If Dictionary.com voted ‘complicit’ the word of 2017, I’m hoping that 2018’s word becomes ‘intersectionality’. You may have already read or heard the word, especially if you cheered on the Women’s March last January, or if you’ve been following the #metoo and #timesup movements, or if you’ve read books by bell hooks, Patricia Hill Collins and Gloria Anzaldúa.
The legal scholar and academic Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw coined the word in 1989 when she was researching discrimination against black women in the workplace. She found that while there was awareness of discrimination towards black men and towards white women, black women, who combined characteristics from both minority groups, struggled with cumulative prejudice and were left without protection or representation.
Merriam Webster defines intersectionality as ‘the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect’. If you take your own circumstances for example, your experience of intersectionality is based on where you fall within several social categories- your gender, your nationality, your ethnicity, your religion, your sexual orientation, your ability. Intersectionality is the idea that all of these different categories overlap and, rather than existing in separate compartments, they merge and change the way that you interact with the world.
The concept is often represented as a Venn diagram, where the individual exists in the centre. The complexity of the idea and it’s nuanced reality for most individuals makes it difficult to research, discuss and represent. The concept has garnered the most attention in the feminist movement, partly because that is where the idea first started, but it’s important to remember that it applies to everyone whether you experience privilege or discrimination or a combination of both.