May 18, 2021
Image curtesy of: nicepng.com
“… the whole world can be against you sometimes,” GSA club president Brayan Sanchez said, hinting at an unspoken, harsh reality faced by those who don’t fit into cookie-cutter labels, whose lives aren’t guided by one element or one identity. When the Black Lives Matter movement, for example, is demonstrated to be so separate from the LGBT rights movement, it is easy to forget that there are those who live at the intersections of those two identities, whose lives are determined by intersectionality.
“It’s [intersectionality] when a person is affected by more than one type of discrimination or oppression. So I’m gonna use my example as a black, queer woman. I’m affected by racism, and I’m affected by sexism, but I’m also affeced by the heteronormative society that we live in. So I’m affected by multiple areas of oppression,” said Sarai Reyna, a senior at Atholton High School.
The term intersectionality is used to describe a framework for understanding how different aspects of people identities combine to create different manners or levels of discrimination and privilege. It was coined in 1989 by a Columbia University law professor, Kimberlé Crenshaw, in a paper about the intersections of race and gender. Over the years, it has been used by black feminists to speak against the exclusivity of white feminism, by human rights activists when advocating for rights for trans people of color, who are among the most likely to be victims of violent crime, and other minority groups who live in the intersections of multiple identities.
Although this concept is not usually talked about, it has moved more and more to the forefront of culture and conversations regarding race, gender, and sexuality. People are starting to realize and understand that oppression can come in many forms and affect people in different ways depending on the many identities which make up who they are. A black woman experiences life differently than a black man, for example, because black women have to deal with both racism and sexism. A disabled, queer person has to deal with both ableism and homophobia, whereas their queer counterparts would have only homophobia to worry about.
All of these layers of oppression, therefore, can make life much harder.
This harsh reality did not elude Sanchez who, when asked of the differences between how LGBT people of color and treated and straight/cisgender people of color, said, “We’re not respected as much as we should be.”
With this worry of being treated differently, there is also the struggle to be accepted within different communities.
Sanchez explained that he sometimes struggles to fit in with the other Latin American teenagers at school because he is “not as masculine as some of the other guys and they see that as weird…”
There is also the fact that these different communities often clash, or remain neutral when an issue affects one and not the other. A prime example of this is the LGBT community and the black community.
Reyna pointed this out when they said, “What I see online within the LGBT community is that we preach love and acceptance but when it comes to BLM and protecting black people and protecting Asian-Americans, indiginous people, Mexicans, all of this oppression that deals with race, whenever it comes to that, suddenly the white side or the white passing side of the queer community is a bit more silent or you don’t hear them as much.”
But with all of its struggles, intersectionality also comes with pride. Pride in every part of someone’s identity, in every community that someone finds themselves in. In the words of Sarai Reyna, pride is, “pride in yourself, learning to love yourself and taking pride in who you are, and also recognizing that it’s a journey. You’re gonna go through life and you’re gonna figure these things out.”