Professor Kimberle Crenshaw // Wikimedia Commons

By: Owen McCloskey, Editor-In-Chief

So, it’s come to my understanding that we need to have a talk about intersectionality. The buzzword that has been so praised by progressives and lambasted by conservatives has taken on many iterations since its inception by civil rights activist and Columbia law professor Kimberle Crenshaw.

Intersectionality has been a hot button discussion-point recently and has sparked deliberation on both sides of the political spectrum. Progressives view intersectionality as a theoretical concept that outlines varying forms of discrimination in clear terms so that they may be dealt with more effectively. On the other token, conservatives view intersectionality as an ableist ideology that hinders the opinions of their straight, white male counterparts.

Before we dive in on the term and the debate over its precedence, it would be useful to understand how the term originated. Kimberle Crenshaw, the aforementioned Columbia professor, coined the term “intersectionality” after the infamous Degraffenreid v. General Motors Assembly case. The 1976 suit arose when the plaintiff, Emma Degraffenreid, sued a General Motors plant on grounds of discrimination. Degraffenreid, a woman of color, claimed that she was discriminated against because of both her race and gender, but the judge threw away her suit because he thought it would be unfair if she were to be able to use her race and gender to file a suit. The judge said that because the company employed both black people and women that her case was invalid. However, Degraffenreid noticed that all the black people hired were men and the women hired were white. Crenshaw brought up Degraffenreid’s case to highlight that all forms of discrimination overlap.

Losing a job because of your color and your gender is absolutely appalling, but the discrimination against black women specifically doesn’t stop there.

Another point that brings intersectionality to light (one that Crenshaw delved into during a Dec. 7 2016 TED Talk) is that the most famous cases of black people getting shot by police were only those involving males. Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Freddy Gray, and Tamir Rice were all young men and boys who were killed by police. However, the same disproportionate police violence affects black women. Tanisha Anderson, Yvette Smith, Miriam Carey, and countless other black women were brutally killed by police within the last five years… and no one has heard these names. It’s chilling and saddening to think about, but Crenshaw noted that even at civil rights events, the names of the men were much more recognizable than the names of the women.

“Black girls as young as seven and black grandmothers as old as 95 have been killed by the police… they have been shot to death, they have been stomped to death, they’ve been strangled to death… Why don’t we know these stories?” Crenshaw said. And she has a point.

It seems that racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism and the like are not differing concepts, but concepts that constantly cross into each other and intersect — hence the term intersectionality.

The reason it is so important to understand intersectionality the way Crenshaw describes it is because the term is being hijacked by conservative groups who manipulate its meaning in a frankly disgusting and unabashed manner. Take conservative fearmonger Ben Shapiro, an editor for the Daily Wire and constant spouter of racist and homophobic tropes. Shapiro has made a video for the conservative infographics site PragerU on intersectionality, and the conservative viewpoint of the term.

In a nutshell, Shapiro states that intersectionality is a way for people of discriminated groups to gang up on “the people everybody loves to hate — the straight, white male.” He then whines that white men don’t have as much value of opinion as others who are in targeted groups. Shapiro also explains that intersectionality allows people of different discriminated groups to band together and create an “us versus them paradigm.”

Glossing over the overtly racist and homophobic overtones that the video presents, it’s obvious that this view of intersectionality is a ludicrous fabrication of someone who has never had to work for anything in his entire life. Not only that, it’s harmful to the people who are trying to use intersectionality as a way to put everyone on a level playing field.

Discriminated groups are not attacking white men, they are not creating an “us versus them” paradigm, they are simply trying to receive the same rights that straight, white men have had since America’s creation. You can say that your opinion doesn’t matter, but if you’re a person looking like Ben Shapiro, you’re going to have a much more pleasant experience with the cops if you get pulled over than a person of color would have.

In closing, as a society we should try to see how many of our peers are underappreciated because of where they came from, what they look like, what they believe, or whatever other aspect of their being makes them different from what our society perceives as “acceptable”. If someone is subjugated, we need to treat them with much more respect, especially if they are subjugated for multiple reasons.