What Is…Intersectionality?

Today’s post is the next installment on the “What is _____?” series, where I go over terms used commonly in social justice circles that may sound like jargon to many.

Today’s “What is_____?” post will be on a very big term in social justice circles these days: intersectionality.

Intersectionality is a term to describe how different forms of discrimination overlap, combine, and yes, even intersect, with each other. While the term was originally used by Kimberlé Crenshaw 30 years ago to describe how the discrimination of women of color differed from even that of white women, the definition has since expanded in a way that the term can be used to describe how different forms of discrimination intersect to create a set of interwoven prejudices in daily life.

A few such cases where I’ve seen intersectionality at play include the following:

  • Women with disabilities of various kinds, including my mother (who has fibromyalgia and arthritis), often face ableism from people who don’t believe that they should accommodate for someone else’s aches and pains. At the same time, many of the women I know who have chronic illnesses have said quite openly that the fact that they’re women has, without a doubt, made them less likely to be believed when talking about their disabilities with friends and doctors. In the case of women with disabilities, ableism and sexism often intersect.
  • Transgender women of color face discrimination for being transgender, for being a woman, and for being a person of color. Each of these individual statuses (being transgender, being a woman, or being a person of color) is often enough, in many cases, to be at risk in certain ways, but the combination of these three identities has arguably resulted in transgender women of color being disproportionately represented in murder counts, even in the transgender community.[1]
  • Younger people with disabilities (whether visible or invisible) are often thought to be “faking it” because they look “too young” to have a disability. This attitude, and its results, means that there are a lot of young people with disabilities face discrimination at the intersection of ageism and ableism.

An understanding of intersectionality is important because, quite frankly, intersectionality also allows us to have a basic understanding of how different groups of people, even within a community that faces discrimination, can face other forms of discrimination too (or further discrimination because of another oppressed identity). Such an understanding can result in greater empathy for others on an individual level, but also hopefully better policy on the governmental level.


[1] The majority of transgender people who were killed due to violence in 2018 were transgender women of color: https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2019

What Is…White Guilt?

Some terms are criticized as social justice jargon. However, many of these terms are important to know about and understand. One such term is white guilt.

Dictionary.com offers a concise definition of white guilt: it is “the feelings of shame and remorse some white people experience when they recognize the legacy of racism and racial injustice and perceive the ways they have benefited from it.”[1] While it sounds well-intended in certain ways—after all, it recognizes racism and injustice and ways white people like me have benefited from it—white guilt can also be extremely problematic in certain ways.

But why can white guilt be problematic?

The problem is that in many cases, feelings of shame and remorse can be so great that they prevent one from doing anything about the racism and racial injustice that’s so upsetting to begin with. While it is important to recognize racism and racial injustice around you, especially if you recognize some of the ways it benefits you, it’s counterproductive to be so upset about those systems of injustice that you feel unworthy of playing your part as an ally in the larger effort to ensure that Black lives matter. After all, the goal is not to wallow in guilt, but to turn the recognition of injustice into anti-racist action.

It’s also worth noting that one of the criticisms I often hear of white guilt is that white guilt doesn’t turn into white action.[2] That’s something to be conscious of, if you, like me, are white. It’s important to be conscious of the fact that it’s not enough to simply recognize how racial injustice benefits you, nor is it enough to feel guilty about how racial injustice benefits you. Instead of simply recognizing how racial injustice benefits you (or even feeling guilty about that), donate to and/or volunteer for racial justice organizations, attend Black Lives Matter marches (while practicing mask-wearing and social distancing, of course), vote for candidates who have an extensive platform on racial justice, and educate your own friends about the systems of racial injustice you’ve noticed yourself, among other things. In doing these activities, however, please note that it’s not about you or about erasing your guilt, but about racial inequality (because for too many people attending a protest march, for example, is about making them look like the “good people”).

In addition to the volunteering, marching, voting, etc., however, I also recommend that people struggling with white guilt should process those feelings with other people who have struggled with white guilt themselves and managed to turn that guilt into racial justice action. While it may be tempting to talk about your white guilt with anyone and everyone to show how “woke” you are, the most productive and healthy way of processing and overcoming white guilt is probably by talking with people who have that shared experience with you.

So, for those who are still struggling with white guilt, I know how you feel. I was there, and I can sometimes still be there. I just hope that you will be able to turn guilt into action, for guilt without action does nothing.


