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  • Elisabeth Okunrobo

What is intersectionality?

The concept of intersectionality can now be found more and more in different discourses, for example those about feminism, anti-racism or climate justice.

Intersectionality plays an increasingly important and necessary role. But what exactly does it mean?

The term intersectionality, which originated in Black feminism in the US, refers to the intersection of different discrimination forms, also called multiple discrimination.

It was first used by the US lawyer Kimberlee Williams Crenshaw in 1989 in an academic paper she wrote.

The concept of intersectionality, however, is at least as old as the struggles against colonialism and enslavement themselves. Even if it was not used as a term at the time, the dimensions of this concept were already being exemplified.

Women's rights activist Sojojurner Truth asked herself as early as 1851: "Ain't I a woman?"

She was not only criticising the fact that women did not have the right to vote because of their gender, but also the existence of racism, class discrimination and oppression in the women's movement itself.

But she also criticised the sexist discrimination that Black women experienced within the Black community.

She expressed that the discrimination experienced by Black women is different from that experienced by Black men as well as that of white women.

These experiences – the intersection of, in this case, racism and sexism – are multiple discrimination that should characterise the social position of Black women and women of colour.

The critical voices of Black women and women of colour were always drowned out in the late 19th century by being subsumed into the category of "woman".

For a long time, feminism and its concerns were limited only to white middle-class women, as well as to the social fixation of men, without taking into account the forms of discrimination against Black women.

Without them, the fight against sexism always reproduces racist structures and the fight against racism always reproduces sexist structures.

The concept of intersectionality in this case should name a fundamental problem and expose the structures behind this problem, because only when one names and acknowledges a problem it is possible to take enduring action against it.

From a scientific perspective, intersectionality is a concept that comes from sociology and allows us to understand identity as a multidimensional construct. Intersectionality makes the different conditions of discrimination visible.

The concept encompasses the totality of women, especially those who are less privileged and who are often not given a platform in this discourse.

Feminism should be a struggle for all women, and since it has not been for a long time, much more work needs to be done to create an intersectional feminism.

While it is often the case that Black women, women of Colour, indigenous women and Muslim women are spoken for and are no longer invisible, it must also be them who can speak for themselves. After all, the realities of these women's lives do not correspond at all to those of white women, who are still considered to be the norm today and thus also enjoy more privileges.

So when we talk about intersectionality, we are asking for the recognition of different discrimination forms and their consequences. We are asking for recognition of the structurally racist system we live in and the huge dimension of racism and discrimination: From lower chances and worse evaluation in school, racial profiling by the police, being constantly stared at and being perceived as different and not belonging to the others, to the denial of medical care and racially motivated murders by the police or right-wing extremists or racists.

However, it is also important for white people to become aware of their white privilege, i.e. to recognise that they are not affected by racism and that because of their appearance they enjoy an advantage in our society where whiteness is still seen as the norm.

Black women and women of colour need to be at the table, at the forefront, and finally get what is rightfully theirs. It is also precisely the task of white feminists to facilitate this space and not see themselves as a mouthpiece for less privileged women.

They have to be part of the whole, because without them, there will never be a form of wholeness, even if many women, especially in white feminism, still have to admit this to themselves, because they thought for a long time that their feminism was also our feminism.

Only with consideration, partly also with renunciation, reflection and questioning the privileges, can there be a feminism for all women: an intersectional feminism. Accordingly, only the feminism which is intersectional is real feminism.

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