Buzzword of the Decade: Intersectionality
Robert E. Williams II
20 December, 2019
Intersectionality refers to the social and political identity of the individual. This includes gender, race, sexuality, religion, economic class, and disability. The concept isn’t new. Discussions of intersectionality first sprouted from 19th & 20th century black feminists, drawing attention to their exclusion in white feminism. The term was coined by black feminist Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in a paper published in 1989 discussing the oppresion of African-American women. These conversations carried on to the end of the 20th century, but it wasn’t until the 2010’s that the concept of intersectionality would receive mainstream attention. The 2010’s offered a wide range of media and news coverage of the multiple-layers that make up one’s identity. It goes without saying that the buzzword of this decade was indeed intersectionality.
The decade begins with Barack Obama serving as the President of the United States. For the first time in history an African-American man held the highest position of power within the US government. Beyoncé, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna topped the music charts. RuPaul’s Drag Race premiered its second season on air in 2010. The cast of The Help captured audiences. The beginning of the decade was a time of prosperity. Majority acceptance of multiple identities allowed for artists and politicians of various racial and gender identities to step into the limelight. The fight for LGBTQIA+ rights was on the rise, with artists such as Lady Gaga and Adam Lambert drawing attention to these issues through their music. Though the decade began as a time of unity, a close analysis of under the rug issues came forward.
Even with the gilded acceptance of all identities, underlying issues that were not addressed in the mainstream were brought up. The actions of Miley Cryus, Iggy Azalea, and the Kardashians allowed for conversations of cultural appropriation to occur. The 2012 election exposed racism still in full swing with racist propaganda created by the far-right against Barack Obama. Resolution of the proclaimed unconstitutional amendment Proposition 8 was met with resistance from conversatives in California who opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage. In lieu of all opposition, the majority of the mainstream pushed through and paved the way for the wide-spread acceptance of multiple identities.
It goes without saying that this conversation did not go unignored. With social media becoming a major influence in the 2010’s conversations regarding race, sex, gender, and sexuality moved faster than ever before. What once was a conversation reserved for the intellectually elite and for those with access to educational materials, social media gave access to these complex conversations about identity. Exposure to multiple sides of an argument at one time contributed to a widespread understanding of where each party in a debate came from and allowed individuals to form their own stance on the argument.
2016 put these conversations on blast. Following the death of Trayvon Martin in 2012, D*nald Tr*mp elected President of the United States, and state regulation of marriage licenses and gender identification on IDs, it became obvious there was more work that needed to be done. The Black Lives Matter movement entered the mainstream, calling out racial profiling by the police. The #MeToo movement sparked conversations revolving around workplace harassment against women. The trans community became vocal after reading the transphobic and misogynistic remarks of Rupaul in an interview with The Guardian. Seperate social movements were on the rise, reminiscent of the activists of the late 1960s and early 70s.
The 2016 presidential election displayed that the country remained divided. The gilded unity that reigned in earlier in the decade dispersed. This distance goes without saying that while the country was unified, effective change was made. Under the Obama Administration, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy adopted by the U.S. military was thrown out and legalization of same-sex marraige gave hope to the LGBTQIA+ community. Acceptance of POC leads in media made way for Shonda Rhimes’ Scandal and Kenya Barris’ Black*ish. Though these initial steps benefited larger movements, the attitude of the nation is focused on radical steps forward.
At the end of this decade, audiences witnessed Beyoncé take on radical concepts with her sixth LP Lemonade focused on the black female experience in America. Janelle Monáe goes further with her third LP Dirty Computer by exploring her black queer female indentity. A revisit of the documentary Paris is Burning and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots brought the queer community together focus to the rights of their transgender, black, and POC siblings. Lizzo created space for body positivity within the pop industry and Cardi B altered who was allowed to walk in couture. The 2018 Pulitzer Prize Winner for Drama Cost of Living by Martyna Majok displayed how economic privilege can alter the experience of people with disabilities.
This decade gave scope to the amount of work America faces. With the setbacks of this current administration, the people rallied together in preparation for the upcoming presidential election in 2020. Conversations about race, gender, sexuality, and disability continue to populate the airways media outlets. The beginning of this decade saw diversity. The end of this decade saw the call to action for proper representation. This representation begins with the understanding of intersectionality, how every part of the individual’s identity matters.