There is a lot of tension between some activist groups because they don’t believe that they are working together, but against each other’s goals. It’s like it’s some kind of game where each person they convert can only have one strong cause and they’re trying to take over the whole board.
What they don’t realize is that one oppression isn’t the supreme suffering that takes precedent over the other. These different differences and struggles overlap and interplay all the time. Many activist groups are trying to remember this idea and the concept was coined intersectionality.
So What Does That Mean?
Well you know how there are a lot of –isms out there? Like racism, sexism, ableism, I don’t really think I need to continue. Well unfortunately, those –isms are not mutually exclusive. Just because someone out there identifies with marginalized group, that doesn’t mean they are not part of another marginalized group.
This is important to remember if you’re going to speak up for a large group of people. Just because they identify with your cause, doesn’t mean they are not affected by another. For example, if speaking up for all women, you can’t forget that among that group are women of colour, women with disabilities, queer women. Their lived experiences may be different because of their other identities.
You can find examples of it everywhere. In the body positivity movement; in the kink community; within animal rights movements, pretty much everywhere. We are becoming more aware that there are marginalized groups within marginalized groups. It’s like a meta-oppression.
It’s not that one oppression is greater than another. That’d be like comparing the issues between a white man with a disability and a straight woman of colour. Trying to compare them is futile because the experiences are just different. They are affected in different ways, that you can’t imagine unless you’ve lived it before.
Why Does It Matter?
We can try to pretend that these oppressive power structures don’t overlap and feed into each other, but then we would be losing powerful weapons and allies in the process. By working hard to be inclusive in our movements, we need to understand that by speaking over top those other lived experiences, you are shutting entire groups out of your movement.
How good is a movement about equality if it’s exclusive?
Marginalized groups within marginalized groups often face elevated rates of violence and harassment, often inside their own movement. If you are not prioritizing marginalized voices from the beginning, what happens is when one of them does speak up, they are spoken over and dismissed.
Women of colour often have a difficult time finding feminist spaces they feel comfortable in because when they speak up about their own history, if it doesn’t speak to the white experience they are often questioned, dismissed or harassed until they eventually leave the space.
If you’re not preventing this to happen within your movement in the first place, you’re not helping your movement move forward. You have to raise up even the most silenced voices in the movement, and amplify it when no one else is listening.
How Can You Put It Into Practice?
If you want to put intersectionality into action, the word ally becomes very important. It’s important to know how to be an ally if you want to open up your movement to be more inclusive.
Francesca Leigh put together an awesome video that really gets to the heart of what it means to be an ally: