Intersectionality is an analytic framework which attempts to identify how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society.[1] Intersectionality considers that various forms of social stratification, such as classracesexual orientation, age, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are interwoven together. While the theory began as an exploration of the oppression of women of color—particularly Black women—within society, today the analysis is potentially applied to all social categories, including social identities usually seen as dominant when considered independently.

Historically, the idea of intersectionality has related to terms such as feminism, Black feminism, and womanism. Intersectionality is woven within these other ideologies because of the need to understand how there are connections between disparities, which traditionally have not been studied. These dynamics are more complex than simply recognizing either race or economic status alone as a contributing factor for inequality. Intersectionality works to identify how multiple factors and identities relate with each other to create social inequality and oppression.[2]

Kimberlé Crenshaw introduced intersectionality to feminist theory in 1989 by becoming the first person to use this word in this context of feminism.[3] The first use of the term was in a seminal 1989 paper written by Crenshaw for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.”[4] In her work, Crenshaw discussed Black feminism, which argues that the experience of being a Black woman cannot be understood in terms of being Black and of being a woman considered independently, but must include interactions between the two identities, which frequently reinforce each other.[5]

The theory or concept has been applied and critiqued within and across multiple fields from politics, education, healthcare, and employment, to wealth and property. In fact, Patricia Hill Collins argues that W.E.B. DuBois theorized that the intersectional paradigms of race, class, and nation might explain certain aspects of Black political economy. She writes: “DuBois saw race, class, and nation not primarily as personal identity categories but as social hierarchies that shaped African-American access to status, poverty, and power.”[6] DuBois omitted gender, considering it more of a personal identity category; however, many scholars have begun to research and investigate the interconnected nature of multiple social categorizations beyond race, class, and gender as these apply to a given individual or group, creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Footnotes:

[1]Cooper, Brittney (1 February 2016). Intersectionality. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199328581.013.20.  See also Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989). “Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics.” University of Chicago Legal Forum, special issue: Feminism in the Law: Theory, Practice and CriticismUniversity of Chicago Law School: 139–168. [https://philpapers.org/archive/CREDTI.pdf]

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kimberlé Crenshaw (14 March 2016). Kimberlé Crenshaw—On Intersectionality—keynote—WOW 2016 (Video). Southbank Centre via YouTube. Retrieved 31 May 2016. See also, “Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality: ‘I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use.’” New Statesman. 2 April 2014. Retrieved 2016-03-10.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Collins, Patricia Hill (March 2000). “Gender, black feminism, and black political economy.” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. Sage. 568 (1): 41–53. doi:10.1177/000271620056800105.