Intersectionality is the meeting place, and overlapping space among different disenfranchised groups. More specifically, it is the study of these interactions as they apply to each other, to the society as a whole and the effects of these multiple systems of discrimination and oppression. It is also the methodology used in study of the relationships and subjects. Some individuals are members of more than one disenfranchised minority. Various groups that may or may not share members are nonetheless subject to the same forms of discrimination. The theory of Intersectionality seeks to examine how these various biological, cultural and social categories interact on multiple and simultaneous levels. It also investigates how these interactions contribute to social injustice, inequality and oppression. These intersections of multiple forms of discrimination and the study of this topic form the Intersectionality paradigm.
Cultural patterns of oppression are interrelated, influenced and bound together by societal systems. Women, for example from one ethnic group may be subject to lesser or greater discrimination than women from a different group. Even within one ethnic group an individual woman may be treated differently depending upon a variety of factors such as age, marital status, social status and gender orientation. At times, the larger society may have certain expectations of one ethnic group and “punish” those people who depart from that expected behavior, even though it is otherwise perfectly acceptable, even expected of others. . These discrete forms of oppression shape and are shaped by one another. To understand fully the ramifications of race, it is important to know how the social structures are also shaped by class, gender, age and a variety of other factors within the ethnic group and by society as a whole. .
These various forms of discrimination result in an interlocking matrix of oppression and domination. . In this matrix, a combination of commonalities and dichotomies create an unstable and unequal system of relationships. One disenfranchised group may endevor to lift itself at the expense of another with greater or lesser success. In that manner, they end up oppressing each other by focusing on differences instead of similarities. “ social inequality exacerbates social instability and economic decline, and it may even lead to violence, as key institutions in society lose legitimacy among the affected communities.” .
This matrix depends upon the participants seeking to differentiate themselves instead of working together. This differentiation results in the objectification of the oppressed group or individual. Sometimes, this differentiation originates from within the group itself. If the social “mythic norm” is the average white male then anyone who is self-aware and differentiates themselves from this group may try to preserve their self-esteem by dehumanizing others. Positive self-evaluation leads to a positive self-image, a sense of self-value and a stable self-definition that help a person overcome the oppressive societal methods of domination. Conversely, individuals may choose to internalize their social stereotypes and create a self-fulfilling prophecy of expected behavior. .
Girl violence and girl on girl violence is one way this matrix plays out when one disenfranchised group seeks to differentiate itself by further dehumanizing, stereotyping and oppressing others. Shelia Batacharya looked at this in depth when she wrote Racism, "Girl Violence/' and
the Murder of Reena Virk.” In it, she refers to an incident that took place on 14 November 1997 involving a planned assault by seven young women and one young man on a fourteen-year-old South Asian girl in a suburb of Victoria, British Columbia. The base line cause for the assault was that the Reena Virk, the fourteen year old who was assaulted and murdered wanted to date, and that was deemed inappropriate for a girl of her ethnic background. The way it played out in the media is indicative of how these interactions in the matrix of Intersectionality relate to and shape human behavior, and how often it is poorly understood.
The murder took the form of two separate assault incidents. The first was carried out by the eight youths in front of a group of twenty to fifty onlookers. The second assault was carried out later by two white teenagers who returned, further assaulted Reena Virk. Then they dumped her into the Gorge Waterway where she ultimately drowned. Her naked body was found eight days later and death by drowning was confirmed by the coroner. The autopsy reviled that Reena Virk had “"internal injuries to her back and abdomen that were consistent with being kicked and stomped" (internal cites removed).
Initial media reports did not mention her ethnic background, later reports labeled her incorrectly as “East Indian” instead of “South Asian.” showing how they discounted the importance race played in the larger society general view of the incident. The police reports were even more indicative of the lack of sensibility that society in general holds of Intersectionality. One article stated that "[p]olice have ruled out racism as a motive, noting that some of the accused are also non-white" (internal cites removed). This showed a total dearth of sensitivity as to how race could still be an issue even though the majority of the violent acts that cost Reena her life were carried out by other marginalized ethnic groups.
