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  • Henry Silvert

Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a relatively new way of understanding social relationships and the way our lives are intricately connected to our environment and history. It is a way of understanding how our layered lives interact with the broader social, economic and political trends. It adds a new dimension to what C. Wright Mills called the connection between private matters and public issues.


Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw originally introduced the term, in 1989, to describe the overlapping identities of an individual or a group that confound and add flavor to our understanding of prejudice and discrimination. One of her arguments was that the experience of being a black woman must incorporate the interdependence of gender and race, rather than considering the two separately.


An excellent article about the intersection of abortion, black lives, and religion appeared in the Sunday, July 17 edition of The New York Times. The article notes that for many African Americans, even for pastors, the issue of abortion cannot be argued without consideration of the quality of urban education, the high unemployment rate within the Black community, and the disparity between White and Black health care. The article points out that for pastors and ministers of Black churches, which has traditionally had a very active role in the civil rights movement, the abortion issue can be very wrenching.


As a White, non-religious, Jewish, highly educated, somewhat physically challenged, male, I can only empathize with these feelings. I am aided in doing this because I, too, understand that my life choices have been largely influenced by the different layers identities that have affected my perceptions of the environment around me. Yet, I wonder, as a sociologist, how to impart this view of the world to others.


I think that one of the ways to do this is through theater. My wife and I had the pleasure, a few weeks ago, to attend the first play of a new and upcoming talent, Juanda Hall, titled Accelerating Change. It is a four-act play that captures the endemic racism in this country by tracing the its impact on generations of a family from a lynching in the South around 1860 to living in a New York City ghetto. I use ghetto to refer to an ethnic or racial group rather to an income category. To me, one of the things the play highlights is the lingering effects of slavery including redlining continue to prevail in the United States.


I think that it is important to remember that while the concept of intersectionality provides a way of understanding the world, it, by itself, does not and cannot provide a guide toward the solution of any social problem. It can only provide us with the tools to elaborate what is.


Please add your thoughts.

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