As I write this, the song’s lyrics are bouncing around annoyingly in my head. And it’s the Pitch Perfect rendition so it’s actually the beginnings of an aca-sing-off or whatever it’s called.
Well, reader, if you were paying close attention you might have noticed that I’m not talking about s-e-x but s-e-c-t-s (as in, when something intersects). In this case, I’m referring to how the various parts of your individual identity overlap and contribute to your lived experience. Take me, for example – black, a woman, cisgendered, able-bodied – at the crossroads of all the individual aspects of my persona is a highway sign we call “intersectionality”, a term coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw.
Although this term is about the same age as Taylor Swift, it has gained notable traction in recent years. In fact, it’s become so popular that it’s overtaken “diversity” as a shoo-in for the free space in CSR buzzword bingo. Once a beacon of actual representation, “diversity” now serves as little more than a participation trophy for companies whose hire-ees went to *different* Swiss boarding schools. Slow clap. Given how things are going on the social justice front, the notion of “intersectionality” could soon follow.
Why’s that, you ask?
Because the media landscape is changing, and leadership isn’t. Zoomers (equal parts catchy and ironic since everyone in that generation is now, in fact, on Zoom) aren’t content to have multimillion-dollar corporations operate and advertise in the same way they did before. People are calling for intersectional policies and practices because those one are the ones that actually reflect the world we live in. But old habits die hard, and it’s easier to simply say you’re operating with some regard for intersectionality than actually doing that legwork. Why else would Pepsi greenlight the infamous Kendall Jenner ad of ’17 as a protest pu pu platter rather than, I don’t know, something that actually benefits specific marginalized communities holding said protests?
That being the case, the challenge for young women like me is – what do you do when someone forces you to try and hierarchize your various identities? Your job becomes a low-budget rerun of the 2016 election. Do you side with Hillary because she’s a woman? Or back Barry because he’s black? I actually had this question when I was younger. And I asked it, to Niki Lopez, the creator and executive producer of her own animated series on Nick Jr.. Her answer to my question was simple.
She said she is unequivocally all of herself – and everyone else can take it or leave it.
If you’re faced with a decision that feels like an Obama v. Clinton flashback, consider all the factors and choose the
candidate option that addresses all the ways you are uniquely impacted. When I have this dilemma as a content creator, I ask myself: you are multidimensional and complex, so shouldn’t your content be too? Shouldn’t I write from the viewpoint of a black woman, rather than just a black person or a woman?
My exchange with Niki was brief, but it stuck with me. Partially because it’s so obvious, but also so scary in a way. Reflecting on my own intersectionality means accepting that I won’t – I can’t – have the same lived experience as my friends who are white women, or black men, queer black women, and so forth. They might be able to sympathize with me, but never empathize – and vice versa. So I have to hold myself accountable, too. I bear responsibility to actively dismantle biases against communities I don’t belong to, whether that’s as a writer, an employee, or as a person.
You are a kaleidoscope of different identities and experiences, so when you work or create, push for each individual color to shine through. Not dominate, but complement. The work you create will always be an offshoot of that, so breathe life into all the various aspects of your personhood; you never know who could resonate with one or the other. By the same token, hold yourself and your leaders accountable in committing to policies and workspaces that recognize and respect intersectionality. Because that, friend, is how we move from a bingo “free space” to a safe space.
Until next time.