What is intersectionality?

Before we get too deep, let’s back up and take a look at the concept of intersectionality. The term was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989.

Intersectionality describes the way social categorizations such as gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, and class create overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.

Essentially, Crenshaw was explaining the ways in which the systems of oppression are interconnected. For example, a black woman will experience misogyny differently than a white woman and will also experience racism differently than a black man. You cannot separate those experiences.

The key to understanding intersectionality is recognizing that it exists within institutions, not people. In the same way individuals cannot be diverse, nor can they be intersectional. The idea of intersectionality refers to the ways institutions and policies make room for these complex experiences.

Crenshaw puts it this way: “For those of us who live life in these bodies, it’s not a secret. Intersectionality isn’t telling us anything we didn’t know. Intersectionality is speaking to the institutions that didn’t seem to know what we know.”

For grantmakers committed to equity, applying an intersectional lens is an important step.

Why intersectionality is essential for effective philanthropy

What does intersectionality mean for philanthropy?

Intersectionality allows organizations to take into consideration the ways in which people experience multiple systems of oppression and how those vulnerabilities intersect in complex ways.

Too often, grantmakers take a siloed approach to their program design. They create distinct grant programs for specific causes. But these hard borders can create big gaps.

For instance, imagine a grantmaker creates two grant programs. One that addresses racial justice and another for LGBTQ youth. That sounds great in theory, but if there is no acknowledgement that these issues overlap and intersect, then a lot of people will be ignored. Where do queer Black kids fit? Which program honors the full range of their experiences? If the grantmaker isn’t applying an intersectional lens, the answer is likely: neither of them.

To create effective programs, grantmakers need to develop a deep understanding of the multiple layers of systemic oppression that make people vulnerable to discrimination.

7 steps to apply an intersectional lens to your grantmaking

Equity in grantmaking takes intention. It doesn’t happen by accident. You and your team have to make it a practice across all facets of your work. It may sound a bit overwhelming to take on, but we’ve laid out seven steps to help you get started.

  1. Apply a historical frame
  2. Elevate marginalized voices
  3. Invest in solutions that address systemic change
  4. Don’t rely on trickle-down justice
  5. Adopt participatory practices
  6. Offer multi-year grants with flexibility
  7. Support coalitions

Read the full article about intersectional grantmaking by Laura Steele at 3BL Media.