Intersectionality - stacking levels of perceived discrimination

by Fred Elbel

Black scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in a 1989 essay which professes that feminist theory, antiracist politics, and antidiscrimination law do not address the overall experiences of black women, as they each focus on only a single factor. Merriam-Webster defines intersectionality as "the complex, cumulative manner in which the effects of different forms of discrimination combine, overlap, or intersect." Intersectional feminism identifies how multiple aspects of discrimination overlap with gender. In other words, multiple levels of discrimination "stack".

A June 15, 2019 New York Post article, Why young, left-wing radicals could help re-elect President Trump, points out that:

"Intersectionalism holds that all types of oppression in American society are linked to one another and that they 'stack': that is, they are exponentially worse for those who experience more categories of discrimination. As Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza tells Soave, 'I’m uniquely discriminated against. I uniquely experience oppression based on standing at the intersection of race and gender.'"

Intersectionality in modern politics

Intersectionality has become more than a feminist term. It now embodies cross-linking of all kinds of discrimination across all of society. This discrimination may be actual, perceived, or theoretical - that is, potential - discrimination.

In the chapter Intersectionality 101 from his 2019 book, Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, Robby Soave writes:

A protest is successful only if it highlights the correct issues, includes the right people - people who check all the appropriate boxes - and is organized by a ruling coalition of the most oppressed. This is what intersectionality dictates.

Though the words intersectionality and inclusion sound like synonyms, they are actually in conflict with each other...

Intersectionality is the operating system for the modern left. Understanding what it means and where it comes from is essential for comprehending the current state of activism on college campuses, at protests in major cities, and elsewhere....

Meanwhile, intersectionality has become a ubiquitous force on college campuses, where young people are taught to perceive all social issues through the lens of interrelated oppression and to find more grievances to add to the pile....

Those who grasp the truth of intersectionality are said to be "woke," slang that describes someone who has awakened to the reality of their own privilege and adopted a progressive worldview....

The Post article states, "Because all types of discrimination - from racism to transphobia, from economic inequality to 'ableism' - are linked, an intersectional activist is expected to combat them with equal fervor." Thus, a gay rights activists would be expected to join a feminist activist and a black activist in protesting discrimination against illegal aliens. The Post article continues:

“I’m not necessarily criticizing the idea of intersectionalism. In a sense it’s kind of true,” Soave told The Post. But in practice, “it makes it hard to get people on board to advance a cause when you say, ‘We don’t want you unless you agree to fight all the oppressions.” Someone might agree about the need to fight racism but not be ready for all of the things the activist left demands, like boycotting Israel or accepting their ideas on transgender identity.”...

“It’s a tyranny of the most victimized,” Soave said. “The more categories of oppression you can claim, the more authority you have.”

Intersectionality is not objective

Intersectionality has been criticized as a system that relies on non-objective concepts which can not be empirically verified. Thus, it is an ideological concept rather than a sociological concept.

It also raises the question of degree and pervasiveness: are all women discriminated against? Are all blacks discriminated against? Are all gays and lesbians discriminated against? In other words, if someone is a member of all of these groups, but only encounter discrimination 10% of the time in each category, then their cumulative discrimination would be 30 percent, not 300 percent. 30 percent is indeed a significant number, but then again, what if that individual suffers no discrimination at all in the freest nation on earth? Are they expected to behave as if they are discriminated against 300 percent of the time?

Intersectionality is a technique used by progressive leftists to organize and motivate identify groups to activism. It effectively magnifies the apparent strength of activism on a given issue well beyond the number of those who are truly concerned with the issue.

As Soave writes:

"The spread of intersectionality poses some problems for the left, since the theory divides people as often as it unites them....

A hopelessly divided opposition movement that cannot resist cannibalizing itself over intersectionality-induced disagreements is not going to be very effective."