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Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism


Understanding Privilege and Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a sociological theory that promotes the understanding that individuals have multiple identity factors and are "shaped by the interactions and intersections of these different social [identity factors] (e.g., race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, gender, class, sexuality, geography, age, (dis)ability, migration status, religion, etc.)" [from Intersectionality 101]. This means that inequities do not result from the social devaluing of a single identity factor in isolation, but rather from the intersections of different parts of an individual's identity, power relations, and experience.

Black legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in her 1989 essay, “ Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” which argues that the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black or of being a woman considered independently, but must include the interactions. The concept of intersectionality is not an abstract idea but a description of the way multiple oppressions are experienced by actual people. Individually, we are able to be privileged by multiple areas of our identity (e.g. white AND male AND middle class) as well as oppressed by multiple areas of our identity (e.g. Latinx AND trans AND disabled). An individual is also able to simultaneously experience privilege and oppression through the various intersections of their identity: for instance, a person who is historically marginalized (a person of color for example) may also have a role and/or be a member of a group that is oppressive to others ( a person of color may also be a man, nondisabled, cisgender, upper/middle class, straight, etc).

The idea is that privilege and oppression, like identities, come in infinite combinations, meaning an individual can benefit from more than one area of privilege, can experience the harm of more than one area of oppression, and/or can be oppressed by some aspects of their identity while also being privileged by others. (Sian Ferguson)


Regardless of the intersections of our privilege and oppression,
we all have a role in combating oppression and unequal power dynamics.