Intersections And Access: How These Terms Work Together
Intersections and Access: How Common Phrases Have Very Different Meanings
When one hears the term intersectionality, the default response is to perform a version of inclusion that is palate pleasing to the least oppressed class. This often leaves the most marginalized voices to be snuffed out, silenced, and misconstrued to fit that comfortable narrative. This rarely-if ever- leads to tangible positive change.
Let’s define intersectionality. Intersectionality is “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). In layman's terms: how the differing aspects of your identity frame your navigation through the world.
As many are aware of, the standard of “normal” in the United States is able-bodied, thin, cisgender, heterosexual and white. This standard has permeated every aspect of western civilization for decades, which has left anyone perceived as other to the winds of discrimination and abuse. Let’s not forget when Black people weren’t classified as full people! Because of the standard being set as whiteness equating to perfection, intersectionality becomes critical to the dismantling of the oppressive systems that whiteness has upheld for a millennia.
How do we achieve actual intersectional change? We must navigate every aspect of this work through critical lenses of what different intersections mean. I will use myself as an example.
For those unaware, I am a small business owner. With that title alone, many would believe that I’m well off and more. However, even with a successful business, I am still unambiguously Black, in the middle of the skin tone spectrum (not light, but not quite dark either), classified poor and visible fat. These intersections where I reside drastically affect the level of access I have to escaping the system of generational poverty that a large portion of Americans are born into. As early as the second grade, I was made very aware that I was different, and different was not okay. Regardless of my intellect and a capacity to do exceptional by many standards, my politicized identity kept me out of many rooms. Even as an adult, who’s beat many odds, there are still barriers I’ve yet to have the resources to cross.
Many times, because of the perceived successes I’ve achieved, my intersections are discarded when conversations of furthering success come up. I, like many other Black people, have to perform the mental labor of explaining how the systems we’re trying to survive and thrive in were not made for us. Therefore, having access to the resources and tools to thrive are designed to be out of our reach at every level. From raw materials to bank funding, our access to capital is drastically different. Remember, at the beginning stages of America, Black people were the capital in capitalism. We are not that far removed, and in fact there are multiple instances where we still are (see also: the school-to-prison pipeline, the prison industrial complex, food deserts, red-lining and zoning, etc.).
Change can start in very small yet effective ways. Firstly, stop expecting free labor from Black folks and other people of color. We deal with enough every day without also having to put on the hat of racial relations educator. There’s more than enough sources of credible information right at your fingertips! Secondly, when interacting with BIPoC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color), be aware that your worldview as a white person shifts your experience from that of the marginalized person you’re speaking to. Additionally, stop giving unsolicited critique and advice. It’s coming from a place of privilege that by current societal systems that the vast majority of us will never see. Finally, keep intersectionality at the forefront of your mind. This will often times lead the way in better thought out interactions with the people around you and within your sphere of influence. Remember that many intersections carry varying weight, and these things do indeed make a difference (i.e. a white person that is gay will face a different level of discrimination from a Black trans person.)
Yes, you can indeed participate in oppressive behavior, regardless of your personal marginalizations. When the point of weighted margins is introduced, we can have a greater understanding of intersectionality. In a society that heavily weighs your racial presentation as a point of how much access you get to have, these things must take precedence over other marginalizations dependent upon context. Circling back to our first example, whiteness weighs the most in that person’s window of access within cisheteronormative society. Them being gay may result in a form of discrimination, however that discrimination is not based on them also being white. However, a Black person’s margins are in addition to the largest margin: Blackness. So a Black trans person will not only be discriminated against for being trans, but also for being Black and trans.
Intersectionality is not only real, but vital to progressive changes on every level. We must collectively move in this understanding. Some of us have already begun the work, and it is past time for the more privileged to pick up the load and carry it further. Use your access for the good of others today.