Kimberlé Crenshaw may not have invented the word intersectionality as a call for social justice, but even she came to see it that way. In her TED Talk, Crenshaw spoke about violence perpetrated against black women, and how this violence is often invisible in the national discussion about implicit racial bias and policing. She asked why Michael Brown and Tamir Rice were household names, but not Michelle Cusseaux or Tanisha Anderson, two unarmed black women also killed by police.
Again, Crenshaw explained how intersectionality provides a prism or frame in which to see people whose experiences are often overlooked.
"Without frames that allow us to see how social problems impact all the members of a targeted group, many will fall through the cracks of our movements, left to suffer in virtual isolation," said Crenshaw.
The intersectionality mantra has been taken up by a lot of progressive organizations fighting for social equity and social justice. There is a growing recognition that not all of the members of an activist group fall into the same tidy categories or share the same experiences in the world.
At YW Boston, a community organization that grew out of one of the nation's oldest chapters of the YWCA, they say that intersectionality is "crucial" to social equity work.
"Without an intersectional lens, events and movements that aim to address injustice towards one group may end up perpetuating systems of inequities towards other groups," says a post on the YW Boston blog
As an example, it cited the 2017 Women's March, which caught flack from transgender members of the movement because of its "vagina-centric" messaging (remember the "pussy hats"?).
"Assuming that all women have vaginas or are defined by their bodies is an oversimplification that erases the experiences of those who exist beyond the gender binary," writes YW Boston. "By avoiding language that assumes our own experiences are baseline, we can open ourselves up to listening to others' points of view."