Intersectionality: Advocating and Embracing Your Whole Self and Others

BY PAUL DELGADO, GRADUATE PROGRAM ASSISTANT

Have you ever considered the multiple identities you have? If you haven’t, think about how you identify on a daily basis and how some of those identities may be stronger during specific situations. Those may include but are not limited to your education, profession, race/ethnicity, gender, age religion, etc. 

The term “Intersectionality” was first introduced by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions are interconnected and can’t be studied separately from one another. She focused on the operation of systems of power and experiences of oppression against Black women, who because of their multiple identities, were left out of anti-discrimination laws. 

“If I’m a black woman, I have some disadvantages because I’m a woman and some disadvantages because I’m black. But I also have some disadvantages specifically because I’m [a] black woman, which neither black men nor white women have to deal with. That’s intersectionality; race, gender, and every other way to be disadvantaged interact with each other.” –(u/Amarkov)

Our individual identities are complex. If you look around the room, you may find colleagues that look like you and share many similarities. On the other hand, you might find yourself as the “only” or the “first” in the room to do something. It is okay. What is important is that you recognize that identities are valued differently and as a result, each person’s experiences are different. 

What is the importance of intersectionality in public health?

Intersectionality can serve as a useful framework to understand social determinants of health and the multi-dimensional overlapping factors that influence health outcomes. When it comes to social inequalities, there are many factors that work together and shape people’s lives differently. It is important to understand the multiple systems of oppression such as structural racism, colorism, ethnocentrism, and the intersection of other systemic oppressors that shape social determinants of health.

“…The study of intersectionality . . . has the potential to provide critical guidance for policies and programs. It enables policies and programs to identify whom to focus on, whom to protect, what exactly to promote and why. It also provides a simple way to monitor and evaluate the impact of policies and programs on different sub-groups from the most disadvantaged through the middle layers to those with particular advantages.” –Sen G.

Knowing our own identities are important to advocate for ourselves. When we bring these to the table, we are bringing a different perspective, new ideas, and diverse experiences. As public health leaders, knowing how different identities of the population of study intersect, is essential to better understand those social determinants of health. Thus, intersectionality gives us a unique health equity lens where we can draw from our own personal experiences to advance as public health leaders in the field. 

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