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9 Quotes That Define Intersectionality

The human urge to categorize and classify directly contradicts our inherently complex and nuanced nature, but that doesn’t stop us from trying anyway. When it comes to the concept of identity, we tend to assign singular, clear-cut labels — when in reality, we all “contain multitudes,” as the saying goes. Our environment, race, class, ability, gender, sexuality, and religion all play a role in creating our unique “portfolio.”

Columbia Law School professor and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw was the first to coin a term for this overarching sense of personal identity in a 1989 issue of the University of Chicago Legal Forum. In a paper titled “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics,” Crenshaw introduced the concept of “intersectionality.”

Intersectionality has since come to be defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.” But due to intersectionality’s innately intermingled nature, it can be difficult to fully grasp the meaning of the term — and why its acknowledgment is crucial for developing a truly equitable society.

We’ve gathered quotes from scholars, activists, and authors that not only define and exemplify intersectionality, but also argue for its critical benefits in today’s world.

[Intersectionality is] basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality, or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.
Kimberlé Crenshaw

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Movements and communities involve people, people are complex and it’s not a complexity that needs to be apologized, hidden, or ashamed about. It’s a complexity that we have the responsibility to address and understand; I think it’s critical that intersectionality is utilized to preserve the health of any community and society.
Sandy Ho

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We should be judging the effectiveness and value of any of our solutions by how well they’d work for people with the least institutional power.
Zoë Quinn

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One of the lessons I take from intersectionality is the multiple and discontinuous ways that gender, race, sexuality, ability, nationality, etc., are fundamentally inter-constituted. They aren’t separate systems that cross at a particular place or in particular people.
Ashley Bohrer

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The reality [is] that you have people like myself, who are Black, disabled, and women, and so many other things. And when you live at the intersections of all three of those, then you can’t split your political and social dynamics between these different groups. It doesn’t produce real results.
Keri Gray

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We all sit at the intersection of multiple identities and multiple systems of power, and that fact has real implications for our everyday experiences and well-being.
Dr. Skyler Jackson

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Intersectionality means the same for all of us: changing the way we’ve been addressing discrimination and inequalities to make it more inclusive and effective. Instead of treating symptoms, we need to tackle the root causes of inequalities … Fighting on one front at the expense of another will lead to a decrease of rights for both in the long run.
Emilia Roig

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You gotta dig a little on the ground you think you’re standing on so you can actually see that much of what you take for granted in society is actually layers upon layers of inequalities that have allowed for a baseline that’s fundamentally unequal.
Kimberlé Crenshaw

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Intersectionality is super important, because … if you get your own freedom or liberation, that’s cool. But if somebody else is still struggling and being held captive or being oppressed in certain ways, do you really have liberation? Is that really what liberation is?
Mahkyra Gaines

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Featured image credit: Edge Creative/ Shutterstock

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About the Author
Melanie Davis-McAfee
M. Davis-McAfee is a freelance writer, musician, and devoted cat mom of three living in southwest Kentucky.
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