[1] https://www.dictionary.com/browse/white-guilt

[2] Some, such as Ciarra Jones, the author of a widely-read Medium piece on white guilt, argue that white guilt can even impede upon white action: https://medium.com/@ciarrajones/the-violence-of-white-and-non-black-poc-apologies-d1321c0ccb8e

On Using Friends as a Defense Against One’s Own Prejudice

“I’m not racist. I have Black friends.”

“How can you possibly suggest that I’m homophobic? I have a lesbian friend.”

When some of us feel that we are accused of being prejudiced, we can give a response along these lines. We defend ourselves against the accusation of prejudice (whether real or perceived) by pointing out that we have a friend or friends who are of the race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, etc., that we are accused of being prejudicial toward.

This language does one thing: it uses the people you call friends as a defense against an accusation of prejudice, often without the permission of said friend or friends. This is problematic on a number of levels.

For starters, the friend(s) you’re using as a defense often have no say in whether they are actually okay with being talked about and used in such a way. Given that fact, it is unfair to put friends in the middle of a controversy surrounding your potential prejudice. Your friends didn’t do anything to merit being in the middle of a controversy of yours, so the right and compassionate thing to do is to, well, not put your friends in the middle of one of your controversies.

Even if said friend(s) were okay with being talked about in that way, the “I’m not racist” or “I’m not anti-Semitic”, comments don’t do anything to address the form of prejudice being talked about. Saying that you’re not a racist usually does nothing about the racism that does exist in our society. Saying that you’re not sexist does nothing about the sexism that does exist in our society. All it does is attempt to convince yourself or others that you are not prejudiced in a particular way.

If anything, the “I’m not ____” comments are sometimes used to defend a word, phrase, or action that is prejudiced. I’ve read people say that that “most Blacks are lazy” (not making this up), an overtly racist comment, and then defend their racism by saying that they have friends of color. I haven’t seen this happen in my conversations too often, thankfully, but when it has happened, it has been disgusting.

Finally, your friends are a poor defense against prejudice because you can have friends of a particular group and be prejudiced toward said group at the same time. Albeit, if you’re prejudiced towards a group that a friend is a part of (for example, if you struggle with ableism and your friend is physically disabled), then that likely hinders your ability to be a good friend.

All in all, I would strongly recommend against using your friends as a defense against accusations of prejudice. It does no favors to you, your friend, or the cause of reducing prejudice in our world. You’re better off responding to those accusations, whether real or perceived, with self-reflection,[1] signing petitions, and/or donating to causes that address the prejudice you’re accused of.

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[1] Sometimes, with self-reflection, you might realize that something you didn’t realize sounded offensive to you was offensive to those around you.

On the Policing of People of Color and the Death of George Floyd

Someone with a face mask that says “I can’t breathe.” “I can’t breathe” was said by Eric Garner as he was killed by police in New York several years ago, and it was also said by George Floyd recently as he was killed by Minneapolis police.

On Monday, May 25th, George Floyd, an unarmed person of color, was killed by a Minneapolis, Minnesota police officer who knelt on Floyd’s neck for several minutes, even after he was handcuffed.

This was an extremely disturbing story—so disturbing that I am choosing not to show yet again to people the image of this officer kneeling on Floyd. It was yet another example of police using excessive force on an unarmed person of color.

And yet, at times over the past week, I have struggled to figure out what to say about the killing of Floyd. After all, I am white, I am conscious that I have a lot of privilege that comes with being white, and the last thing I want to do is drown out the voices of people of color advocating for justice. But then, I found that I did feel compelled to say some things, so here you go…

Growing up in New York City with all the friends of color my brother and I had, it was clear that there was a major disparity between the way the two of us were policed and the way our friends of color were policed. The two of us never got stopped, searched, or frisked by the police, but our friends of color frequently experienced that—so frequently that people would call it “walking while brown.” The stories of frequent stops from our friends also matched statistics for stop-and-frisk in New York City—blacks and Hispanics at one point made up only half of the population, but 85% of the stops.[1] I can go on and on with the statistics and the stories related to stop-and-frisk, but to read more, I encourage you to read my blog post about the institutional racism in the way I was policed. So when people suggest that racism does not exist with policing, I have personal experiences that show otherwise. Racism exists in policing.

