- Definition of Terms
- Presentation of Main Problem
a. Intragroup differences
b. Multiple identities
c. Multiple discrimination forms
- Examples of Intersectionality
a. Battered women of color
b. Women’s protection shelter
- Significance of Intersectionality
a. Appropriate interventions against racism
b. Evolution of racism
- Problems in Intersectionality
a. Stereotypical definition of discrimination
b. Politics of minority groups
Since human beings are framed by multiple layers of identity, one cannot separate class, ethnicity, gender, and race from each identity as they will always intersect. Moreover, if a person is subjected to any form of discrimination, the whole identity is being discriminated and not only the integrated part which the discrimination is based upon. This is the argument of Kimberle Crenshaw, who is among others supporting the concept of intersectionality. Intersectionality, as coined by Crenshaw, is a concept that holds that the classical concepts of oppression, such as racism, classism, sexism, ableism, etc., do not act independently from one another; instead, these oppressive institutions are interconnected, leading to a system of intersecting multiple forms of discrimination. In simple terms, multiple discrimination types can occur at the same time to the same person. However, it does not mean that the discrimination that Person A experienced is the same as the one imposed on Person B because factors such as class, race, gender, and age matter; consequently, interventions must be based on these specific elements. Intercessions based on the general ideas of these concepts have the tendency to be close to no use at all if applied in situations where issues are minority-based. Race is a fragment of the concept of intersectionality. Understanding the multilateral concept of discrimination through intersectionality enables scholars to know and better comprehend the nature of contemporary racism as well as provide solutions accordingly.
For example, in her famous essay “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” that introduced the concept of intersectionality, Kimberle Crenshaw depicted the crisis of immigrant women of color who were abused by their spouses. Language barriers prevented them from seeking help from women’s protection shelters (Crenshaw 177). The government recognized the need for an institution to help battered women, but the system failed to recognize that non-English-speaking women, most probably immigrants from Asia, South America, etc., were also victims of domestic violence. In cases when non-English-speaking victims asked for help, the shelters refused to accept them due to their strict policies on support group participation (Crenshaw 182). If the victims cannot communicate with other victims and the staff of the shelter, then there is no use accepting them. Moreover, the administration of women protection shelters claimed that non-English-speaking victims often left the shelters because they were not able to relate to anyone; hence, there was the hesitancy of shelters to accept them. The women’s protection shelter did not intend to discriminate women from other races who could not speak English. However, since the focal point of the solution was focused on gender distribution, in order to help women who were abused by their partners, the factors like race and class were neglected, affecting a number of non-English-speaking domestic abuse victims. Either English-speakers or not, both groups suffered from battery, but only those who represented the majority (English-speaking victims) were able to access the assistance. This particular problem of women protection shelters among non-English-speaking victims is absurd. The solution is as easy as to commission a multilingual employee or a translator upon their first experience of the situation. Instead, the shelters banished non-English-speaking victims in favor of their rigid rules over the safety of those battered women. Crenshaw saw the glitch in the system and properly introduced intersectionality to enlighten everyone, especially the figures that have power and authority to alter policies, rules, and regulations to enhance the community.
Once the concept of intersectionality is understood, it will not only give an insight into the 21st century complex racial discrimination; the systems that our lives deal within the society will change for the better since the interventions based on specific strata will be introduced. This is important because interventions are much more needed than before since the education and enlightenment about discrimination nowadays are limited. The politics of racial discrimination is no longer what it used to be in the past. Before, when people referred to racism, the term pertained to oppression against a specific color or race in general. Earlier examples of racial discrimination in the books include open racist comments made in public even by popular figures; selective nature of laws and policies in favor of a supposedly superior race, for instance, the right to suffrage was not an option amongst Blacks; and the dominant privilege given by White employers to White job applicants. These kinds of racial oppression can rarely be observed nowadays because almost everybody at present has been raised, schooled, and trained knowing that those kinds of racial slur are unkind and create problems. However, it does not mean that the community no longer manifests racial discrimination; it only translates that racial inequalities have got to a new level of oppression, which the majority cannot fathom. This development is associated with the fact that contemporary figures in politics, media, and even minority groups choose to be ignorant of the situation despite the numerous articles, essays, and studies published on the topic of intersectionality. In light of this, Crenshaw noted in her essay that the concept of intersectionality was given a few headshakes from the feminist and anti-racist groups.
