Intersectionality is the idea that people's life experiences are shaped by all of their various identities together, and that they cannot be separated. The term was coined by Kimberle Crenshaw, who also started the #SayHerName movement. (If you want to find out more, her TED talk was incredible and moving-- I cried).
I guess that growing up mixed, I always understood that intersectionality existed. I might not have had the words to describe it, but it was always there, lurking. Intersectionality waved when my first generation- Polish- American grandmother winced at my African American mother and never knew quite what to say to her. It smirked as people silently questioned how my half Chinese female cousin and my white male cousin knew me when we went somewhere all together. Most importantly, intersectionality was there, shadowing me when my roommate’s boyfriend got pulled over in my car while driving on base for speeding and driving without a ticket. In a car full of white teens, two of whom are the daughters of Alaska State Troopers, I was 20, terrified, brown, and they laughed at me. None of them stopped to think about the prevalence of violence against brown people in our country, but I could hear my mother’s warnings in my head. I could barely breathe.
I can easily admit that I live a privileged life. My parents are both employed (tenured, even). I am able to attend University, I traveled to volunteer for my gap year, I like Camembert and chocolate truffles. However, I also remember the look on my mother's face the first time she got pulled over with me in the car. My father was there too, as we were on a family trip, driving to visit my aunt and uncle. My parents froze, so I did too. The officer was blunt, got cooler in tone when he saw everyone in the car, though he didn't seem please in the first place. I don't remember why we got pulled over, if it was for Driving While Brown, or speeding (it was probably speeding). All I remember is the pain in my rib cage as I tried to stay unnaturally, impossibly still, and my parents' words. "Do whatever he asks. Don't move until he says so. No sudden movements." My mom made a joke when it was all over, trying to loosen everyone up. I remember laughing, but feeling scared all the same.
This summer, with my roommates cracking jokes at the military policeman's expense, and reminiscing about talking their way out of tickets in the past, it hit me how different out worldviews were. I will be forever afraid of any missteps with officers of the law, and yet, these girls (who are far more likely than I am to do something borderline illegal--or blatantly so), will never understand. I was shaking as they laughed at me. Not with me, no comfort whatsoever. Just laughter and jokes.
At the end of the day, all i can hope for is that we continue to look out for each other as human beings should. We should see color, embrace our sameness as we revel in our differences. Most of all, we should all consider Taking a Knee.
Everyday Acts of Activism