intersectionality: weaving many roots into one tree
this article was adapted from its original April 2015 publication on blkcowrie ❀ wanders of a lyrical mind.
a natural outgrowth of the groundbreaking Black womanism of the Combahee River Collective et.al. in the 1980s, intersectionality is a 30-year old concept developed by Kimberle Crenshaw and shared by many organizers and activists across and within multiple contemporary movements. i tend to think of it as the ability to think, walk, and chew gum at the same time: i.e., to synthesize more than one aspect of identity &/or community with respect and in equal measure while mapping webs of connection and struggle across interlocking systems of oppression, externally and internally, collectively and individually, in order to achieve the broad-based liberation of multiple oppressed communities.
unless one is trapped in linear thinking, the concept is a lot simpler than it sounds: e.g., i am of Afrikan heritage and bi-ethnic (1/2 Jamaican, 1/2 Afrikan American) and a person of color and a child of an immigrant and a U.S. citizen and queer and a woman and cisgendered and femme and of size and disabled and highly sensitive and spiritual and radical and poor and middle-aged and…and…and… these are all aspects of my identity. these are all sites of struggle. these are all relationships to power. in addition to the beauty of my own uniqueness, i bring the magical synergy of these multiple aspects of me that combine in wonderful ways to my communities at all times. we all do. the oppression &/or privilege we experience fluctuates relative to whatever social context we are in, and we need to be cognizant of and responsible for those dynamics within our communities.
intersectionality takes all of this into account, and then some. it is not constrained by individual identity — that was just the lens i used for the example above. intersectionality informs how we comprise ourselves, our accountability, our positions, our toolkit of tactics, our alliances, our agenda. it informs how power flows, how we design and build our movements, how we chart our liberation and measure success. how we harmonize (not homogenize) the tremendous diversity and differences among us we were always meant to hold, cherish and celebrate. i take alla me with me wherever i go, and, when it comes to fighting for social justice, we need to take alla us with us wherever we go.
“ideas are easy. it’s the execution of ideas that really separates the sheep from the goats.”
~ Sue Grafton
all oppression is connected, pervasive and mutually reinforcing. when grassroots organizing, radical activism, community building and popular education/cultural work are rooted in intersectionality, none of our survival struggles are subject to being shelved or stepped on in the name of some twisted, sordid (and usually self-serving) strategy of “first us, then you”. HELL NAW. first of all, quiet as it’s kept, ain’t none o’ us free ‘less we all free. not here for no single issue struggles cuz we don’t live single issue lives, to paraphrase mama Audre Lorde. no such thing as ‘situational liberation’.
get used to it.
instead, fighters for social justice, revolution, and real liberation must web connections, map out strategies that break open our silos and interlock our relationships to fellow communities in struggle across identity & borders, open up transparent accountability that centers and protects the leadership of those most directly impacted, and elegantly utilize a wealth of creative tactics that not only borrow deeply from our rich cultural legacies but also evolve fresh, new, innovative and engaging ideas that extend our cultural coffers and carry us all into our freedom futures. we must engage the work with laser-sharp critical thinking, alive imagination, boundless vision, courage, and true collectivity. we must deepen our empathy, compassion, self-care and mutual defense so that we can show up, recognize, and heal the violence lying within and among us wrought by oppression. we must sustain ourselves and each other. we must dance, we must laugh. we must love, we must dream. we must live. intersectionality encourages us to deal with the complexity of our communities, our struggles, our movements, our relationships to power, our very lives, and evolve. grow. transform. ourselves, and the world. these are the ways we wage war for our collective liberation, and survive.
oppression is so pervasive that we tend to replicate its bootprint if we are not intentional. there have always been those who benefit structurally and are privileged by the ways we silence and discount ourselves and each other as we wage our survival struggles. it is set up within society’s very marrow and sewn within the very fabric of our community contexts, therefore the challenges we face in living out intersectionality are not unintended occurrences. oppression has always sought to keep us stuck in its mire. it must to exist. even so, it shatters the heart to consider the level of dialogue -- never mind, action -- that we are still at with one another within these so-called communities: begging consideration of our lives. our worth. begging us to matter. to each other.
it shatters. it scatters us from ourselves. disappears us. kills.
yet what intersectionality and our survival demand is for us to pick up these broken bits of our selves and our struggles, and stitch them more firmly together into new patterns. to return to wholeness, we must collectively deepen our understanding of our socio-economic and political conditions, the ways oppression manifests its poison within & between us and our fellow oppressed kin, and destroy it at the root. we must value who “we” are however “we” configure ourselves while honoring our vast complexity and our soul ties to other oppressed communities across borders. we must show up for ourselves and for each other. alla we exist in war zones around this world and our absences from each other have perilous consequences: if we don’t fight fiercely to protect and preserve all of our lives, if we don’t hold each other dear amidst serial genocide, WHO WILL???
we must plait our selves, our journeys, our dreams into fierce, beautiful baobab trees that are ripe of fruit, and feed & flower ourselves for many generations to come. ❀
❀ ❀ ❀ in the spirit of no invisible labor and in honor of collective births, i happily offer my love and gratitude to the following fellow kin around the cauldron in which this post was brewed ~ all of whom so generously and informally added their patient support and eager encouragement to the pot. sorceresses all, without their potent spices, watchful eyes, veiny arms and warm cloaks, this witch’s brew would be so much less tasty:
adrienne maree brown, Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Barbara Mhangami, Collette Carter, Ebele Ajogbe, Gabriela Sonam, Hannah R. Mondiwa, Izzi Creo, Lori Hirt, Rusia Mohiuddin, Since Combahee, Storme Webber, William Maria Rain
i hope that some glint of what has been offered here at this stage in our personal evolutions, shared analysis, and trust in one another may be of use to our beloved communities in their revolutionary popular education/cultural work, community building, radical activism, and/or grassroots organizing efforts. may any tinsel found here help sparkle the new gardens we still need to identify and create to seed our transformations, forest our futures, and flower our liberation.
ƸӜƷ a former career community organizer, a radical activist, and a lyrical poet, blkcowrie is a queer ‘n quirky, super lefty, neurodiverse, naturalista dumpling who loves to explore social transformation and who we/i&i are. "to see things in the seed, that is genius." ~ Lao Tzu ƸӜƷ [@blkcowrie, blkcowrie.wordpress.com] ƸӜƷ