I am an intersectional feminist. I remember quite fondly the first time I used the phrase to describe myself during a conversation with my mom on a car ride home. She looked puzzled and seemed rather taken aback that I found it necessary to qualify my sense of feminism as “intersectional,” but to me, it’s more a necessity than a mere difference of semantics. Intersectionality is the concept that oppressive institutions, like racism, sexism, or homophobia, are all interconnected, tangled together and impossible to analyze separately.
The past few weeks in America have been filled with more sadness, more killing of black men, and more pleading for the senseless violence to end. As an African American woman trying to make sense of the heartache and the many more tears that have been shed for those we have lost, I think back to the black community I am apart of.
Racial identities aren’t chosen, and perhaps that is what makes the bond so unique. Darkened melanin creates a sense of understanding, a shared past, and at least a cursory understanding of what someone else may have experienced. But even within a marginalized community, I am frequently reminded of what it means to be a woman, a black woman.
Distinctly the two communities I most greatly identify with are my race and my gender, but I think the combination, or rather the intersection of the two, is where I constantly find myself belonging. From these communities I gain a sense of strength and understanding of how others’ experiences can be just like mine even when it feels as if I walk alone. Therefore, there is a greater sense of responsibility, an unwritten oath members of the community should take of mentorship and helping one another.
Such a philosophy seems idealistic at best- creating a perfect world where everyone lifts up each other with no consideration of themselves- but at times it’s the small things that contribute to an understanding of the shared community. Admiring in awe when I finally see an African American female in a position of authority at this institution or ensuring that I acknowledge the many black staff workers on campus with a smile, a quick conversation, and thanking them graciously for their work.
There has not been a time that I find my membership in this intersectional community a burden, but there have been times where I find myself more tired that I would care to admit: the micro-aggression from a classmate, looking around the classroom and seeing that yet again you are the only woman of color, feeling like a show animal when someone wants to touch your twists and then quickly being reminded of the angry black woman stereotype as you firmly remind them to take their hands off of you, or having to gauge how loud you can be in an impassioned class debate. Being black, being a black woman, is not problematic, rather it is how others treat this community that remains problematic.
I say again: I am an intersectional feminist, meaning that I understand the strife that comes with being a member of a marginalized race and gender, but I also firmly believe that my membership within such a community grants me a beautiful and unique perspective on life.