Let us, for a moment, imagine life in the 1930s post the suffrage movement. Women, after fighting for years, staging protests and resorting to unconventional (at the time) methods of advocacy, can now vote. An overwhelming victory for the women’s right movement. The gag however is that, only white women can vote. Imagine the black women like Sojourner Truth who had dedicated their entire life fighting both the patriarchy that had institutionalized sexism and deep built racism, receiving the news that they could not vote, even after putting in their physical and intellectual labour, because they were black.
Similarly, imagine white women expecting unity and solidarity from black women and women of colour against the patriarchy but showing zero willingness in fighting alongside women of colour against racism, which they (white women) heavily benefit from.
These examples of obvious privilege by white women inform the entire basis of the concept of intersectionality as introduced by American Professor Kimberle Crenshaw in 1989. She defines intersectionality as “The invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members but often fail to represent them” Basically, the recognition that not every feminist (or woman) is white, middle class, cis gendered or able-bodied; and therefore in this regard, women face different types of oppression all which interlink.
For example, there are poor women oppressed based on class, there are disabled women who face ableism, black women who experience racism, coupled with the effects of colonialism and neo-colonialism and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women who experience homophobia, transphobia and biphobia.
To use an even simpler example, imagine being a young black disabled lesbian- that means you will be experiencing oppression at four levels- based on age, race, disability and sexual orientation. Therefore, a movement that seeks to dismantle structural oppressive systems that work against women must be designed to recognize all these systems to achieve its ultimate goal of liberation.
Feminism that is not intersectional is non-inclusive, excludes other groups of women and only focuses on women with privilege. We are in what is termed as the fourth wave feminism that actively tries to introduce intersectionality in its advocacy strategies to ensure that every woman is represented and every voice heard.
Feminists and feminist organizations can perform the deliberate work of learning about intersectionality by having on their reading lists books like Women, Race and Class by Angela Y Davis, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay.
We can also speak out when we come across bigoted content that seeks to dim the voice of minorities on social media, our places of work, at home, in public vehicles, in the church or anywhere else.
It is also extremely important to check our privilege when we are in different spaces. Remember to not centre yourself or insert yourself in a conversation or space where your privilege is not required. Remember to reject cookie points or trophies for acknowledging the existence of your privilege. Finally, remember to introduce conversations on intersectionality in spaces that are quite obviously, non-intersectional. This way we recognize that, we are one, but we are not the same and so we must carry each other.