Stay Woke 2.0: Intersectionality during Women’s History Month and Beyond

“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” – Audre Lorde, American writer, feminist, and civil rights activist.

This quote has been on t-shirts, cardboard signs, and referenced on social media during both Women’s Marches. It has become a rallying cry for intersectional feminism. Coined by Critical Race Theory scholar, Kimberlé Crenshaw, intersectionality is the theory that aspects of your identity cannot be separated when understanding inequality and oppression.

Before and during 1968, women of color and white women made powerful alliances that shaped the Civil Rights Movement. While African-American women led the way, women like Anne Braden, a Southern white radical, worked with organizer Ella Baker to fight against white supremacy and economic exploitation. Grace Lee-Boggs, a Chinese-American activist, was a tenant organizer and civil rights activist. She would host Malcolm X when he visited Detroit. These women demonstrated what being a true ally means—taking an active role, taking a risk that women without that privilege cannot take.

Photo by Robin Holland

Being “woke” is a start but it’s not enough. Here are actions white women, other privileged women and other communities in power can take starting today to be a better ally and embrace intersectionality:

  1. Use the influence and power you have to start difficult conversations with your friends and family around power, privilege and injustice. It will be hard, but if you don’t do it, who will?
  2. It’s ok to not know something, but don’t dismiss it. Be open to learning.
  3. When you’re engaging with a social issue and/or movement, hand over the mic or the platform to the people that are most affected, and the least heard.
  4. Listen when people are calling out an injustice. Don’t automatically question them if you haven’t experienced their challenges.

When movements like Black Lives Matter call on white, Latinx, and Asian Pacific Islander folks to stand against white supremacy, we must recognize that there is a common purpose beyond identity. When Hollywood actresses brought attention to the #MeToo movement, and 700,000 female farmworkers wrote a letter of solidarity, they sent a powerful message that their struggles are linked. When Parkland students met with Black and brown students in Chicago about ending gun violence, it was an important move because their struggles too are linked. Working across communities and identities is not new, and we have a lot to learn from history.

Ella Baker
Ella Baker Institute

This year is the 50th anniversary of 1968, a year when protest and demands for social change and racial justice came to a head. It is a poignant reminder that we need intersectionality to strengthen today’s movements. With intersectionality will come tension, and it will be uncomfortable. While we may have different shackles, it is our duty to stand up for and stand with Black women, undocumented women, indigenous women, Muslim women, poor women, disabled women, trans and gender non-confirming folks, and other oppressed peoples.

As we apply lessons on intersectionality learned from the Civil Rights Movement and 1968 to today, remember activist and former Black Panther, Assata Shakur’s famous words, “It is our duty to fight for our freedom. It is our duty to win. We must love each other and support each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”