If you’ve done a lot of reading and research about feminism and womanism online, you may have come across a term called “intersectional feminism” or someone who identifies as an intersectional feminist.
I won’t claim any absolute knowledge, but I do notice a stark increase in the use of those terms after Flavia Dzodan published, “MY FEMINISM WILL BE INTERSECTIONAL OR IT WILL BE BULLSHIT!”
In that post, Dzodan isn’t speaking as an outsider to issues affecting women of color. She’s speaking of things that impact her directly as a feminist of color. However, the post became popular with white feminists who seem not to have noticed that crucial fact as they began to apply “intersectional” as a descriptor for their own feminist identity.
The emergence of this new terminology as a way for (hopefully) anti-racist white feminists to distinguish single-issue feminism from feminism that addresses the realities of race, class, and other forms of oppression points to a fundamental misunderstanding that people who did not come to intersectionality from Black feminists and womanists (such as Kimberle Crenshaw, Patricia Hill-Collins, bell hooks) have about what intersectionality means and how it functions.
What they fail to grasp is this: intersectionality is not an identity; intersectionality is a practice.
While speaking of feminism in general, bell hooks explains like this:
I’m not into “being feminist”: the “I AM” feminists. I am interested in the active practice of a politics that we name as feminism that is not an identity. And I think that what has taken us in many wrong directions has been the notion of feminism as an identity. […] The question is: what is your politics as it relates to feminism? What is your active practice in your life that is working against patriarchy, sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression? ‘Cause, y’know, we’re in the Name-Yo-self-Anything generation, and so what do these names mean? My therapist always tells me, “Don’t listen to what people say. Look at what they do.” So that, to me, that field of feminist politics is the field of action, of what you do. […] In terms of that question of action, feminism is one of the few contemporary Left politics that has put that on the table: “Let’s have existential self-reflection about what we’re doing.” —bell hooks
It’s the same thing with intersectionality.
As I’ve said before, intersectionality is not something you add on in your analysis of the “real” issues. It’s a core framework that you use to better comprehend how systems and institutions function in the lives of those most burdened by gender, race, and class oppression.
So when it comes to intersectionality, I’m asking some very specific questions about politics and praxis.
- What are your politics as they relates to women of color?
- How do you actively work against racism, white supremacy, sexism, patriarchy, misogyny, and class oppression?
- How are you addressing the imbalance of power between dominant and subordinate groups within institutions and society, especially as the pertain to women of color?
Intersectionality is not a thing you are. Intersectionality is a thing you do.
The good thing about intersectionality not being an identity is that it means that it doesn’t have to be confined to academia or activist circles. You can apply it wherever you are.
Take myself as an example.
In the grander scheme of things, I don’t have much influence. I’m not a lobbyist or politician who can make or a pass laws. I’m not a media mogul who can shape how people think and talk about Black women. I’m not a multi-billion-dollar corporation who has the ability to directly influence the financial situations of millions of people.
I’m just a person with an overactive imagination who happens to write plays.
How can I put intersectionality to practice?
Through my plays.
I can actively write roles for women of color. Lead roles, juicy roles, roles that go beyond the stereotypes.
When I produce my plays, I can seek out women of color for the cast and crew, women of color who don’t get a chance to work on something fantastical or whimsical.
When I talk about my plays, I can do so from a perspective that centers women of color as fictional characters, as actors, as writers and directors and theatre artists.
I can signal boost other theatre projects by and about women of color.
I can analyze and critique what’s going on in the theatre world from a perspective that centers on women of color.
If I happen to capture the elusive fame and fortune, I can make it my business to create opportunities for women of color in theatre.
I can discover ways to use my abilities as an artist to become a change agent.
Some of these I’m already doing through my work with Crossroads Theatre Project. Some of these are areas I have to work on.
What matters is that I’m doing something, not just claiming an identity for myself.
What about you? What are some ways you practice intersectionality in your own life and work? What are some other possibilities you can explore?