Introduction to Interlocking Forms of Oppression and Intersectionality
The concept of interlocking forms of oppression was first introduced by the Combahee River Collective, a Black feminist organization that originated in 1974. The Collective argued that their particular needs as Black women were not being fully addressed by the feminist movement or the Civil Rights Movement. They sought to make apparent the “racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression” and focus on the “development of integrated analysis and practice based upon the fact that the major systems of oppression are interlocking”. By beginning the discussion on the interlocking and reinforcing nature of oppressive forces, the Collective allowed for growth and inclusivity in feminist politics and other realms of social justice. They brought forth a multidimensional analysis that looked at the interacting oppressions as a whole without ranking them based on race, class or gender.
Kimberly Crenshaw later coined the term intersectionality in 1989, describing it as a concept that challenges the “conceptual limitations of the single-issue analyses”. She uses the analogy of an intersection to describe that discrimination is not unidirectional and can come from multiple different areas. Those harmed while in the intersection are facing additional challenges that could be due to oppressive forces coming from multiple directions. By creating the term intersectionality, Crenshaw provided a descriptive and tangible method of analysis that promotes visibility of systems of oppression. An intersectional lens encourages dynamic conversations among people facing different experiences due to their overlapping identities.
Intersectionality also goes beyond theory and can be used as a framework. While it has historically been applied to Black women facing racism and sexism, it can be applied to any multifaceted individual. An intersectional framework involves acknowledging that individuals can experience different types of discrimination based on their identities and that these discriminatory effects are contextual and vary among individuals. This framework can be used to examine a person’s social context and address social justice issues and social conditions. Understanding intersectionality and learning how to apply it is essential for combatting the interwoven prejudices faced by many people. Intersectionality is an incredibly powerful tool used by many activists to make visible and combat systems of oppression that are interlocking. An intersectional framework can be used to consider and help alleviate the injustices that many people face in their daily lives. It can promote others to recognize the differences between groups of people and the variety of life experiences gained by those with multiple identities. Intersectionality can help people reflect upon harmful oversimplifications and definitions that are only applicable to a singular identity and move towards the acceptance of a broader, more accepting vocabulary. An intersectional framework also demands learning by exploring the narratives of those with different identities and seeking out diverse perspectives. Intersectionality is a valuable addition to one’s toolbox and enables knowledgeable action towards equity.
Intersectionality as a Tool of Analysis
Over the years it has proven to be more and more important for us as a society to use a narrative that is inclusive of everyone. We often forget to consider people from all walks of life especially in visual media, not realizing the harm that this can cause to various segments of society. Without using an intersectional lens in our daily life and in visual media, any efforts to tackle inequalities and injustice are going to be unsuccessful and instead only perpetuate systems of inequalities.
The lack of representation stems from the major lack of knowledge or resources to learn about how using intersectional frameworks allows for the intersection of identities, which in turn allows for every individual to be included and represented at all platforms. Due to this unawareness, there is a dire need to educate individuals about the concept of intersectionality and the gravity of using an intersectional framework in our day-to-day life. To put this into perspective, comparisons can be made between sentences that use and don’t use an intersectional approach. For example, people often say “women and people of color,” not realizing that using this phrase excludes anyone who is both a woman and a person of color, implying that the conversation is only about white women. Therefore, using a non-intersectional approach creates harmful stereotypes and promotes a non-inclusive culture for the future generations. We need to start representing Black women, Queer women, Lesbian women, Transgender women, disabled women, and more to account for each individual’s experiences.
Especially in visual media, when we exclude people, we are discounting the fact that different people have different experiences. A Black woman may experience gender inequality and patriarchy much different from an Asian woman and these differences in our experiences are part of our identities, which need to be looked at with an intersectional lens. We need to start talking about every person and their individual experiences in life and display it in popular culture and media. If we don’t follow such a practice, we are indirectly encouraging old thought processes that promote patriarchy, gender and race inequality, systems of injustice and much more. Roberta K. Timothy suggested that as a society, especially those with the resources to learn about using intersectionality as a tool, we need to step forward and talk about marginalized segments of society.
