Intersectionality: the matrix of oppression and privilege
Editor's note: What follows is the second in a new series of monthly columns written by members of Lake Oswego's Respond to Racism group. The goal is to shed light on issues related to diversity — or lack thereof — in Lake Oswego and spark dialogue about how racism affects people.
If you haven't heard of "intersectionality" yet, you will. Like the familiar concept of roads converging and intersecting, it's a framework for thinking about a person or group affected by many layers of discrimination and disadvantage. Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the word in 1989, but Sojourner Truth wrote it about in her epic speech, "Ain't I a Woman?" in 1851 where she compared the trials and tribulations of being a white woman to the crushing life of a poor black woman in the dark years before the Civil War.
Simply put, intersectionality takes into account the overlapping identities and experiences that shape someone's life perspective and belief system. For example, while a black man and black trans woman both experience racist bigotry, the black trans woman also deals with transphobia and misogyny. Thus, when we are discussing a racist incident involving a black trans woman, we can't effectively get to the root of the issue without tackling the other layers of oppression at play.
To that end, intersectionality is about telling a person's story. It's about understanding the why and the how of their lives, the experiences and decisions that got them to where they are now. It tries to explain the complex perspectives of those who connect with multidimensional and intersecting identities such as race, gender, social class, religion, nationality and language.
While intersectionality unmasks the racist and bigoted social institutions that oppress millions of people, it also exposes the benefits and privileges that those same institutions reserve for the select chosen few. While being a poor black child going to an underfunded school in Northeast Portland is a disadvantage, being an upper middle-class white student in well-funded LOSD is a decided advantage. Intersectionality not only explains the hurdles and obstacles some people face more than others due to their identities, it also explains why privileged folks have an easier time achieving the same goals they both strive for. All because of how they were born.
To understand the impact of racism and bigotry on a person is to understand the incredibly exhausting process it is to make it through a day with constant microaggressions (see last month's column) and bias directed towards you, both in person and through all forms of electronic media. Every microaggression, every jab, every suspicious or creepy look takes a little more out of you and uses a little more energy to deal with. To belong to two or three or more different classes of "other" is to have suffocating layer of bias and prejudice upon stifling layer of hate and fear laying upon the foundation of doubt and suspicion we've all been indoctrinated with from birth.
Dr. Marvin Lynn is the dean of the College of Education at Portland State University and a nationally recognized expert in Critical Race Theory and intersectionality. He will be presenting a talk on intersectionality and its impact on the community at the monthly Respond to Racism LO meeting on Monday, June 3 at 6 p.m. at the Lake Oswego United Church of Christ at 1111 Country Club Road in Lake Oswego, followed by a question-and-answer session. All are welcome; bring an open mind and a loving heart!
Ian Egan is a freelance cartoonist and writer, and a resident of Lake Oswego. See more of his work at http://www.IanEgan.com.
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