Examining intersectionality in justice issues

Finger Lakes Justice Partnership

The members of the Finger Lakes Justice Partnership (FLXJP) hope that our first column, on structural racism, helped clarify that concept to readers.  We also held our first monthly gathering in front of the old Yates County Courthouse on Main St. in Penn Yan, to keep these issues front and center in our community. Our next gathering there will be Saturday, March 19 at 3 p.m.  All are welcome to join us.

Finger Lakes Justice Partnership's next gathering will be Saturday, March 19 at 3 p.m.  in front of the old Courthouse in Penn Yan. All are welcome.

We’d like to continue the conversation on the broad range of justice issues with an exploration of intersectionality.  According to the University of Massachusetts, intersectionality is “[the] interaction of a person or group’s social identities or roles that result in the specific way they experience the world…"

This means that justice issues, unique to every single person in society, are much more complicated than they may seem at first blush.  In a way, though, intersectionality also simplifies matters.  Understanding intersectionality is understanding that justice issues are interconnected.  Addressing one injustice will often improve things for a range of people within and beyond a community. If you’re serious about fighting one true injustice, you need to oppose them all. Intersectionality helps us see that if we tug at one thread of oppression, whole patterns of injustice sometimes come loose.  

On a personal level, intersectionality is helpful because it reminds us that we all have both privileges worth examining and challenges worth taking seriously.  Intersectionality reveals how, as white people, individuals can still experience valid difficulties in life.  But it also helps underscore that the color of their skin, for example, does not contribute to those difficulties the way it does for people of other races.  

UCLA professor Kimberlé Crenshaw has helped define and expand these concepts.  According to the Daily Bruin, her work has shown how “society grants individuals different sets of privileges and disadvantages depending on their political and social identities. … [Society’s] treatment of individuals is influenced by the different ways someone’s identity can be broken down.”  For example, a white woman experiences privilege because of her status as a member of the dominant racial group, but may experience oppression because of her gender, which society treats as non-dominant.  This shows how the structures we discussed last month exert disproportionate pressures on some groups and not others.

It is hopeful to recognize that we are each unique in a way that must be acknowledged for true justice to prevail.  The idea of the “unique snowflake” is often mocked in our culture, yet  many people on the political right value individual liberty.  What is intersectionality if not an expression of one’s individual liberty and right to be recognized and valued?  There is room for bridge-building here.

Alex Andrasik

Sally White

Finger Lakes Justice Partnership