Although, racism was not seen as a cause for the violent assault it was not ignored by the media who often described her as a “troubled teen,” slightly overweight, dark skinned and not well to do. Still, with all these differentiations, they also said she was like many other fourteen year old girls, although most of the girls her age in that area were slender, white and of the middle class. In this manner, they were able to objectify her and describe her as just a girl victim of girl violence. This turned the focus away from the matrix of discrimination and brought it into the focus of the public concern as to how feminism cause the new generation of young women to deviate from their classic roles and become more like boys. By doing so, it pushed the hegemonic correctness into the forefront by showing that the normative heterosexual, middle-class gender roles of earlier generations would have precluded these actions. The media focused on the role feminism played in making girls more like boys and turning them away from their formerly pre-ordained roles as daughters, wives and mothers. The feminist response at the time was that the violent girls are themselves victims of a patriarchic society who were themselves driven to gender oppression. Neither side looked at the full picture and saw how a group of teenagers could be divided on the grounds of presumed ethnic roles instead of just skin color None of these accounts addressed the factors of racism, sexism, classism, ableism, and heterosexism place girls in dominant and subordinate relationships. . The whole paradigm of Intersectionality was completely ignored in all the initial reports. Instead, this young girl’s death was used to push an agenda to turn back to the former hegemonic social norms that would push all women more deeply into oppression completely dehumanized, objectified and reduced to property under the total domination of a white male society.
Upon further investigation, it came out that the initial assault was carried out because Reena called the boys that she found listed in another girl’s phone book. In that society, trying to steal someone else’s boyfriend was considered a social crime deserving retribution. However, that was not the reason she was murdered; she compounded this offence by being South Asian. In that society South Asian women were not expected to have boyfriends or date at all. Therefore, when Reena Virk attempted to find a boyfriend by calling the other girl’s boyfriends she committed two social crimes. She did not just try to steal someone else’s boyfriend; she stepped outside her asexual role as a South Asian young woman who was not supposed to date at all according to the mores of her society. She did not fit into the general stereotype of what an Asian woman was supposed to be, she was tall, dark and heterosexual rather than asexual. It was this final offence against race and class that incited the initial beating and that lead to the final acts of violence that killed her. .
Black women are another disenfranchised minority that is included in the oppression matrix. She may also serve as one or more of the vectors within her initial categorization. Like many other members or racially marginalized groups, she may suffer experience barriers in the labor market and end up in insecure, low paying employment. . She may experience more difficulty getting educational opportunities and feel pressured into an unwanted role as wife and mother. In that capacity, a black woman who is also under educated, a mother and in one of the lower income groups will be subject to a different set of pressures that a woman who is single with no children and a successful career. “various categories of identity must be considered together, determining the way they intersect, the way they differ and, at the same time, taking into account the distinctiveness of individual experience. .
Never the less, even within the ivy cover halls of academia disparate treatment exists Audrie Lorde relates an incident where “At an international cultural gathering of women, a well known white American woman poet interrupts the reading of the work of women of Color to read her own poem, and then dashes off to an ‘important panel.’” . Respect may also vary within an ethnic group a mother with a good husband and children may actually have greater social standing than a wealthier, childless, career woman. In such a circumstance, more value may accrue to a woman who marries an attorney than a woman who becomes one herself. The career woman may attend a social gathering and be exposed to an endless stream of questions about when is she going to settle down and get married, often accompanied by offers to introduce her to one or more eligible bachelors.
Disabled people “ have a substantially poorer standard of living to that of non-disabled people” . “Disabled people are frequency described a suffering from or afflicted with certain conditions. Saying that someone is suffering from a condition implies that .there is a perpetual state of suffering, uninterrupted by pleasurable moments or satisfactions. Afflicted carries similar assumptions.” People with disabilities are more likely to be subjects of spousal abuse. Because they are perceived as less able to defend themselves, they are also subject to abuse, physical and emotional on several levels including familial as well as from professional caregivers. “In general, society treats people with disabilities differently from those who are not obviously different.” . The media contributes to this by perpetuating stereotypes that serve as a filter when other members of society encounter a disabled person. At times, this can be well intentioned. Never the less, even over protective, solicitous actions still serve to set someone apart from the norm and create a sense of otherness. “The main problem with these and other disabling images is that they have been devised and produced by non-disabled people. Until very recently disabled people have had little or no say in how they are represented on television, in the press or in advertising.” .
