Professor Crenshaw addressing the question of Intersectionality in her keynote speech to WOW – the Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre, London, 2016.
What happens at the intersection?
Understanding what is happening in our complex society requires thinking of situations in terms of the interaction between simultaneous factors taking place on multiple levels. But even if we do think in these terms we can still miss gross injustices or patent failings in our well-meaning actions. Why? Because if we consider situations from separate multiple perspectives, many things that happen at the intersection of these perspectives or factors fall through the cracks and we fail to see injustice or violence or disempowerment or disqualification that happen just there.
The blind spot!
Here’s an example given by Professor Crenshaw. A company has a policy to employ women. The same company also has a policy to employ coloured people. As such it is held up as exemplary. But if you look more closely at the intersection of race and gender, you realise that the company is less willing to employ women of colour. Not only that, but courts disallow cases from coloured women that try to claim discrimination based on a combination of racism and gender arguing that you cannot plead from two perspectives at once. The intersection is a blind spot. We need to train ourselves to look to those intersections because it is there that many well intentioned battles for progress on gender equality or LGBTQ rights or the fight against racism or poverty or police violence fall short or fail completely.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, On Intersectionality: The Essential Writings of Kimberlé Crenshaw, New Press, 2015.
WOW – Women of the World Festival, South Bank Centre, London