Promoting Intersectionality: Politics, Policy, and Practice by Shalamar J. Parham
Intersectionality is not a new term, but it is a relatively new term to me. Even still, intersectionality has impacted my life in the form of racism, sexism, misogyny, and xenophobia. I am a Black and Asian woman born and raised in the South. My earliest childhood memories include watching Americans make fun of my mother’s Asian descent and thick accent, or strangers mocking my African-American father for being married to a foreigner. As a Black woman, I am seen as intimidating and have been conditioned not to be too angry in public or I will become the “angry Black woman.” As an Asian woman, I am part of the “model minority” and have been conditioned to stay meek and not cause trouble. As a woman, I have experienced being both degraded and sexualized.
If you want to be a successful career woman in the South (especially in a conservative career like law), you do not allow the “isms” and the misogyny affect you. Many times, you do not even know which “ism” is the cause of discrimination or implicit biases you may face. You keep it inside or you vent only to your most trusted circle. After a while, you navigate the discrimination and implicit biases you face based on the intersectionality of your social identity without a second thought. You do not think consciously much about the intersectionality of your gender, race, cultures, etc. It is just a part of who you are and your experiences.
On the other hand, intersectionality is not about genders, races, cultures, etc. competing to see who has been the most oppressed. So many times, I have witnessed different groups, who quite frankly should be allies, diminish the tragedy of another community group, because their own group has, too, been traumatized at some other time. It is possible to stand with another community group in their time of tragedy without slighting or diminishing another group’s oppression or tragedies. Standing together and being allies for each other amplifies everyone’s voices.
Last week in Atlanta, Georgia, a white man bought a gun and in the same day gunned down eight people in Asian businesses. Six of them were Asian women. Last year, Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman, was gunned down while sleeping in her own bed. A police officer was indicted for hitting a neighbor’s wall, not for killing Breonna Taylor. Both stories were tragic and affected me personally because they touched the intersectionality of my social identities as a Black and Asian woman. I do not know if being a part of two marginalized communities compounds the grief following tragic events such as these, but I can personally attest that it does not help. Not only were these killings tragic, but they also highlight why intersectionality in politics is important.
Policies and laws are crafted, in part, based on lived experiences and implicit biases. Blending intersectionality with politics gives marginalized communities a voice. Consideration of intersectionality involves taking a deep and complex dive into how proposed laws impact marginalized communities, while simultaneously considering that communities are not monolithic. Without consideration of intersectionality, policies and laws have unintended (sometimes intended) consequences for marginalized communities. It continues to lead to policies that fail to address systemic issues. Analyses have shown that no-knock warrants disproportionately affect Black communities. Qualified immunity for police officers makes it near impossible for victims and families of victims to receive full justice. Qualified immunity for police officers helped to find that an apartment wall is worth more than the life of a Black woman.
Blending intersectionality with policy helps to bring equity and protect those who are most vulnerable in our society. After the killing of Breonna Taylor, Virginia passed a law banning the use of no-knock warrants. The killing of the six Asian women in Atlanta last week has shined a spotlight on Georgia’s new hate crimes law and brought back to the forefront gun control policy change discussions. Policy changes with intersectionality in mind provide for opportunities to create new laws that proactively address inequities, rather than being reactive to tragedies.
Shalamar J. Parham is a native of Atlanta, an advocate, and an award-winning and civic-minded attorney. She serves as a Policy Manager for the Georgia House of Representatives’ Democratic Caucus and is a member of the Georgia Asian Pacific Bar Association and Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys (GABWA) where she recently served as a Political Action Committee appointee.