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Intersectionality basics.

Imagine you had multiple parts to your identity, that you constantly had to explain to others and defend your right to be seen as equal amongst everyone else in society.

Question’s you ask yourself include, ‘which part of me is going to be judged the most today?' and how can I hide it?’.

Kimberlé Crenshaw
Kimberlé Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw, a 60-year-old professor at both Columbia and the University of California Los Angeles, has spent more than 30 years studying civil rights, race, and racism, and has also focused on researching intersectionality. Over her career, Crenshaw created work exploring race theory and civil rights and publicly laid out her theory of intersectionality in 1989, when publishing “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex”, a paper in the Legal Forum at the University of Chicago. In the paper Crenshaw explores the lack of understanding and ignorance that shows up when people approach the topic of discrimination, arguing that the law recognises misogyny and racism but fails to realise that black women are both black and female, therefore often facing both types of discrimination.

Furthermore, in a case mentioned in Crenshaw’s paper, a court decided that combining together both racial discrimination and sex discrimination, rather than to charge each separately, was not possible. In May 1976, Judge Harris Wangelin who was on the case ruled that “black women” would not be able to have their own category within the law as it would risk opening a “Pandora’s box” of other minorities who would protest their rights to be recognised within the law.

“The prospect of the creation of new classes of protected minorities, governed only by the mathematical principles of permutation and combination, clearly raises the prospect of opening the hackneyed Pandora’s box.”

Although this study was conducted way before I was born, today in 2021 I find myself from time to time wondering ‘what will people discriminate against me for today?’ maybe it’ll be because I am a woman, hijabi or POC. The reality is although many of us have addressed and recognised racism, misogyny, islamophobia, homophobia, antisemitism and various other forms of discrimination, in today’s society we still, like Judge Harris back in 1976, fail to recognise intersectionality and its impact.

We also need to acknowledge that the boxes we tick on forms are for no one’s benefit. For example, people in power fail to see that many of us don’t fit into the eighteen ethnic categories we are given to choose from, and although eighteen sounds like a large number, there are seven billion of us, 67 million here in the UK, so evidently many more categories are needed, or even better scrap them and create new ones that are more accurate to the society we live in today.

Eighteen categories and many of the people in my community, along with myself are ‘other’. ‘Other’ is an inaccurate description to encapsulate the significance of what makes me who I am. It is evident that once again the old white men that govern our societies have failed to put in the minimal effort and awareness needed to create a society where we all feel seen and heard.

The most essential thing is to recognise that our own individual identities are who we are, we can not separate them because every part of us plays into how we live our lives. We also must recognise that we all have different characteristics to one another, and so will deal with different circumstances, whether it be because of who we are and what we look like, or other factors. Finally, it is essential to remember that the more elements playing into a person’s oppression, means we must ensure that we are doing as much as we can to give these people a voice, attend to their needs and let them be seen in our society.

Some resources to teach you more on intersectionality:

“Women, Race, & Class” by Angela Y. Davis

“The urgency of intersectionality” Kimberlé Crenshaw Ted Talk


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