By Molly W
The United States is racist.
Anyone with an ounce of common sense can tell you that. However, the United States’ racism is ringing especially true as of late, given the outcome of the trials concerning George Zimmerman and Marissa Alexander. George Zimmerman, a passable white Latino American man, shot and killed a young African-American boy; he got off scot-free. Marissa Alexander, a battered African-American woman, shot a wall as a warning to her abusive husband; she was convicted of three counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and received a sentence of 20 years in prison.
You can’t make this stuff up.
From these two cases, which are similar to cases that happen every day in our ‘land of the free,’ one can pull some alarming facts: 1. If you look white and your name sounds white, then you’re treated as if you’re white (which means privilege out the you-know-what); 2. If you are a battered woman, you will probably receive an unfair sentence without parole or clemency; and 3. If you are a person of color, your sentence will probably be longer than it should be.
These cases are so important and so representative of our society because of the juxtaposition of and correlation between ethnicity/race* and gender. Cue intersectionality.
Intersectionality is a fairly simple, yet vital concept. With it, we study how our many identities intersect to create unique circumstances for us all. For example, say you were a handicapped white woman; you would be oppressed by your handicap and gender in different ways that intersect to create your overall oppression. However, you would still be on the receiving end of some privilege, due to your ethnicity/race.
To see how this interacts with feminism is pretty clear. The only women who are oppressed solely for their womanhood would have to be middle-class, able-bodied, straight, cis and anything else that one’s particular society views as “normal” or “default”. That margin of women does exist, but is relatively small. Also, feminism has been criticized (and rightly so) for catering to white women. Usually I’m all for catering to minorities, but when the minority happens to be the most privileged, things start to look a little oppressive. And isn’t that what we’ve been fighting to put an end to?
True feminism addresses intersectionality and keeps it at the forefront of every issue we face. It values the voices of minorities in feminism just as much as (if not more than) the majorities in feminism. It makes a constant effort to lift up sisters who happen to be more oppressed than others. It listens and strives to understand different cultures, backgrounds and struggles.
So, keeping intersectionality in mind, how do you think Zimmerman’s trial would have gone if he was a woman? Or was too poor to afford a lawyer? Or was black?
And how do you think Alexander’s trial would have gone if she was a man? Or white? Or, perhaps, looked white enough to not be a threat to society?
As disturbing as the answers to these questions probably are, they are proof that intersectionality matters and deserves to be a priority in today’s feminism.
*I don’t like using the term race, because it, like gender, is a social construct.
Molly goes to Webster University and is studying Women and Gender Studies, Political Science and French. She is also interning at NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri this summer.