“Either I denied or chose between various aspects of my identity, or my work and my Blackness would be unacceptable ... there was usually some part of me guaranteed to offend everybody's comfortable prejudices of who I should be. That is how I learned that if I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
– (Audre Lorde, “Learning from the '60s,” 1982)
Before Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989, poet and civil rights activist Audre Lorde was laying the foundational concepts from which the definition would be constructed.
As we begin this holiday season, a wave of gratitude comes over me like never before – and it has quite a bit to do with embracing intersectionality.
Over the past year and a half, diversity, equity and inclusion principles have catapulted from a tagline in mission statements to top priorities with mandated deadlines of transformative action. Requests for training and strategic planning have risen to an all-time high.
While I was facilitating professional consultations, I was simultaneously experiencing a personal awakening alongside others.
If we've ever engaged in authentic dialogue, you probably believe I am living my dream since I often share my gratitude that my personal and professional lives are in alignment. However, with many of my identities residing in spaces that are often minoritized, I am reminded that intersectionality is both significant and complex.
Lorde also said that “there is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not live single-issue lives.”
This amplifies that we are not a flat society. We all have layers of identities that morph together to make us who we are. I am Lisa – a Black, full-figured, 52-year-old woman. Lisa, the educated college vice president who is fluent in both English and Ebonics.
While one in the same, these Lisas' experiences often differ. Although I strive to set the example of showing up whole daily, there are still times when one part of me is not as valued as another. There are times when I operate on mute.
As a people, we can experience personal or internal conflict simply because of our multiple identities, and these will exist even if we happen to live in an environment that is fairly accepting. Intersectionality means that we have different advantages and disadvantages in different spaces, and there is implied internal and external conflict in this.
What do I do with my privilege in this space, and how do I handle a disadvantage in others? How do I speak to my own disadvantage while keeping others comfortable?
Then I recall the intersecting layers of my friends and how their identities dictate how they navigate life. My accountability partner, who is white, male and queer. My college roommate, who tactfully addresses every “Merry Christmas” greeting even though she displays a menorah year round. My adopted, Indigenous American cousin who is a no-show each year for Thanksgiving dinner.
I realize my privilege in stating that we all must be bold enough to live out loud and how holidays, especially family gatherings, can be particularly difficult for this.
The truth is, there is an in-depth process of self-reflection and self-questioning we must indulge in prior to growth happening. Are there identities of others I am not willing to accept? Does allowing others to be themselves mean that I am supposed to embrace this? Am I able to distinguish between identity and perspectives?
There are indeed spaces where we can authentically be ourselves, and these are spaces truly to be appreciated. Yet there are other spaces that don't allow for this, and we have to be thoughtful about what we (and others) are willing to compromise and when.
None of this is easy; however, we must start somewhere. As we advance on this journey toward belonging, I encourage you to own the totality of yourself and allow others to do the same. If you want to move past inclusion, then value people for the complete, diverse individuals they are and empower them to live out loud in their own truth.
And, during this season, be grateful for those who seek to understand all of you!
Lisa D. Givan, a Fort Wayne resident, is an inclusion specialist.