In conclusion, Intersectionality is the meeting and overlapping interface among disenfranchised social groups and the study of how these interactions as they apply. It involves looking at multiple systems of discrimination and oppression and attempts to develop a methodology to study those relationships and subjects. To evaluate this paradigm it is necessary to understand that some disenfranchised minority may share members with another group. On the other hand, such as in black or white, male or female inclusion in one group precludes inclusion in another. Never the less, even groups that do not share members are may be subject to the same forms of discrimination. Intersectionality examines how these various biological, cultural and social categories interact on multiple and simultaneous levels and investigate how these interactions contribute to social injustice, inequality and oppression. Intersectionality paradigm is made up of these intersections of multiple forms of discrimination and the matrix of oppression and disenfranchisement it forms. .
Because so many disparate vectors form this matrix to evaluate any given situation it is necessary to take into account all the related cultural patterns of oppression and investigate how they are interrelated, influenced and bound together by societal systems. Any woman is generally treated at some points in her life differently from the perceived “norm” of the average white man. However, if she is also a member of an ethnic group, disabled, less financially secure, or undereducated, that will subject her to other forms of disenfranchisement as well. Within racial and ethnic groups, people also have status issues. These sometimes clash with what their ethnic group and society as a whole expects. Sometimes the greater society will also “punish” an individual for deviating from ethnic expectations. This cost fourteen-year-old Reena Virk from the Victoria area her life. The girls that instituted the assault did so in large part because she deviated from the “Asian” stereotype. At the same time, the police and media only looked as far as skin color and determined that it was not a racially based crime. In this way society may discipline people who depart from the behavior expected from their ethnic group, even though it is otherwise perfectly acceptable, even expected of others. .
The discrete forms of oppression interact to form a matrix of oppression and domination in which commonalities and dichotomies create unstable and unequal relationships. A disenfranchised group may devalue another in order to try lift itself higher in the matrix. Because of this, groups and individuals end up oppressing each other by focusing on differences instead of similarities. Individuals may chose to internalize their social stereotypes create a self-fulfilling prophecy of expected behavior. Continuation of the matrix depends upon this infrastructural behavior where the participants seeking to differentiate themselves instead of working together. This leads to continued objectification of oppressed groups and individuals. The major beneficiaries of this are those that come closest to the social “mythic norm” of the average white male who is the greatest beneficiary of all. To counter this people need to become self aware, differentiate themselves without objectifying or dehumanizing other and thereby preserve their self-esteem. Positive self-evaluation leads to a positive self-image, a sense of self-value and a stable self-definition that helps a person overcome the oppressive societal methods of domination.
Barnes, C. (1991, Winter). Discrimination: Disabled people and the media. he Disability Archive , pp. 45–48.
Batacharya, S. (2004). Racism, “girl violence,” and the murder of Reena Virk. In C. Adler, & A. Worral, Girls’ violence: Myths and realities (pp. 61 - 80). Albany, NY: State University of New York.
Cesaire, A. (2000). Discourse on colonialism (Exerpt). New York. Monthly Review Press , 42.
Chowdhury, F. (2009). Turning Factory Floor and Farm Fields into Sites of incarceration: Unmapping the Production of Deportability through Canadian Immigration Raids. Excerpt: Unpublished MA Thesis. University of Toronto.
Galabuzi, G. E. (2009). Executive summary in Canada’s creeping economic Apartheid: The economic segregation and social maginalisation of racialised groups. Toronto: The Centre for Social Justice.
Henry, F. (2000). Race gender and class paradigms in Canada . In The Color of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society (pp. 51 -59). Toranto: Harcort, Brace & Co.
Linton, S. (1998). Reassigning meaning. In Claiming Disability: Knowledge and Identity (pp. 8 - 83). 8 - 33: University Press.
Loomba, A. (1998). Situating colonial and postcolonial studies on Colonial/Postcolonialism. London: Routledge.
Lorde, A. (1984). The uses of anger: Women responding to racism. . In Sister Outsider: Essays and speeches by Audre Lorde (pp. 124 - 133). Berkeley: The Crossing Press,.
Oliver, M. (1990). The individual and social models of disability. Joint Workshop of the Living Options Group and the research unit of the Royal College of Physicians.
Razack, S. H. (2002). Gendered racial violence and spatialized justice: The murder of Pamela George. In Race, space and the law: Unmapping a white settler society (pp. 121 -166). Toronto: Between the Lines.
Sorenson, J. (2003). “Third World poverty is the result of traditional values”. In J. Blackwell, M. Smith, & J. Sorenson, Culture of Prejudice: Arguments in Critical Social Science (pp. 79 - 85). Peterborough: Broadview Press.