Written by Mickey Lieberman-Burak

What Is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality refers to the ways in which the various aspects of social identity interact and overlap with each other. It discusses the connections between race, class, nationality, gender, sexuality, ability, and age, and how this affects the way a person navigates the world around them. A person may be discriminated against and disadvantaged as a result of any combination of these factors. Intersectionality refers to the overlapping nature of the oppression one experiences.

Intersectionality can be explained quite well with an analogy: If a person standing at the intersection of two roads is hit by a car, on which road were they hit? In this analogy, the roads are the parts of a person’s identity, and being hit by a car represents the oppression and discrimination a person faces as a result of who they are.

The History of Intersectionality

While the concept of intersectionality was part of the political analysis used by the Combahee River Collective in the 70’s, the word came into popular usage in 1989, when it was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a Black feminist. According to Columbia Law School, “Kimberlé Crenshaw is a Professor of Law at Columbia Law School and the University of California, Los Angeles, and has written in the areas of civil rights, black feminist legal theory, and race, racism, and the law.” 

“Two different parts of you shouldn’t combat each other, and if they do, that’s a bad thing. That’s toxic.”

“I didn’t want to come to a predominantly white university and already be discriminated against as a Black woman, and have to have that third label on top of me as a Muslim Black woman. So that’s why I initially separate those two things. And I’m trying to find my way back.”

“They don’t necessarily know me as a person, but they use my race and the way I look, or my appearance, as a way to judge me.”

“When you see me, you don’t necessarily see a culture of people behind me, or a group of people, but that’s what I identify with when I say that I’m a daughter of immigrants, and being Latina, and being a woman of color in America.”

For a transcript of all four stories, click here.