In 2017, the word “intersectionality” was added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. The addition of this word to the dictionary was arguably long overdue. The idea of intersectionality was coined and largely advocated for in 1989 by lawyer, civil rights advocate, UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw.
UN Women writes, “Intersectional feminism centres the voices of those experiencing overlapping, concurrent forms of oppression in order to understand the depths of the inequalities and the relationships among them in any given context.”
“Intersectionality” as a term encapsulates the idea that issues regarding discrimination because of gender, race and class all affect each other. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, liberal feminist issues emphasize personal autonomy, political autonomy and equity. Many liberal feminists continue to exclude the racism women of color experience as a feminist issue, creating the issue of white feminism.
The term “white feminism” is used to describe the efforts of the liberal feminist movement that empowers white women while invalidating that women of color experience racism and sexism as an intersectional issue. White feminism implies that the gender inequality experienced by white women is experienced by all women in the same way.
Yes, white women can face discrimination based on their gender, but they have never been affected by systemic racism in the same way as Black women. Failure to acknowledge that systemic racism is a feminist issue is a failure in many modern feminists today.
For TIME in 2018, Crenshaw said, “When you add on top of gender inequality] other inequality-producing structures like race, you have a compounding. So for example, data show that white women’s median wealth is somewhere in the $40,000 range. Black women’s is $100.”
Crenshaw’s example statistic demonstrates that there are multiple levels of discrimination in play; as she puts it, a compounding. Sure, white women are making less than men, but black women are making less on average than white women. If equal pay is truly a feminist issue, and Black women are receiving lower pay because of their race and gender, then equal pay is an issue of race and gender.
“All inequality is not created equal.”
Intersectionality is not exclusive to gender and race. Intersectionality also includes women who face discrimination because of sexuality, identity, economic status or religion. Discriminatory issues across all sectors relate to one another, and they cannot be separated because the individual is only affected by one or none of these issues. All sectors of feminism need to embrace intersectionality for the purpose of unity.
The ideologies of liberal feminism like women’s power in the workplace or politics focus on empowering women as individuals but fail to unite women as a whole to combat intersectional issues faced by all women like reproductive rights, domestic and sexual violence, maternity leave and equal pay.
According to the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, 40% of confirmed sex trafficking survivors in the U.S. are black, and African American girls and women 12 years and older experienced higher rates of rape and sexual assault than White, Asian, and Latina girls and women from 2005-2010.
“If you see inequality as a ‘them’ problem or ‘unfortunate other’ problem, that is a problem,” Crenshaw said.