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Oh, I Wish You Would Look At Me Like That

One topic that stuck out from my Multicultural psych course was identity, or more specifically, the combination of social identities within one individual (i.e., intersectionality; Cole, 2009).

Anderson and Collins (2004) once wrote, “Fundamentally, race, class, and gender are intersecting categories of experience that affect all aspects of human life: thus, they simultaneously structure the experiences of all people in this society. At any moment, race, class, or gender may feel more salient or meaningful in a given person’s life, but they are overlapping and cumulative in their effect on people’s experience.”

I question such things as I flesh out my characters. Example (you know I love them so): My frontrunner of a MC isn’t just a female. She’s a black, lower-middle-class, heterosexual, able-bodied, suburban, fifteen-year-old twin who lives with her dad (parents separated). Did I lose you? No? Good!

The unique way that these diverse characteristics intersect with each other makes that character more realistic. She’s my own Pinocchio, because now she can face multiple systems of oppression, at the same time, like a real girl.

Prior to the class discussion, I didn’t have a name for the concept of intersectionality. But I understood that to really put myself in my character’s shoes, I couldn’t just imagine how she would approach a situation as a teen, for instance — I had to view the situation from multiple lens simultaneously.

Beyond writing, gaining more knowledge of intersectionality strengthens my personal and professional interactions with others. To have any chance of understanding the thoughts, feelings, or actions of an individual, it’s important for me to also take into account his or her race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, physical and mental abilities, and more. These various systems of social oppression aren’t just related, they’re bound together. I think it’s crucial to understand this notion. Kimberlé Crenshaw (Morrison & Crenshaw, 1992), who first termed intersectionality theory, said, “When feminism does not explicitly oppose racism, and when antiracism does not incorporate opposition to patriarchy, race and gender politics often end up being antagonistic to each other and both interests lose.”

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Cole, E. (2009). Intersectionality and research in psychology. American Psychology, 64(3), 170-80.

Morrison, T., & Crenshaw, K. (1992). Whose story is it, anyway? Feminist and Antiracist appropriations on Anita Hill. Race-ing justice, en-gendering power: essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the construction of social reality (pp. 402-440). New York: Pantheon Books.

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