As a woman of color, it seems every day brings with it some reason to shake my head or roll my eyes about the ways black women are disregarded or denigrated, even by some of our white feminist allies (today, I’m looking at you, Bette Midler).
With women’s issues becoming a greater part of our national politics and currently dominating our collective conversations, the word “intersectionality” has come up more often.
It’s a term originally coined by a black woman. And it’s defined as the ways that discrimination such as sexism, racism and classism combine and overlap—or intersect—in complex ways. Simply put, it means that the disadvantages I may face as a woman are different than the ones I face as a woman of color, which are different than the ones I’d be likely to face as a poor woman of color.
In a powerful TED-style talk, activist Brittany Packnett broke down intersectionality for the 200 women leaders in attendance at the recent New Rules Summit.
“It’s a word we often hear but rarely understand,” Packnett said. “Now it seems to be a word on everyone’s lips. … But this concept is not new. Black leaders and thinkers throughout the 20th century provided the foundation upon which starlets now give Emmy speeches.”
Titled “Living at the Intersection,” Packnett’s speech traced the origins of the concept. She started with the teachings of W.E.B. DuBois about the “twoness” that blacks in this country live with. And then weaved her way through modern history to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s 1989 essay, which is credited as the first use of the term.
“Some of us have lived intersectionality all our lives. I am a woman of color. For me, intersectionality is not a fad or a theory. It is my life,” Packnett continued. “Intersectionality is real to me and I don’t get to just put it down when the mood suits me or dismiss it when it confronts my privilege.”
“It is not merely that some days I experience racism and other days I experience sexism. Rather it is that oppression shows up differently for me than it does for black men or for white women. Intersectional oppression is just different.”
For more of Packnett explanation of intersectionality and her experience as a woman of color, check out her full talk:
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