- The study of intersections between forms of systems of oppression, domination and discrimination.
This may seem like an elitist academic term that is thrown around for the sake of it, but it actually describes a concept that is quite simple. First coined by lawyer and scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989, Intersectionality asks us to consider the facets of our identities not as absolutes but rather as parts of a whole picture.
For example, I am a woman and identify as a person of color (POC). It is true that based on those two criteria, I intrinsically carry the legacy of several centuries of systematic oppression.
However, there are also aspects of my identity that endow privilege as well. I am a cis-gendered, able-bodied heterosexual woman. Within the POC community, I am part of an ethnic group that has been given the title of “model minority” for several decades. I grew up in a middle-class family in New England and have lived in the United States for my entire life. I attended Massachusetts public schools, Wellesley College as my undergraduate institution and am now part of the Ivy League.
Because of the above reasons, I have had a more privileged existence than many other individuals who also identify as women of color. Essentially, taking the intersectional approach is to acknowledge that you are privileged in some ways and not in others.
Now what does this mean for the study of art in particular? Engaging in this mindset means that no two people will approach a piece of artwork the same way-and that is okay! These differing perspectives are ALL VALID and must be respected. Difference in interpretation is one of the reasons that the study of art is so compelling to me personally. We as art historians must recognize this and respect one another’s views and really listen to what the other has to say in order to have a full, sophisticated conversation. And while yes, it is easier to rally behind absolutes, I would argue that the existence of subgroups (i.e. Black feminism) does not detract from the cause as a whole but enhance its complexity and account for issues that might have otherwise gone unnoticed. Bringing everyone to the table in their entirety is essential if we are going to even attempt to have the meaningful conversations that we need to have.