The picture on the right is of a hairstyle that is common where I come from. It’s called suku and it involves all the hair, being plaited upwards to meet at a single point. When it’s done properly, every plait ends at the same point. It looks beautiful, but the intersection where all the plaits meet can actually be quite sore, due to the pressure of the individual plaits. It’s not one plait that causes the pain, but the combined effect of all of them.
I have been interested in the concept of intersectionality ever since I first came across it, during my masters course. Put simply, intersectionality is a way of taking into consideration all of the different facets of our identity, when describing our experiences and how they affect us. Whether it’s gender, race, age, ability, sexuality, religion or socio-economic class, intersectionality is an important concept, that can help us understand why we feel like we do. It helps us to understand the effects of multiple discrimination and how it links into things like race and gender inequality and discrimination.
Most recently, I was reminded of the concept, when Viola Davis became the first Black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Actress in a Drama. I cheered like a wild thing! As for her acceptance speech, don't even get me started! It was a little bittersweet though. I mean how come it's taken so long and why is it still so unusual? I guess the answer lies in part of her speech: " you cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there!" Since she won, as well as accolades, there has been the predictable backlash as well. Step forward Nancy Lee Grahn. Ms Grahn apparently took exception to the fact that Ms Davis referenced a speech by Harriet Tubman.
These are challenging times to be a Black person in the United States, what with the seemingly gratuitous killing of Black people and the random appropriation of facets of Black culture (nothing new there then when you think about it). As I pondered all that is going on, it made me think again about the concept of intersectionality. Parts of this week's post were first published back in 2012, but the issues are still as pertinent today and so I decided to republish it. I hope that for those of you who haven't read it before, it speaks to you and for those of you who have already read it, I hope it says something new.
The first intersection that I would like to talk about is gender and race. Ms Davis' win is important because for far too long Black women in Hollywood have been portrayed as hoochie mamas, baby mamas, any other kind of mama or the help! If I am discriminated against as a Black woman, is it because I am black or because I am a woman? Why should I have to choose between one or the other anyway? I am Black and I am a woman. One doesn’t trump the other. The important thing is the impact of that discrimination and the effect it has on me. Ms Grahn's response to Ms Davis' speech smacked to me of a sense of entitlement and a bizarre sense of having been left out somehow! Ms Grahn was speaking from a place of White privilege. I'm not one to see the race bogeyman around every corner, but the refusal of White women to accept that in relation to Black women, they too are beneficiaries of White privilege. I am currently living in a society where as a Black person I am in the majority. And yet all around me, I see examples of preference being given to individuals just because of the colour of their skin. I see the deference that is paid to them. The assumption that they know better and are in fact better, because they are foreign. It is a stark reminder to me, that people are still privileged by virtue of their skin colour- no matter where I go!
The second intersection that is important is that of gender and culture. You don’t have to look far to see examples of how this intersection impacts women negatively. Violence against women is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality and it thrives in the intersection between gender and culture. In my mind, every manifestation of violence against women that we see is rooted in cultural beliefs, assumptions and mores that categorise women as being ‘less than’. The cultural context then works to reinforce and aggravate the violence that women experience. A recent report on gender in Nigeria makes for some pretty bleak reading. In spite of the fact that we have a national gender policy, the inequality and discrimination faced by women and girls is horrifying. Only 20,000 women, out of the 60,000 young men and women who enter the formal work sector manage to get a job and they are consistently paid less than their male counterparts-even where those male counterparts have fewer qualifications. In the North West of the country, 70.8% of young women aged 20-29 are unable to read or write compared to 9.7% in the South East. Early marriage, early childbirth and a general unwillingness to invest in the education of girls because they are viewed as second class citizens are just some of the reasons for this. In the age group 15-24, 1 in 3 women and girls has been a victim of violence. Where there is an entrenched culture of violence and where perpetrators are rarely made to pay for their crimes, you can see why so few women ever report offences of violence against them.
The last intersection that I would like to look at is that of gender and religion. It’s very closely linked to the intersection above as some might say religion is an aspect of culture. I think it’s important enough to be mentioned on its own as an area where women are disproportionately affected. Ask a religious leader whether violence against women is wrong and you’re likely to hear that it is and the practice of it condemned. However, scratch the surface and a different story emerges. Where religion is significant in the life of a woman, one of the first people she is likely to turn to for help in a violent situation is her spiritual leader. Some are very good and unequivocally denounce the violence. However, the experience of many women is that they are somehow blamed for the violence. Questions like: what did you do to make him angry?” or “why didn’t you have his food ready?” abound. Women are ‘advised’ to modify their behaviour in order to avoid violence. These questions and advice miss the point in my view. The perpetrator chooses to use violence, to maintain his power and control in the relationship. Violence isn’t caused by anger; it’s caused by the perpetrator seeking to retain control. Some of the worst advice I’ve heard about how to handle domestic violence has been given by pastors. Given the numbers of women experiencing violence, a modern day pastor needs to educate themselves about the causes of violence, so they can give advice that helps, rather than harms.
The fact of the matter is that we all have different facets to our identities and inequality and discrimination cannot be put away neatly in a box marked ‘gender’ or ‘race’ or ‘religion’. We experience the pain as a whole and it affects us a whole.
As I end my piece this week, I invite you to think about where the intersections are in your own life. How has gender inequality, discrimination or violence affected you? How has it been made worse by the intersections?
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Until next week, go well.
 The term comes out of a metaphor coined by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw