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What is Intersectionality?
What is Intersectionality?
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What is Intersectionality?

Youth

People have multiple identities. Those identities are often based on social groups people are part of. Those groups may be based on race, ethnic background, gender, religious affiliation (or lack thereof), sexual orientation, mental and physical abilities, and socioeconomic status. (Socioeconomic status refers to someone’s social standing, based on how much money they have access to.) People’s different identities shape how they experience life. “Intersectionality” refers to how a person’s different identities meet and influence their experience. For example, an African-American girl who comes from a wealthy family experiences life differently from a Caucasian boy who is gay and from a conservative religious family.

People can have identities that give them social advantages (privileges). People can also have identities that are discriminated against, which is a disadvantage. People are very complex, and most people have identities that give them both privileges and disadvantages. What’s important is that that we use the identities that give us privileges to support, stand up for and give space and voice to those who may be discriminated against and therefore at a disadvantage.

Parents

People are complex. We all have multiple identities that make us who we are. Our identities are influenced by how we are grouped together in our society, based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, mental and physical abilities, and socioeconomic status. People hold multiple identities at the same time, and those multiple identities shape how we experience life. For example, an African American girl who comes from a wealthy family experiences life differently from a Caucasian boy who is gay and from a conservative religious family. That is intersectionality.

A scholar by the name of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw developed the concept of intersectionality to explain how discrimination for African-American women was different from other women or African-American men. Dr. Crenshaw explained that African American women were being oppressed because of their race and their gender, which was oppression based on both sexism and racism. Intersectionality is a way of looking at social issues and how people experience life. Intersectionality also gives us an opportunity to discuss the privileges that we all hold and the oppression that we may experience.

When you do not have to worry about experiencing a certain type of discrimination, then that means you hold a privilege within that specific social group. We all have certain privileges that we can use to speak out against the injustice of discrimination. For example, if you do not have limitations in your physical ability, and you see injustice towards people who have challenges with their physical abilities, you can use your privilege to stand up to discrimination against people with physical disabilities and give space to their particular experiences.

All of our identities, and the privileges or discrimination we experience, also affect many aspects of our sexuality and sexual health. For example, many of these factors impact if and when a person reveals their sexual orientation (comes out) to other people; how a person living with HIV may experience life; or how a person who identifies as transgender experiences the changes of puberty. For example, a young Asian girl who lives in an urban area may have a very different experience around coming out to family and friends than an older Latino male who lives in the suburbs. All of their different identities will play a role in their decision-making process around coming out, and how they anticipate others may respond. When it comes to sexual health services, many of these factors impact a person’s access to health care and how they interact with their health care providers. No one experiences any of these aspects of their sexuality and sexual health exactly the same way – because our multiple identities shape how we experience life.

Understanding intersectionality and talking with your child about privilege and discrimination can be an important way to help our children build empathy, work well with others who are different from them and speak out against injustice.

CONVERSATION STARTERS

How can you have conversations with your child about privilege and discrimination? The easiest way to start these conversations is to talk about issues as they come up in everyday life, like while watching TV together.

Below are some ways to start these conversations:

Bring up the topic of when you see discrimination in shows, on the news or in life

When someone is being discriminated against or treated badly, you have an opportunity to ask your child, “What do you think it feels like to be treated that way?” You can ask your child if they have heard about people being treated differently because of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, etc. You can then reinforce with your child that no one should treat another person badly or exclude another person because of their race, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation or any other characteristic.

Set an example for your child

Let your child witness you standing up for someone who is being discriminated against. This is the best example you can set for how you want your child to treat, respect and make space for people.

Educators

People are complex. We all have multiple identities that make us who we are. Our identities are influenced by how we are grouped together in our society, based on race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, mental and physical abilities, and socioeconomic status. People hold multiple identities at the same time, and those multiple identities shape how we experience life. For example, an African American girl who comes from a wealthy family experiences life differently from a Caucasian boy who is gay and from a conservative religious family. That is intersectionality.

A scholar by the name of Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw developed the concept of intersectionality to explain how discrimination for African-American women was different from other women or African-American men. Dr. Crenshaw explained that African American women were being oppressed because of their race and their gender, which was oppression based on both sexism and racism. Intersectionality is a way of looking at social issues and how people experience life. Intersectionality also gives us an opportunity to discuss the privileges that we all hold and the oppression that we may experience.

When you do not have to worry about experiencing a certain type of discrimination, then that means you hold a privilege within that specific social group. We all have certain privileges that we can use to speak out against the injustice of discrimination. For example, if you do not have limitations in your physical ability, and you see injustice towards people who have challenges with their physical abilities, you can use your privilege to stand up to discrimination against people with physical disabilities and give space to their particular experiences.

All of our identities, and the privileges or discrimination we experience, also affect many aspects of our sexuality and sexual health. For example, many of these factors impact if and when a person reveals their sexual orientation (comes out) to other people; how a person living with HIV may experience life; or how a person who identifies as transgender experiences the changes of puberty. For example, a young Asian girl who lives in an urban area may have a very different experience around coming out to family and friends than an older Latino male who lives in the suburbs. All of their different identities will play a role in their decision-making process around coming out, and how they anticipate others may respond. When it comes to sexual health services, many of these factors impact a person’s access to health care and how they interact with their health care providers. No one experiences any of these aspects of their sexuality and sexual health exactly the same way – because our multiple identities shape how we experience life.

Understanding intersectionality and talking with students about privilege and discrimination can be an important way to help them build empathy, work well with others who are different from them and speak out against injustice.

Discussion Questions

After watching the video with your class, process it using the following discussion questions:
  • What are some examples of different identities a person might have?
  • What are some examples of privileges a person might have? (It may be difficult for students to see their privileges. Be ready to prompt them with examples like physical ability.)
  • Why would it be important for people with privileges to support, stand up for and give space and voice to those who are discriminated against and thus at a disadvantage?
  • What are some ways you could support, stand up for and give space and voice to those who are discriminated against?