Intersectional Advocacy at All Costs

Intersectional Advocacy at All Costs

by Key Beck

Okay, let’s get one thing straight. My feminism, like my blackness, and my environmentalism is intersectional. What does that mean? For those who don’t know, the concept of “intersectionality” was created by Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw to highlight the ways that oppressive institutions such as racism, homophobia, ableism, etc. are interconnected, yet affect us in very different ways. Queer, non-binary people of color not only face prejudice due to their sexual orientation, but also their ethnicity, gender presentation, beliefs/viewpoints, and other things that keep them from fitting into a certain “box.” Each identity has its own set of barriers that may or may not contribute to one another. This concept was specifically created to show the oppression that women of color, especially queer and trans WOC, face in society and how one can’t separate or examine those oppressive identities separately. The barriers to being a woman in the workplace are not the same as being a person of color in the workplace. And, the same can be said about being a queer person in the workplace. We can’t ignore one identity at the expense of another, so we must acknowledge them all as individual aspects of a system of oppression. It is truly important to acknowledge the ways in which one’s identities affect the way we navigate through life. This is called being an ally.

In doing advocacy/activist work, we sometimes forget this idea of intersectionality. Many times, conversations of black liberation tend to focus on cis-hetero (assigned male at birth and straight) issues. Their calls for “saving our black men” and federal programs like My Brother’s Keeper. For example, we talk a lot about the lives of black males who were assaulted by police, but we often forget about the black trans women who are assaulted by police. Statistically, both will be a victim of assault in their lifetime, both will be harassed just by the way they present in public, and both are unjustly dealt with by the judicial system. We need to take note of these points of contention and bring them to the forefront on our conversations. This movement is not going to be successful unless we learn to acknowledge and appreciate the uniqueness of each other and truly become one inclusive voice. Queer and Trans* people of color have always been on the forefront of liberation movements. For every Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, you have a Bayard Rustin and James Baldwin. For every Rosa Parks, you have a Miss Major, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. They all marched together during the Civil Rights Marches. Hand in hand. So what does this have to do with you and me?

Well, this is to challenge you, your assumptions, and your beliefs about people and social justice. Are you concerned with the liberation of all oppressed people, of just the crew in your corner? This piece is a call to action for everyone to support liberation movements wide and far, not just your own. You can’t care about black lives without caring about Syrian and Palestinian lives. I hope this will challenge you to think about your current role in the movement and how you can make it intersectional. Do you think black lives matter? Well, look at environmental issues such as the Flint Water Crisis or black health epidemics. According to the CDC, “In 2014, an estimated 48% (10,045) of those diagnosed with AIDS in the United States were African Americans.” This is to let you know that your queer brothers and sisters are willing to put their minds and bodies to work, if you let them. But, that means you need to support them and their liberation in return. We are all confronting a system, and a “bug” or a “missing cog” won’t do anything but cause a flub. But, together we can dismantle the machine and build something that we can all enjoy together.