With the power difference and institutional authority that exists in today’s world, people with power and unearned privilege need to make these marginalized individuals’ voices heard and promote their representation in the media. Using our positionality, we should normalize movies and tv serials incorporating characters from all walks of life and if as a society we become mindful about such experiences and use an intersectional framework as a tool of analysis, systemic and institutional forms of racism, gender bias and inequality can be prevented.
Intersectionality and the Centering of Capitalist Hegemony
Although intersectionality has become well-known as an academic intervention into debates on gender inequality, its roots lie in a capitalist society and African American feminist histories. For instance, take the case of DeGraffenreid v General Motors, which Crenshaw utilizes in her analysis. The case involved a group of black women who stood before the courts to sue General Motors for dual discrimination. In 1973, General Motors employed 155 black women who all lost their jobs fairly quickly after a year due to the mass layoffs. Such a sweeping loss of jobs led Black women to argue that the layoffs were guided by the “last hired-first fired,” policy which discriminated against Black women workers as they were hired last because of the legalized discrimination laws. The double bind of being black and female halted black women from gaining access to employment first. However, the courts ruled in favor of General Motors, freeing them of all charges of unlawful discrimination. The judge asserted that black women, “should not be allowed to combine statutory remedies to create a new ‘super-remedy’ which would give them relief beyond what the drafters of the relevant statutes intended. Thus, this lawsuit must be examined to see if it states a cause of action for race discrimination, sex discrimination, or alternatively either, but not a combination of both.” The decision by the court codified that black women could not be a protected class and that sexism and racism cannot co-occur, suggesting that black women can identify as either black or women but not both. The ignorance of such experiences of black women contributed to America’s history of sexism and racism and how it has molded the realities for oppressed groups today. If the courts were encouraged to see women as an intersection of multiple burdens, by using an intersectionality lens, they would have considered the implications of the double bind and not each factor separately and may have reached a different result. This analysis is crucial as the understanding of black women’s intersectional oppressions intersect, interact, and shed light on class-relations within a capitalist model.
The Rise of Capitalism
Colonialism is the primary reason for the perpetuation of capitalism and the reproduction of different forms of gender and racial disparity. The central role of colonialism in capitalist development created new class structures – the upper class which constituted the bourgeoisie and the lower class consisted of the black people. Black individuals were continuously subjugated to exploitation and were systematically disadvantaged due to the nature of capitalism and the patriarchal and racial oppressions it perpetuated. For example, the slave trade. Proving that capitalism is what it is today because of these brutal colonial histories. Just like a parasite and their host, the white bourgeoisie feed on their labor power majorly black women who are victimized to both racist and sexist levels of oppressions compared to white women and black men. Their socialized acceptance of gender and race as indicators of their identity status disallows them from creating a class consciousness throughout the working class because the system was designed by and for white-dominant groups. In this global capitalism, the subject (born into the benefits of ownership of property) and the object (outside of those terms) are both maintained and benefited by whites, males, able-bodied, and heterosexuals, rather than blacks, women, disabled and LGBTQ communities. It is this cross identification and how it relates to the working class that allows black women of both sexual orientations to be the ultimate subject of study when it comes to dissecting intersectionality and capitalism. Black women’s inherent intersectionality allows them to understand the interconnectivity between racism and sexism, while privileged white communities and black men “have largely been unable to speak to, with, and for diverse groups of black women because they either do not fully understand the interrelatedness of sex, race, and class oppression, or they refuse to take this interrelatedness seriously.”
