The Word of the Day Is: Intersectionality

I can remember the first time I was introduced to the term “intersectionality.” I was in my sophomore year of undergrad, and I was coming up with ideas on what I wanted my first programme to be focused on for my LGBTQ student leadership group. I wanted to use my experience of feeling like I could only live either in the “Black world” or the “gay world,” never both at the same time, to bring a new understanding to my peers. I called the programme “Intersections” and thought I was the first person to use the term. I never thought this programme would foreshadow a future speaking out on intersectionality. Fast-forward five years later, and I am still passionate about speaking to the intersections of my life and others around me.

Now in my adulthood, I allow myself to walk in my intersectional truths without choosing to live in only one community our systematic society tries to keep me in.

There are many terms I can use to identify myself: Black, gay, male, cisgender, feminist, traveller, writer, New Yorker, American, Brasileiro no coração (Brazilian at heart), space nerd, global citizen, a Beyoncé stan—all of these, plus more, represent me. My being is a product of my lived experiences throughout the many places I’ve been fortunate to see, and it is because of these experiences that I am able to speak so truthfully from the heart. What sits on my heart today is how narratives of communities I hold close to my heart continue to be erased. As a fighter for social justice, I understand the importance of people’s intersecting identities and how these intersections affect my work.

By denying or not purposely spreading narratives that speak to the multiple intersections of individuals, you are assisting in the erasure of others’ narratives.

My heart is thinking of Black women and trans women of colour—two communities who often face silence of their narratives more than any other group. Not only are the achievements of my Black and brown sisters often questioned in ways that never exist for men, the crimes against them face an abhorrent silence. As feminism continues to rid itself of the “dirty” narratives popularly associated with it, Black women have been firm in addressing the need for specific conversations on Black feminism and the erasure of Black women in the main feminist narrative. Black feminism in itself is an example of intersectionality. As race and gender professor Kimberlé Crenshaw explains it, Black feminism “argues the experience of being a Black female [that] cannot be understood in terms of being Black, and of being female, considered independently, but must include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each other.” A bit of some theory to wrap your head around, but it’s this simple: Black women face more marginalisations and injustices than women not of colour. Before considering yourself a feminist, search within yourself about what this fact means to you first. If you need some help, go and google #SolidarityIsForWhiteWomen.

My heart also calls out for my trans sisters of colour. While the country has come to organise around the unjust deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner this year, 12 trans women of colour were brutally murdered in a 6-month span. Where have the rallying crowds been to call justice for these women? Many of these murders have been at the hands of other Black or brown people, a fact that forces us to see the continuing divisions within our own communities. We live in a world where almost every Black person has to feel the fear of dying just for being Black in America—this is an undeniable truth. When you are calling out Black lives matter, make sure you are not only just speaking out for the cisgender male lives we’ve lost. The unjust murder of Islan Nettles, a 21-year old trans woman who was brutally beat in front of a NYC police station, makes my heart weep just as much as Mike Brown’s. If the same is not true for you, then I ask you to re-examine how much Black lives really matter to you.

Trans-activist and goddess Lourdes Hunter so fiercely says, “My name is all the Trans women being murdered. I speak for all of them.”

It is bold and truthful statements like this that must continue to be disseminated across the public screens around the world. I refuse to have the narratives of women of colour further erased. I am writing these words today to help create a reality that doesn’t continue to disallow Black women’s stories from being told. The only way we can achieve the change we want in this world is for everyone to join in solidarity to call out the diverse forms of injustices and marginalisations every single person faces. For me, it has been my ability to see the complex intersections that lie within myself that makes my heart open up for those suffering wounds I may not have to deal with. My heart smiles at the images of activism that seem to have been rebirth around racial justice this year, but let’s make sure we are honestly standing up for ALL those who face injustice.

Understand your truth, own it, and keep yourself open to continue learning more about what others face. It is a tiresome fight, but believe me when I say it is worth it. Listen to others and accept their intersectional experiences as anecdotes that you can use to empower you to speak out for justice.

Stand up in true solidarity!