, the definitions and realities of intersectionality at the intersection of race and gender.
The Note to Intersections & Intersectionality
a: Dr. White’s exceptional and important work was cut short by her untimely death on August 13, 2012, from a cerebral aneurysm at the age of 51.4