What Is Intersectionality?

Published: November 4, 2020Updated: February 8, 2021

There are lots of conversations we all need to have in the fight against racism. These include other systems of oppression, and how they intersect with race. Understanding intersectionality requires us to examine how multiple systems of oppression can overlap and impose unique problems on individuals or groups of people who have more than one marginalized identity. As a health care company, this is incredibly important to us and the patients we provide care for.

What exactly is intersectionality? 

Intersectionality aims to understand how different forms of inequality compound to create overlapping discrimination. For instance, in health care there are significant problems that confront all women, but there are unique issues that impact Black women due to the intersection of racism and sexism. Everyone has their own unique identities that make them who they are and shape how they navigate this world. Understanding how those identities work to confer privilege or disadvantage is using intersectionality to ensure justice is applied equally.

The term ‘intersectionality’ was coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw in her essay entitled “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color.” She highlighted the unique challenges women of color face, as they are part of two historically oppressed groups: women and people of color. 

While there are ongoing efforts to end oppression for women and people of color separately; women of color are not being properly supported as a whole, highlighting the importance of understanding and acknowledging intersectionality. This can be clearly seen in the maternal mortality rate of the United States, with Black women 3-4 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women.

The venn diagram above shows just a couple of the distinct identities that come together to make up a person, others may include religion, sexuality, socio-economic status, or education. As individuals, we carry multiple identities that play into each other in unique ways. For example, a gay man experiences homophobia; a black man experiences racism. However, a gay black man experiences homophobia and racism that manifests in higher rates of violence and discrimination as well as greater barriers to health care access.

When taking an intersectional approach to health care (as it should be!) we can create a system that:

  • Creates more specific and inclusive studies to help find medical solutions
  • Creates questions and processes that apply to everyone—to truly understand their concerns, risks, needs, etc. 
  • Appreciates the diverse and unique experience of individuals in formulating plans to treat patients holistically

Why is it so important? 

We need to take intersectionality into account when we attempt to understand another’s experience and the systems that hinder or support that individual—especially when it comes to health care. 

With so much to unpack and to change, it is crucial that our activism, advocacy, and allyship is intersectional. If you want more information on topics such as this head to The Simple Source. Follow us here, or @simplehealth, for the latest on reproductive health, sex education, and some feel-good memes.

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