What is Intersectionality Theory? Definition & Examples

Aug 31, 2023

Intersectionality is a critical concept that recognizes how individuals hold multiple identities and face unique challenges at the intersections of those identities. Understanding intersectionality is a cornerstone in fostering inclusivity and equality for all individuals, especially those facing numerous forms of oppression.

Here, we will explore the definition of intersectionality and its significance, particularly in how it relates to the ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) population that United Way NCA serves.

What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality refers to the interconnectedness of social categories, such as race, gender, class, sexuality, and ability–all of which shape an individual’s experiences and opportunities. Intersectionality recognizes that different forms of discrimination and privilege often intersect and create unique challenges for people with multiple identities. For instance, a woman of color may face obstacles that a white woman or man of color might not.

ALICE families work hard and earn above the federal poverty level but struggle to meet their basic needs due to the rising cost of living. Intersectionality allows us to recognize that ALICE families may face additional challenges and inequalities due to their race, gender, or disabilities. Adopting an intersectional lens can help us better understand and navigate the complex challenges the ALICE population faces and work towards effective solutions.

Why is Intersectionality Important to Understand?

Understanding the meaning of intersectionality is essential to acknowledging and addressing the unique struggles that marginalized communities face. Recognizing the intersecting systems of privilege and oppression will help us develop more inclusive policies and programs. This form of advocacy enables us to promote equity and create spaces where individuals from diverse backgrounds can thrive.

Intersectionality Examples & In Practice

Creating policies with intersectionality at the forefront supports the ALICE population in many facets, including education, healthcare, and the workplace. Here are some ways in which intersectionality can help better understand the experiences and needs of ALICE families:

Intersectionality in Education

Intersectionality plays a central role in education. In the classroom, it can help us understand how the intersection of identities can impact access to quality education, educational attainment, and experiences within academic institutions. We can work towards creating more inclusive and equitable learning environments by considering the intersectional experiences of children, educators, and administrators of different backgrounds.

Intersectionality in Healthcare

In healthcare settings, intersectionality acknowledges that individuals of various intersecting identities may face different health outcomes and access to healthcare. Healthcare providers that keep intersectionality at the forefront can recognize and address these disparities, ensuring that all individuals receive equitable and culturally sensitive care.

Intersectionality in the Workplace

Intersectionality is crucial in understanding workplace dynamics and addressing issues related to discrimination, pay gaps, and career advancement. By considering the intersecting identities of employees, employers can create inclusive policies, foster diversity, and provide equal opportunities for career growth.

Kimberlé Crenshaw and the History of intersectionality

Intersectionality has roots in the Black feminist movement of the late 20th century, particularly articulated by scholars like Kimberlé Crenshaw. It emerged as a response to the limitations of single-axis frameworks in understanding the experiences of marginalized groups. Crenshaw’s work highlighted how systems of oppression, such as racism and sexism, intersect to create unique forms of discrimination that are often overlooked in traditional analyses.

The term gained prominence in legal and academic discourse, emphasizing the need to consider multiple dimensions of identity and power dynamics simultaneously. Intersectionality expanded beyond race and gender to encompass various social categories like class, sexuality, disability, and more.

By recognizing the historical development of intersectionality, we honor the contributions of activists and scholars who paved the way for a more inclusive understanding of social justice issues.

Intersectionality and You

Incorporating intersectionality into our personal and professional lives is essential for creating a more equitable society. Here are some ways you can contribute:

  1. Educate yourself: Learn about intersectionality, its principles, and the experiences of marginalized communities. Educating yourself is the first step towards understanding and dismantling systemic inequalities.
  2. Amplify marginalized voices: If you have a platform, use it to uplift and amplify the voices of marginalized individuals and communities. Share their stories and perspectives to raise awareness and challenge existing narratives.
  3. Advocate for inclusion: Advocate for inclusive policies and practices in your community, workplace, and educational institutions. Support initiatives that promote diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  4. Reflect on personal bias and privilege: Engage in self-reflection to identify and challenge your individual biases and privileges. Recognize how intersectionality influences your own experiences and interactions with others.
  5. Support community organizations: Get involved with local organizations that support intersectional communities. Volunteer your time, donate, or collaborate to make a positive difference.

Our Mission to Empower Intersectional Communities

Understanding and embracing intersectionality is more than just a concept; it’s a practical approach to creating a more inclusive and equitable society. Whether it’s in education, healthcare, or the workplace, recognizing the intersecting identities that shape our experiences allows us to better serve and uplift those facing unique challenges.

Ready to make a real impact? Contact us for more information on how you can get involved and make a difference in your community.