Legacies of Indigenous Movements & Co-Resistance
Since contact, Indigenous peoples have been fighting against the oppressive powers of the colonial society and state. Historically, movements such as the Ghost Dance, the Native Alliance for Red Power, and the present day Idle No More have erected themselves to organize actions. Like many movements of the time, they are often criticized for underlying patriarchy. By contrast, “from [NARPs] inception, women not only held foundational leadership positions in the organisation, but they also shaped how issues addressed by the group were theoretically understood and how to go about politically organising to confront them”. The Native Women’s Liberation Front has also noted that they were “disillusioned with the ‘white woman’s liberation movement’” and sought to “push for the ‘total liberation of the colonized people of this world and for the total liberation of the Indian people of this continent”. Additionally, the NWLF shut down any of Red Power men’s patriarchal sentiments, noting that NARP would “only have half the movement’s resources”. Saliently, there exists striking parallels in the struggle and history of Black and Indigenous resistance. These are even further illustrated by Red Power’s inspiration from Black Power’s movements in the United States, but also by their advocacy and allyship with one another.
Intersectionality in Indigenous Feminisms & Masculinities
Indigenous movements have always held intersectionality as a theoretical basis for their goals (although its popularity/academic understanding will not have come until later). Coulthard illustrates, “the rank and file of NARP was originally from a cross-section of the growing urban Indigenous population, including men and women, ex-convicts, high school drop-outs, a few academics and university students, as well as Native working class folks who either lived in or had recently migrated to the city from more rural communities”; Red Power’s 8-Point Program demonstrates. Retrofitted, these demographics actually motion to create the basis of intersectional Indigenous scholarship such as Indigenous Men And Masculinities (Innes, et. al 2015) and Making Space for Indigenous Feminisms (Green, et. al 2017). Within Making Space for Indigenous Feminisms, Mary Eberts says, “All Indian women lead a ‘high-risk’ life because of colonialism, sexism, racism and many aspects of government policy and legislation”. This book lays out the foundations for understanding Indigenous women's struggle by the intersecting oppressions of colonialism, racial-gendered violence, colonial patriarchy, objectification, policing, incarceration - the list goes on and on. Indigenous Men And Masculinities references that “gender discrimination - in both lay and academic circles - is largely understood as animus endured by women, and most frequently, white women…”. And, that “the distinct tropes associated with black and brown masculinity, however, attract a distinct brand of gendered racism reserved for men of colour”. Illustrating the oppressions coming from the colonial society - policing, imprisonment, colonial patriarchy, etc. - Innes and Anderson orchestrate an understanding of the struggle of Indigenous men and the repressive nature of its internalization and constructed social environments. Within a relatively new field of study, Indigenous feminist and masculinity theorists layout the realities and complexities of Indigenous multi-axis livelihoods, oppressions, and futures. Often referenced is the fact that a lot of this work is built from the theory and practice of Black feminists.
Interlocking forms of oppression and racial/gender wealth gap
Interlocking forms of oppression have resulted in a clear wealth gap that needs to be addressed. Oppressed groups on average have lower wealth and income than non-oppressed groups. Patriarchy, capitalism, white supremacy and colonialism have all given some groups more opportunity to build wealth and income at the expense of others. This has resulted in large discrepancies in income and wealth by virtue of birth, and this income and wealth inequality between races and genders will only get worse if not addressed. Throughout history, most cultures were patriarchies, and men were much more likely than women to hold positions of social, economic, and political power. We see that has led to a gender income and wealth gap. There are also few women and minorities in leadership positions, further propagating the income and wealth gap. Capitalism has been a very successful economic system and has enabled innovation and continuous improvement in our society. Yet it has also perpetuated income inequality and it is currently at its highest level in 50 years. Part of this reason is due to minorities having much harder time getting business loans. As well, people coming from less wealthy families are less likely to start companies, since they would not have a safety net should the venture fail. White supremacy has also been a historical issue that has led to income and wealth inequality. People in leadership positions were historically more likely to be white, and they tend to promote and train people similar to themselves, perpetuating similar people into leadership positions. Slavery and segregation in the United States existed for the better part of the 18th and 19th centuries. Overall, all these interlocking forms of oppression combined has led to a rapidly growing wealth gap. A 2017 study showed that the median income of white households ($171,100) was 10 times that of black households ($17,100). The average 2018 earnings gap between women and men balloon to over $500,000 for white women to $1million for minority women over the course of 40-year careers. The gap is only widening and can only be dealt with using an intersectional approach and understanding how these interlocking forms of oppression have shaped our economy today.
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