As Crenshaw has understood, intersectionality is not supported by minority groups because it contradicts their respective causes. Since frontrunners of these minority groups no longer think that their crusade addresses small issues of society, bringing the concept of intersectionality to their theme blurs the general construct of their definition of oppression. The fight against different kinds of general oppression has come a long way, and then here comes a new concept that redefines the arguments and targets even smaller issues within the minority, casting a shadow on the bigger, more defined, and generalized problems that separate minority movements struggled so hard to carve from the society. Another argument of non-believers of overlapping discrimination types is that intersectionality focuses on specific areas rather than addresses the whole oppression. If a Black female employee experiences racism and sexism at work, anti-racist and feminist groups strongly suggest the need to handle the discrimination forms separately because the issues are unique, after all; hence, interventions against gender biases and race discrimination are not and will never be the same. Therefore, there is no need for intersectionality to obscure the established lines between distinct discrimination forms. Instead of competing which is caused by a bigger issue and has greater impact, minority groups should facilitate openness towards intragroup differences. The arguments and causes of those minority groups are all equal and must be handled with equal conviction. Although the examples used by Crenshaw in her essay were Black females and battered women of color, intersectionality does not highlight the racist experiences of women of color alone. As a matter of fact, by putting the spotlight in the minority within the minority, intersectionality further purifies and explains racism because race and culture contribute to the suppression of oppression.
Racism has underlying principles which are distinct from all other types of discrimination. When race is added to the existing suppression motivated by some other form of discrimination, say sexism, it changes the politics and structure of oppression. For example, reports of domestic violence are much more common among White families than families of color. Hence, the women of color who are also victims of battery are unlikely to ask for help from protection centers or call the police. Their reluctance is attributed to the general indisposition to expose their lives in public, which are going to be dissected and controlled by the police force, which is often hostile. Since public intervention has already adopted a general community ethic, the police force is more likely to dismiss the domestic violence experience among women of color as a form of race discrimination. In case when reports of domestic violence from non-White females increase in number, the general public will automatically assume that non-White husbands are naturally violent, which is a racial slur because White males, who are the perpetrators of such an abuse, do not get the same analysis as their non-White counterparts. To be more precise, non-White males do not enjoy the same privilege and power as dominant White males do. The culture of stereotyping has also affected the race-based oppression.
According to Crenshaw, the problem does not lie in the individuals who are openly racist or sexist. Although there are people who overtly discriminate, there are individuals who are not aware that they have already crossed the inside boundary of racism, sexism, or some other form of oppression without actually realizing it due to the lack of education. Also, the bigger problem lies in the policy and legal mechanisms in the country’s system. The more the society is screened against the intersecting types of oppression, the better the chances are to purify the discrimination at all levels. Consequently, people will become sensitive to the everyday discrimination that they encounter, no matter how fleeting it may be, and more vigilant to contemporary oppression.
Critics argue that intersectionality is a postmodernist idea, which is relatively new to everyone, and it needs societal validation before it can be accepted as a pressing concept. Crenshaw may have presented intersectionality as a contemporary way to frame gender and race in the milieu of domestic violence experienced by women of color. Despite that, the argument of intersectionality sheds light on the context of overlapping discrimination types, multiple identity and its politics, and intragroup differences. Discrimination is no longer a one-way phenomenon. In fact, discrimination is multilateral, and as evidenced by the facts gathered by Crenshaw, women of color may not be the only ones who have been subjected to it. A group of Latinas subjected to sexist remarks may not feel the same level of discrimination as compared to a group of Asians or Blacks in the same circumstances since race interferes in the process. The culture developed by belonging to a certain race is a significant part of everyone, and it directs individuals and their behaviors, beliefs, responses, and ethics. If people want to screen the discrimination experiences of the majority, they have to include the minority as well because the general problem cannot be altogether eliminated if the specific issues continue to exist. In this case, the society needs to acknowledge that race is a permanent fixture to a human being and not just a clip-on that can be removed when deemed necessary. The novel concept of intersectionality facilitates the society and its individual members to be sensitive to people who are not a part of the majority and larger minority, thus eradicating general stereotypes that have been long-held against certain groups.