‘Intersectionality’ pushes political hot button

Sometime in the 2010s, intersectionality left the ivory tower and got thoroughly wrapped up in the culture wars.


When the College Board appeared to revise its AP African American Studies course in response to objections from the Florida Department of Education, it drew attention to the political divide over intersectionality. The College Board mentioned the word eight times, suggesting the theory was an important part of its curriculum. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cited this inclusion as one reason the state rejected the course: “They have stuff about intersectionality ... that’s a political agenda.”  

The term intersectionality was coined, and the theory first developed, by law professor Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. In her article, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex,” Professor Crenshaw investigated the way the American legal system, feminist theory, and anti-racist politics all have a “tendency to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis.” 

Vastly simplified, her argument is that in American society, racism is typically thought of as something that happens to Black men, and sexism something that happens to white women. Black women suffer double discrimination, on the basis of both their race and their gender, but because they do not “fully” represent either protected category, being neither white nor male, they lose out on the legal and other remedies prescribed for such discrimination. 

The solution is to pay attention to their “intersectional experience” and “address the particular manner in which Black women are subordinated.”   

As the theory spread across academia, it broadened its scope and came to include many interconnecting identities beyond race and gender.

But sometime in the 2010s, intersectionality left the ivory tower and got thoroughly wrapped up in the culture wars. Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro contends that intersectionality creates a “hierarchy of victimhood,” in which the more oppressed groups a person belongs to, the higher their status and the more weight their words carry. This hierarchy, according to Mr. Shapiro, puts straight, white, cisgender men at the bottom.     

This seems to be a critique not of intersectionality itself, but the way it is sometimes deployed, especially on university campuses. Of course the theory is not immune to criticism. Some scholars have argued that its focus on interlocking identities isolates people in ever smaller silos, placing such an emphasis on people’s differences that it becomes hard to build coalitions and work together. 

Whatever one’s stance on the positives and negatives of intersectionality, quashing all discussion of it seems unwarranted. 

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
Real news can be honest, hopeful, credible, constructive.
What is the Monitor difference? Tackling the tough headlines – with humanity. Listening to sources – with respect. Seeing the story that others are missing by reporting what so often gets overlooked: the values that connect us. That’s Monitor reporting – news that changes how you see the world.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to ‘Intersectionality’ pushes political hot button
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today