When I was seven I was taken to the optician because I couldn’t see the blackboard at school. I remember the incredible sensation when they put lenses in front of my eyes of everything around me coming into focus.
I have been having the same experience putting the lens of intersectionality before my eyes.
For the last two years, I have been working alongside Suryia Nayak and Clenton Farquharson on a Research in Practice project about how we can increase equity in adult social care.
The simple answer is – by applying the lens of intersectionality. Intersectionality enables us to name what is happening. If we can name something, we can understand it. If we understand it, we can change it.
Intersectionality sounded complex to me at first but it is straightforward. It describes the world as it really is. Each of us have different strands of our identity that overlap and interweave. I am, amongst other things, white, female, European and middle class. I have grown up with a view of the world based on who I am. I have experienced the world in particular ways.
When we encounter others, we need to understand their intersecting identity in order to begin to understand their situated knowledge – where they are coming from.
More vitally, to increase equity, we need to understand how different aspects of oppression in our society and our world intersect and affect people.
I have been privileged to have a life of mostly positive response to me and to different aspects of my identity. Others have faced a range of overlapping discrimination – ageism, sexism, racism and many more – and unless we understand the compound harm that is caused by this, we cannot act effectively to enable everyone to thrive.
Suryia Nayak takes Kimberlé Crenshaw’s analogy of standing at a traffic intersection and asks us to consider: What are the roads of inequity that intersect where someone is standing? What vehicles of oppression are driving on these? And then to: Describe the crash. Describe the injuries that are caused when those vehicles hit someone.
This way of seeing is like putting on my first pair of glasses. It makes the context around someone clear. It shows how the context impacts on that person and shapes how they see the world. It is as if inequity has been brought into focus.
When we see inequity and name what it is and how it comes about – disabilism, homophobia, classism and many more – then we can act to change it.
In our Change Project, the primary intervention we promote is Allyship. Allyship flows from intersectionality. Seeing what is really going on leads to the desire to take action. However I have learned that, in order for action to have impact, it must be done as an Ally. Allyship requires us to learn from lived experience and to act alongside people. Allyship is also about using the privilege and position that we have, and doing what we are uniquely able to do to make change.
Social work has always been about fighting oppression and promoting equity. However, in my practice, I have been slow to grasp how much intersectionality enhances our ability to do this.
Now that I have looked through the lens of intersectionality, I can see more clearly.
When we see things, we can call them out for what they are, and when we name them we can change them.