If You Didn’t Know These Four Facts About Intersectionality, You Haven’t Been Doing it Right

Black women aren’t new to this, we are the root of it!

Black women aren’t new to this, we are the root of it!

Listen… non-Black women have remixed intersectionality like Jazzy Jeff at a Juneteenth cookout. Without effort or consideration, they take the analytical framework that Black women have carved out with blood and Black flesh and use it to overtake Black women-led spaces. Here’s a few facts about intersectionality — the concept, and the term…

4. Just because conservatives turned ‘identity politics’ into a bad word doesn’t mean it is.

In 1974, the Black feminist organization, Combahee River Collective released a statement that would set the pace for a new era in the evolution of intersectionality. The Combahee River Collective Statement is broken down into four different sections. It addresses the needs of Black women — Black lesbians, especially, and their shared dedication for the full liberation of Black bodies. It was also the first time that the term identity politics would be used…

“This focusing upon our own oppression is embodied in the concept of identity politics. We believe that the most profound and potentially most radical politics come directly out of our own identity, as opposed to working to end somebody else’s oppression.” — Combahee River Collective Statement

For Black women, Black queers, Black folks living with disabilities, etc. our identities are political, and there’s no getting around it. To suggest that we don’t correlate our identities with our politics is only to accept the parts of us that you wish to leverage and/or exploit. Black women are not car parts that can be disassembled.

3. It’s an analytical framework, Not a Cure-All

This is how intersectional feminism is supposed to work: Feminists band together and join forces, like a dope ass version of The Warriors. Together, we center the most marginalized of us and provide support, amplification, and solidarity. Here’s how we know that intersectional feminism isn’t doing a damn thing for Black women: the two most vulnerable groups of women right now are dying at alarming rates, and the only people who care are other Black women. The maternal mortality crisis is an American epidemic. And, at least twenty-two Black trans women were murdered in 2019 so far. Oh, and the whole dirty water in Flint thing

Intersectionality has the potential to irradiate the misogynoir that endangers Black trans women and expectant mothers. These women are dependent on us taking action now. We have to be serious about centering the most marginalized and making sure that they are leading us, not the other way around.

2. You Can’t Practice Intersectionality if You Haven’t Done Your Research

Watching MTV Decoded and Kimberlé Crenshaw’s TedTalk won’t make you an expert on understanding the concept or term…

Dr. Anna Julia Haywood Cooper described the conflict of a Black woman deciding whether to use the Colored Only bathroom or the Ladies Bathroom during segregation. Audre Lorde broke down the double isolation Black women experience from both non-Black women and Black men. Ida B. Wells, Angela Y. Davis, bell hooks, and Dr. Brittney Cooper are only a few Black women who have educated the masses on intersectionality. For well over a century, Black women have been persistent in our need to bring attention to the intersection of race and womanhood.

“Teach [our women and girls] that there is a race with special needs which they and only they can help [and] that the world needs them and is already asking for their trained, efficient forces.” — Dr. Anna Julia Heyward Cooper

Intersectionality is a collective mass of intellectual property, not designed to be used out of context. Non-Black women have full access to the benefits that come with the critical theories that intersectionality provides. However, they’re still responsible for educating themselves on the term, the concept, and its origins.

“During the 1970s, black feminist scholar-activists, a number of whom were also LGBTQ, developed theoretical frameworks to serve as a model for other women of color, to broaden feminism’s definition and scope. “- Time

1. We Let Them Borrow the Framework, but Hands Off Our Intellectual Property.

The definition of intersectionality is an overlapping of oppression. For some, this can get confusing based on what their definition of oppression is.

Intersectionality is being explored and practiced in different ways every day. People are always finding new ways to put the framework into practice. That’s a good thing. Just because a white Jewish woman did not partake in the creation of intersectionality doesn’t mean she can’t use the concept to address anti-Semitism. A white transgender man would benefit significantly by using the tenements of intersectionality to explain why it’s so harmful that trans men and non-binary people are left out of the fight for abortion rights. However, having access and benefitting from intersectionality doesn’t mean anyone can be an intersectional feminist. One has to exist in an intersection of dual oppression to identify as intersectional. White women often try to convey that they really care about Black people and people of color by identifying with this label, and it’s a major fail. It may seem complicated, but it’s pretty straightforward: unless you survive in an intersection of dual oppression, you’re not intersectional. Periodt.

Tamela J. Gordon is a writer, book critic, and facilitator of safe space for Black women. For more of her work, join her Patreon community, her online book club (exclusively for non-men), and check her out at shewritestolive.com. You can follow Tamela on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Goodreads!

Writer. Feminist. Advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS.

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