Intersectionality: An Introduction

In January we discussed the concept of identity, reflected on our own social identities, and shared our experiences of realizing that social identities matter. We then had cross-cultural conversations around social identities, and talked about dominance and non-dominance as it relates to identity. In February we will begin to look at intersectionaility; Intersectionality is a metaphor that describes our social identities; they do not exist in a vacuum, but  they are layered, and the the layers of identity matter as well. A white male who is wealthy has similar identities as a while male who is poor, but will have very different life experiences because of his different socioeconomic identity. In this Ted Talk Kimberle Crenshaw, who coined the term intersectionality gives a moving demonstration of how intersectionality works. Please view at least the first four minutes of the video. Describe your reaction to the video. How would you define or describe intersectionality to an adult learner?


Thanks for the video link and for your information about intersectionality. The framing of the topic by Kimberle Crenshaw is so helpful! Although this all seemed to me to be basic information that "I knew", the clear information and the graphics helped me elevate my thinking and understanding. It also encourages me to have conversations around intersectionality with others. I will definitely use her quote, "If we can't see a problem, we can't fix a problem." I love that!

For our adult learners, the video is a nice introduction to intersectionality, and I think using the video to begin a class discussion is a great start. To unpack the concept for deeper meaning and application with learners, a conversation around "where do you have intersectionality in your life?" and “how do you see intersectionality affect you?” and “how do you see it impact others around you?” and “how can you use this knowledge to frame your thinking and your actions in the future?”

I’d love to hear how others are using this information! Thanks Carmine.

Sarah, thank you for your comment. I love when I get an opportunity to hear something that I know, and to have it presented in a way that makes me think about it or see it differently, so I am glad that this video did this for you as well.  As the Moderator I am looking for the speakers and resources that will do just that.  I do hope that people will share the video with adult learners.  I think the idea of intersectionality can be really validating too.  America ascribes to the myth of meritocracy, which tells us that if we work hard we will be successful. Intersectionality explains why many of our students have worked very hard, and maybe watched their parents work very hard, and still not achieve financial independence.  I hope that others will share how they are using the information.   

What struck me in the discussion of intersectionality is the understanding that it is not enough to view the parts of our identities, but the importance of seeing the ways in which they interact. Crenshaw's examples of the intersection between sex and race highlight that. 

While intersectionality may not be a term that my ESL students know in English, it is certainly something that many of them understand from an experiential level. It's an important discussion to have. There is power in being able to label the intersection of one's identities, especially if one or more of those identities are minoritized. My curriculum calls for practicing English in the context of career exploration and preparation. I added a DEI in the workplace lesson last semester. It includes diving into microaggressions and Human Resources. The discussion of intersectionality would fit well in that lesson. That lesson occurs in the next few weeks, so I will report back with a reflection on that discussion after the fact.

Thank you for sharing this video and your dedication to digging into these topics.

Thank you so much for your comments Erin.  Please do share how your students connect to that discussion.  I think it could be very encouraging for other ESOL instructors to hear that this is an important topic to discuss in ESOL classes as well.  This could be a rich discussion with the right amount of scaffolding or support.  I love that you incorporated DEI into your workplace lesson.  

I was struck by the part where she mentioned that marginalized people all over the world face all kinds of challenges and dilemmas as a consequence of intersectionality. I thought immediately about my students and the current dilemmas they face as both recent citizens and residents of their native countries, many of which have great degrees of conflict happening, and as people living here in the United States. I also recognize that their experiences with intersectionality are different in their native country and here. This comparison is important to recognize for us personally. As Erin stated, there is power in learning and labeling. This comparison can also be shared, if possible, in a sensitive manner, to promote understanding and compassion in our classrooms and beyond. 

Thank you Tara for your comment- it is a unique experience for learners who are recent citizens or who have refugee or immigrant status.  I appreciate you highlighting the added complexity of someone experiencing intersectionality differently in their homeland and in their new land.  I hope others who read your comment are moved to be even more compassionate toward our newest residents.