Intersectionality! What is it? Why is it important? How does it relate to Spinal Cord Injury Awareness Month?

Intersectionality is the understanding that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression.

It’s understanding of how different social categorization’s like gender, race, religion, class, sexual orientation, disability, age, etc... can impact one’s every day life. 

It’s actually a lot more simple than it seems. It’s just recognizing the whole human rather than just one part of their identity, and then understanding how all their identities combined affect how they are viewed and treated in society.

There’s plenty of examples we could use here so let’s start on a personal level: I’m a disabled woman. Historically and presently disabled people have experienced discrimination due to their physical and/or mental abilities. Women have also faced injustices due to simply being a woman. Therefore, I face discrimination and oppression by being both physically disabled and a woman.

If we want to take it a step further I am also Latina and Creole, so I will also experience discrimination for my ethnicity and race.

It’s important to understand that people can and do belong to multiple marginalized groups and because of this will experience many different disadvantages.

Another example can be someone who is black and also gay. Not only are they going to experience discrimination due to the color of their skin. They will also experience discrimination due to their sexual orientation.

Let’s break it down a bit more. Here are some social categorizations that affect one’s experience: 

Sexual orientation 
Gender identity
Physical Ability
Citizenship status   
Body size 
Mental health 

And there’s so much more!

When we talk physical ability - there’s able bodied, invisible disability, and visible disability. The able bodied person will experience more privilege than those with the invisible or visible disabilities. On the other side, someone who is visibly disabled will experience more discrimination than those who are invisibly disabled or able bodied. The same can be said for what kind of mobility aid you use. I use a power wheelchair and I am treated differently than my sister who uses a manual wheelchair. I also can’t access buildings in the same way and I face inaccessibility a lot more than a manual wheelchair user would with that.

That’s how intersectionality relates back to spinal cord injuries. Although spinal cord injury is the term we use to diagnose and treat, it’s also important to understand how those personal lived experiences differ based on physical ability. It’s also important to then note how race, age, class, sexuality, etc.. will also add to the advantages and/or disadvantages those with SCI’s will face.

Overall, intersectionality is understanding identity and how it relates to power. It helps us understand the ways that one can either benefit from or be harmed by systems of oppression.

Intersectionality is important because it allows people to see the full individual human experience. It allows people to see how one’s full identity can directly give them advantages and/or disadvantages in this world. By giving it a name we give those who experience multiple forms of discrimination a way to explain the many injustices they face.

Some quotes from Kimberle Crenshaw, civil rights activist and a leading scholar of critical race theory. She coined Intersectionality in 1989!

“The way we imagine discrimination or disempowerment often is more complicated for people who are subjected to multiple forms of exclusion. The good news is that intersectionality provides us a way to see it.” - Kimberle Crenshaw

“A lot of people think that intersectionality is only about identity. But it's also about how race and gender are structured in particular workforces.” - Kimberle Crenshaw

“While white women and men of color also experience discrimination, all too often their experiences are taken as the only point of departure for all conversations about discrimination. Being front and center in conversations about racism or sexism is a complicated privilege that is often hard to see.” - Kimberle Crenshaw

“Intersectionality is an analytic sensibility, a way of thinking about identity and its relationship to power. Originally articulated on behalf of black women, the term brought to light the invisibility of many constituents within groups that claim them as members but often fail to represent them.” - Kimberle Crenshaw

Thanks for reading!

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More on Intersectionality

The Urgency of Intersectionality - Kimberle Crenshaw

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