The term “Intersectionality” has been a very recurrent word seen in discussions of feminism, especially Black feminism. It was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 as a response to the ideas emerging in Critical Race Theory at the time. Her conceptualization of the term was first laid out in “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex”. Since then, the use of the term has grown exponentially across both academic and non-academic areas of life; it is seen in peer-reviewed research studies, popular news media, and all over social media. It has often been used as a label for the experiences of women of color, particularly African American women. For African American women, race, sex, class, and other social indicators of identity, perpetually and simultaneously impact the ways we are viewed by the world and the ways the world views us. Black women will always be victims of racism, sexism, and classism; these forms of oppression do not exist in a vacuum. They all intersect and have complex relationships with one another that makes the intersectional experience one that needs to be understood. Before speaking about the gender performances of Black women, it is important to acknowledge the fact that a major characteristic of the Black woman’s gender performance is that it is intersectional. It is intertwined with multiple forms of oppression.
In her work titled, "Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology'', Deborah King discusses the intersectional nature of the Black Woman's experience and expands upon previous conceptualizations of intersectionality. She writes, "An interactive model, which I have termed multiple jeopardy, better captures those processes. The modifier "multiple" refers not only to several, simultaneous oppressions but to the multiplicative relationships among them as well. In other words, the equivalent formulation is racism multiplied by sexism multiplied by classism" (King 47). King is suggesting a new lens to view the Black female experience through, one that better captures the complexities than the popular “triple jeopardy” paradigm. The traditional “triple jeopardy” notion relies on the connections between racism, sexism and classism, and how they influence Black women’s social status. King highlights that a downfall of this lens is its additive nature; “triple jeopardy” is essentially racism + sexism + classism = Black women’s social status. Black women can never subtract one of those forms of oppression from their lives; they are all dependent upon each other. “Multiple jeopardy” not only better encapsulates the various forms of oppression that Black women face but also the multiplicative nature of these oppressions. It is important to remember to not confuse intersectionality with simply experiencing multiple forms of oppression at once that add together to create an experience; intersectionality is the multiple avenues of relationships among and across various forms of oppression that influence the way one is viewed by the world and how one view themselves. For Black women, racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia, and more perpetually interplay with one another, which influences the place that Black women hold in society.
Even though Black women simultaneously experience sexism, classism, and racism, we have historically been denied access to the women’s lib and Black power movements. King states, "In a curious twist of fate, we find ourselves marginal to both the movements for women's liberation and black liberation irrespective of our victimization under the dual discriminations of racism and sexism" (King 52). To be prevented from working towards liberation (for women and Black people) due to race, gender and class further perpetuates oppression. The intersectional experience could be used as a tool to bring more diverse agendas, stories, opinions, and solutions to the movements for liberation. Instead, it has been used as a reason to keep Black women from joining well-known large social movements, like women’s lib and Black Power.
The movements of the time were ill-equipped to work against the complexities of racism, sexism, and classism in the lives of Black women. King states, "Given the inability of any single agenda to address the intricate complex of racism, sexism, and classism in black women's lives, black women must develop a political ideology capable of interpreting and resisting that multiple jeopardy" (King 69). Black women had to create ideologies that put their experiences at the forefront of the work to give more attention to their intersectional experiences. Black women did not shy away from the calls to action because the popular movements of the time did not want Black women to participate; instead, they actively positioned their unique intersectional experiences to be at the forefront of liberation efforts. Also, Black women worked to ensure that the changes they were making in both law and larger societal ideologies were related to how race, sex, and class functioned in the lives of oppressed peoples.
In conclusion, intersectionality has been used as a term to describe how Black women are viewed by the world. Intersectionality is described as a "Triple Jeopardy", race, sex, and class all add up to equal the experiences of Black women. However, that conceptualization is limited in its scope and does not fully capture the complexities of intersectionality. Deborah King proposes "Multiple Jeopardy", which better accounts for how intersectionality impacts the experiences of Black women. Regardless of how one chooses to quantify intersectionality, as "multiple" or "triple" or something else, it is a revolutionary notion that highlights the multifaceted nature of the Black woman's experience. Black women moved into activist spaces, despite the objections of others, and ensured that the work that was done prioritized intersectionality.