What I didn’t do as much in that post on institutional racism and policing was show how said racism goes well beyond stop-and-frisk; after all, I was focused on my own experiences of privilege in that post. So, while an entire book could probably be written on racial disparities in the way people are policed (or are generally handled in the criminal justice system), here are some lowlights:

  • Blacks are 3.64 times as likely to get arrested for marijuana use as whites, even though usage rates are comparable. In some cases, those rates have become worse, even with the current push towards legalization in some parts of the country.[2]
  • Staying on the topic of drugs, even though usage of illegal drugs is comparable between blacks and whites, blacks are five times as likely as whites to go to prison for illegal drug possession.[3]
  • On average, police seem to require less suspicion of black and Hispanic drivers before they are pulled over than white drivers.[4] This statistic is particularly relevant to the current discourse on policing and people of color, as a few years ago a traffic stop of Philando Castile, a person of color, led to his being killed by a police officer.
  • Innocent blacks are about seven times more likely to be convicted for a murder they didn’t commit than whites.[5]
  • Unarmed blacks are about 3.49 times as likely to get shot by the police as unarmed whites.[6]

“How does this all relate to the killing of George Floyd?” you may ask. Floyd’s killing shows that the police murder of Mr. Floyd does not exist in a bubble. Far from it. To the contrary, this killing is a microcosm of a larger problem: there are vast racial disparities in the way people are policed in the United States of America.


[1] https://www.forbes.com/sites/jasonoberholtzer/2012/07/17/stop-and-frisk-by-the-numbers/#43c323106703

[2] https://www.forbes.com/sites/tomangell/2020/04/20/on-420-aclu-highlights-racist-marijuana-enforcement-in-new-report/#229dc03f7487

[3] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

[4] https://openpolicing.stanford.edu/findings/

[5] http://www.law.umich.edu/special/exoneration/Documents/Race_and_Wrongful_Convictions.pdf

[6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4634878/

How Not to Respond, and How to Respond, to the Coronavirus

I actually had a different post in mind for this week, but given the situation with the coronavirus (COVID-19), I decided to make a quick change in plans. Given the wide range of both unjust and just reactions I’ve seen to the coronavirus, I thought I would make a list of things (with explanations) on how not to respond, and how to respond, to this.

Do not respond with anti-Chinese sentiments.

Anti-Chinese sentiments include a refusal to buy Chinese food from your local Chinese restaurant and getting angry at anyone who is or looks Chinese, simply because this strain of coronavirus was first discovered in China. Just because it first originated there does not mean that we should treat people of Chinese descent as any less than anyone else.

Do listen to medical health experts in your area.

Listen to guidance from people in your city’s and/or state’s Health Department. Those who are actually working on this virus on a day-to-day basis are the ones who will likely have wise advice on how best to proceed. So, listen to them…please.

Do not automatically get angry if you see someone who sneezes or coughs when they are out in public.

The other day, someone absolutely freaked out at me when I sneezed once…once! However, we must realize that there are many reasons for someone to sneeze or cough that do not necessarily involve corthe coronavirus. It could be a cold, it could be allergies, or it could be that someone randomly has the urge to sneeze…all of us have the urge to sneeze once in a while, even if we are perfectly healthy!

But, if at all possible, please do stay home if you feel sick.

Thanks to the lack of sick leave that some people have (a subject I wrote about at length in last week’s blog post), it is not possible for some people to stay home. However, for those who do have sick leave available to them, use it when you feel sick. By staying home when you’re sick, you’re doing a favor to yourself and to others.

Do wash your hands frequently.

People should use discretion, but should also remember to wash their hands with regularity and thoroughly. You want to do all you can to kill the bad germs you may end up coming into contact with.

Do find things to occupy your time, if other things that used to occupy your time (work, school, sports) are getting canceled.

Don’t just sit around. Give your friend a phone call or a video call. Pick up a book. Sing songs, play an instrument, or listen to a CD. Watch a DVD or a favorite show or movie on a service like Hulu or on-demand cable. Pick up a new hobby. Work on a garden. Write something. Do some painting. We need to look out not just for our physical health, but our mental health too, and these are all things that will help us look out for our own and each other’s mental health.


The situation with the coronavirus is a very hectic and fluid situation. However, I hope that these tips I offered are a good place for all of us to start in order to take care of our own and others’ physical and mental health. I am also open to hearing other tips in the comments section below!