What is Intersectionality?

by | Mar 2, 2024 | CoE-A | 0 comments

Intersectionality has become an increasingly popular term in the social and political context in recent years. Originally coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, renowned civil rights advocate and professor of law at Columbia Law School and UCLA School of Law, in 1989, intersectionality has come to be seen as a necessary framework for discussions of equity. Though it has become a more commonplace term over the past 34 years, understanding the nuances of intersectionality can be complicated.

As defined by the Oxford Dictionary, intersectionality is “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” The way that different identities interact with each other is evident in institutionalized systems of power, where holding several marginalized identities can lead to a vastly different experience of social, political, and economic issues. For example, a person with disabilities faces ableism in their everyday life, with discriminatory social and infrastructural practices restricting people with disabilities from  accessing physical spaces, social resources, and economic opportunities. However, disabled women of color experience several additional barriers to enjoying society equitably. Their gender identity opens them up to patriarchal discrimination, while their racial identity subjugates them under a system that positions whiteness as the norm. If we were to view their disability as separate from their identity as a woman of color, we would not have a comprehensive understanding of the particular barriers created by holding all three of these identities. Considering these issues in isolation from each other leads to inadequate solutions that do not tackle the interconnected nature of social systems.

The concept of intersectionality has developed into a framework for analyzing how life is experienced by those living at the crosswords of different power structures. Intersectionality shows us that all oppression is interlocked and shaped by the collision of various power systems. This concept serves as a valuable tool for creating equitable networks of support and care across social, political, and economic levels. With a nuanced understanding of the interplay between different marginalized identities, we are able to establish more comprehensive policies and deconstruct harmful existing structures. 

The advent of intersectionality in mainstream social justice spheres has inspired more inclusive conversations to take place. As we navigate the complexities of intersecting identities, it becomes increasingly evident that fostering inclusivity is an ongoing process. In this journey, continued dialogue, awareness, and proactive efforts are pivotal to dismantling systemic biases and creating a society that truly values and celebrates diversity. Intersectionality allows us to achieve a greater level of understanding across different identities and pushes us to embrace these differences for a more equitable tomorrow. 



Asmelash, Leah. 2023. “What intersectionality actually means and why it matters.” CNN. https://edition.cnn.com/2023/04/19/us/intersectionality-feminism-explainer-cec/index.html

Columbia Law School. 2017. “Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later.” Columbia Law School. https://www.law.columbia.edu/news/archive/kimberle-crenshaw-intersectionality-more-two-decades-later

JSTOR. 2020. “Kimberlé Crenshaw’s Intersectional Feminism.” JSTOR Daily. https://daily.jstor.org/kimberle-crenshaws-intersectional-feminism/.

Taylor, Bridie. 2019. “Intersectionality 101: what is it and why is it important?” Womankind Worldwide.  https://www.womankind.org.uk/intersectionality-101-what-is-it-and-why-is-it-important/.