Being oppressed is a struggle that many groups in society face on a daily basis, whether it be racial discrimination because one is Latino or being paid only 70% of what a man makes. Yet, oppression becomes even greater and more complex when one includes intersectionality which is how social, economic, and other categories overlap and intersect in a greater framework of oppression. Rather than discussing this matter from an ‘objective’ standpoint and using examples which one can easily distance themselves from, I will examine oppression and intersectionality using actual people.
I am a gay black man. At first glance, one might think that while I am oppressed due to my sexuality, that I benefit from male privilege because the United States is a patriarchal society. However, this is where intersectionality comes into play. Ordinarily, in a patriarchal society all males benefit from male privilege, yet when one factors in race, the situation changes drastically. Due to America’s history of consistently portraying black men as a threat to the larger society, I am viewed as a menace to society by my very existence. This can be seen by the fact that when black men (or men of color in general) are gunned down by police even in the most dubious of circumstances, a chorus of voices comes out of the woodwork arguing that the individual in question should have been killed as he was a threat or was potentially going to become one. Thus, not only do people of color who are a part of the LGBT community have to deal with the constant stigma, insults, and oppression from the society at large but they must also deal with the oppression that comes from being a person of color in a white supremacist society.
One of my friends is a Muslim woman. Due to her being a woman, she must deal with the misogyny in American culture, from the intellectual belittling of women (the constant mantra of women being viewed only as ‘emotional’) to the never-ending comparison of women’s bodies to a standard of beauty that exists only in the mind. Yet, she must also deal with the stigma that comes from being a Muslim in a society that is not only quite ignorant of Islam, but also has been taught to hate Muslims and everything to do with Islam. Due to this, she is confronted with Islamaphobic misogyny where she is belittled due to her gender, but also considered as a danger to society because of the stereotyping of her religion.
While we realize the overlapping of oppression and how it can affect people, there can be instances where a person is oppressed in one way, but has freedoms in others. This is not to say that privilege and oppression cancel each other out, but rather to acknowledge a situation that many find themselves in. One such example is a friend I have who is middle class gay white man. Though he is oppressed due to his sexuality and the homophobia and stereotypes that come with being gay, there is a major difference between himself and LGBT people of color. Other than his being gay, American society essentially rolls out a red carpet for him as he benefits from being a white male in a patriarchal society that favors whiteness.
Viewing oppression through the lens of intersectionality is empowering as not only does it give us a different manner of examining oppression and exploring ways to combat it, but this type of view also can potentially create new alliances between oppressed communities and thus create greater coalition of those working together to fight for their freedom.