Monday, April 9, 2007

Importance of Intersectionality: Race & Gender

by Rebecca Reno, Research Associate at the Kirwan Institute

Recently at the Kirwan Institute several staff members (including myself) led a discussion about the importance of pursuing and implementing an intersectional race-gender analysis in our work. This included an explicit focus on the relationship between racial disparities and gender in issue areas such as education, technology, politics, international work, healthcare, housing and opportunity. In short, we demonstrated that including gender leads to a more nuanced analysis, and subsequently more inclusive and effective remedies.

This dialogue opened up a broader conversation on intersectionality. Intersectionality denotes the ways in which factors such as race, gender, class, sexuality, age, religion, culture, among others, interact to shape the experiences and realities of individuals. These complex interactions and relationships directly influence an individual’s life chances and opportunities, and thus must often be studied in concert. Often times, academics and social justice advocates treat these categories as though they were mutually exclusive, and thus fail to reach an accurate understanding of the causes of and solutions to inequity.

The inclusion of additional research criteria such as gender does not take away from the explicit study of race and ethnicity; rather it adds to it. Much as studying any singular opportunity structure (such as education) in isolation leads to an incomplete analysis and a masking of the cumulative effects of structural racism, studying any singular identity factor conceals the ways that other identities also influence life outcomes. For example, studying the effects of housing mobility programs without understanding the unique experiences of women who relocate may mask specific gendered challenges such as the difficulty in obtaining affordable, available childcare in those opportunity-rich suburbs.

Excitement and thought-provoking conversations emerged from this discussion, as the staff considered future projects to study the intersection between race and gender across a range of topics, and how current projects could be enhanced. The issue of intersectionality is not new, but surprisingly there are large gaps in the research and relatively few scholars focusing on the relationship between race and gender, and even fewer research and policy-oriented groups committed to it. A more nuanced understanding of the relationship between race, gender and opportunity is long overdue, and it is critical that it be given a place on any serious race or gender research agenda.

1 comment:

  1. Angela Stanley, Research Associate for the Kirwan InstituteApril 12, 2007 at 3:18 PM

    Angela Stanley, Research Associate for the Kirwan Institute said...
    I think the present state of current events lends to the importance of understanding intersectionalities, especially between race and gender. The unfortunate situation involving Don Imus and the Rutgers University women’s basketball team has sparked an overdue national dialogue on race and gender and has highlighted the need to understand the position of being both female and a racial minority simultaneously. The use of the phrase “nappy-headed hoes” is a clear example of where the intersection of racism and sexism meet. Now that issues of racism and sexism are at the forefront, we can start to address why those issues are present, how they are being perpetuated, and how we can start to remedy these issues. This issue is so much larger than Don Imus, and ultimately isn't about him at all. He just happens to be the current embodiment of what has always existed and has inadvertently created an opening for learning, growth, and change.

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