Authors: Ijeoma Oluo
These challenges to intersectionality are not easy to overcome, but it is worth the effort. I strongly believe that the vast majority of people who set out to fight racism, sexism, ableism, and other forms of oppression do so because they really do want to make the world a better place for all people. But if you don’t embrace intersectionality,
even if you make progress for some, you will look around one day and find that you’ve become the oppressor of others.
So how do you increase the intersectionality in your discussions of race? Here are some questions to ask yourself:
How might race, gender, sexuality, ability, class, or sex impact this subject?
You don’t have to have the exact answers to this question, but asking
it of yourself will give you ideas of other viewpoints to seek out.
Could the identity differences between me and the person I’m talking with about race be contributing to our differences of opinion or perspective?
Are the people in my racial justice conversations and the opinions being considered truly representing the diversity of identities that interact with
the subject matter being addressed?
Does my scholarship of racial justice reflect the diversity of identities impacted by racial oppression?
Who writes the books and articles I’m using to help inform my opinions?
Am I listening to people whose identities and experiences differ from mine?
Am I looking for what I don’t know?
Am I asking people if they
notice anything missing from my racial justice efforts?
Am I shifting some focus and power away from the most privileged in the conversation?
Am I letting those we don’t hear from very often speak first? Am I making conversation accessible to everyone who wants to participate? Am I prioritizing the opinions of those who are often overlooked?
Am I providing a safe
space for marginalized people to speak out?
If you find yourself saying, “Well, disabled people never talk to me about this” or, “I just never hear from black women,” then you need to ask yourself why and what you can do to make people feel safe to speak up around you. Privilege has been used to silence people for so long, that you will need to put out the effort to let people know that you will
value and respect their input. Don’t expect that trust to form immediately with your intentions.
It’s not enough for you to personally believe in intersectionality. We need to start demanding intersectionality of all those who seek to join us in our social justice movements. If you want to call attention to the need for greater focus on intersectionality in your discussions of race and racial
justice efforts, here are some things to remember:
Most people don’t know what intersectionality is, and unknown words can put people on the defensive.
You may need to explain further, with examples of the intersecting identities not being considered, if you don’t want people to just pretend like they understand but then never put intersectionality into practice.
It’s often best to start first with real-life examples of how this conversation or project could be more intersectional.
The concept of intersectionality is more easily understood when viewed as an opportunity to do better
and do more, instead of just an examination of the ways in which these efforts are failing.
Intersectionality is absolutely always important
to all discussions of race and social justice; do not let other people bully you out of prioritizing it.
It is important that our efforts to end oppression for some do not perpetuate oppression of others.