Research and Reform Movements: The Necessity of an Intersectional Lens

On May 25, Minneapolis police officers arrested and murdered George Floyd, an unarmed Black man accused of using an allegedly counterfeit $20 bill. In response to this injustice and countless others, the Black Lives Matter movement has triggered increased awareness, important conversations, and tangible change. The movement calls attention to the urgency of social, cultural, and political reform on today’s oppressive ideologies and systems. The ability to analyze data and identify solutions is a valuable power against obstacles impeding progress.

 

According to Johan Galtung, the famous pioneer of peace and conflict studies, violence can be defined as preventable harm that interferes with an individual’s basic needs. Adhering to this definition, individuals can understand that the recurrence of racial injustice and police brutality in America has exemplified astonishing violence throughout its history. The Black Lives Matter global network, established in 2013 by Black activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, aims to amend the cultural and institutional dehumanization of Black individuals across the globe. Following the homicides of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmuad Arbery, and countless others, the fight for equality has spread to the streets, social media feeds, and news broadcasting channels. These conversations demand global citizens act on their undeniable responsibility to listen, learn, and advocate for reform.

Throughout history, education has provided the foundation for social progress. The combination of anecdotal and empirical evidence ensures that people understand both the weight and magnitude of an issue. In order to tackle the historically-rooted ideologies and systems that reproduce unequal treatment of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC), we must amplify, listen, and learn about the stories of their struggles. Complementing individual accounts with data-driven observations about the scale of the issue further ensures people acknowledge their complicity and the necessity of fundamental change. Recognition paves the way for revolution, allowing for the essential growth of today’s individuals and society.

In the pursuit of catalyzing change through education, we must confront the nature of intersectionality. Civil rights activist and legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term in her 1989 paper addressing the interconnectedness of disadvantage based on social groups. Crenshaw observed that discrimination on the basis of social categories, including race, class, and gender, cannot be separated, as these struggles are deeply intertwined and overlap for those who fall within multiple minority groups. This phenomenon recognizes the unique experiences of individuals based on the interdependent elements of their social identities. Reformers must address all these systems of injustice to establish true equality. 

Crenshaw’s work has encouraged researchers across multiple disciplines to utilize an intersectional approach to their studies. This lens provides a more holistic picture of the disproportionate struggles of different groups. More disciplines are growing aware of the necessity for this perspective, as it provides context of the historical and contemporary embodiments of inequality. The Equality Challenge Unit, an organization based in the U.K. promoting diversity and equality in higher education institutions, believes intersectional approaches to research help generate appropriate objectives and outcomes in the fight for equality. An understanding of intersectionality in any area of study uncovers the barriers to individual success and the essential steps towards progress. 

As Crenshaw’s influence on racial injustice research continues to grow, more scholars and students recognize the unique variations of discrimination, the extent of their impact, and a better path for addressing these disparities. New York Times journalists Isabella Grullón Paz and Maggie Astor further explain this phenomenon in their article about the plight of Black transgender people throughout their history. The two journalists acknowledge that Black trans individuals experience a dangerous combination of racial and gender oppression, resulting in incomparable hardships, such as some of the highest rates of homelessness and unemployment in the country. During the simultaneous occurrence of the Black Lives Matter movement and Pride Month, June 2020 has unveiled for many that Black trans people do not fully reap the gains of either movement. The article emphasizes that an intersectional perspective is not only useful for displaying the varied experiences of different groups, but also for including all angles of injustice in the fight for equality. 

At the University of Michigan, our widely recognized research institution offers the opportunity to understand the history of injustice and the realms of life that firmly maintain its ideologies. From post-doctoral fellow Michael Esposito’s research on racial inequalities and health disparities to assistant professor of anthropology Melissa Burch’s research on race and incarceration, many of Michigan’s faculty currently strive to expose the roots and remedies of today’s issues. Intersectional research is one of many effective vehicles for driving societal evolution. This lens encourages us to acknowledge that numbers are not always enough; by hearing individual accounts of daily struggles, we better grasp the notion of coinciding oppressive forces. Michigan’s leaders and best should contribute to and grow from the university’s research surrounding racial disparities, injustices, and inequalities. We must then push ourselves and others to employ an intersectional approach to observations of oppression. By understanding the interrelated nature of discrimination, we can better recognize its dangerous implications and more effectively generate the necessary path to progress.

 

Sources:

Galtung, Johan. “Violence, Peace, and Peace Research.” Journal of Peace Research, vol. 6, no. 3, 1969, pp. 167–191. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/422690. 


Christoffersen, Ashlee. “Intersectional Approaches to Equality Research and Data,” 2017. http://www.ecu.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/Research_and_data_briefing_2_Intersectional_approaches_to_equality_research_and_data.pdf.


Perlman, Merrill. “The Origin of the Term ‘Intersectionality’.” Columbia Journalism Review, October 23, 2018. https://www.cjr.org/language_corner/intersectionality.php.

 

https://isr.umich.edu/news-events/news-releases/how-structural-racism-generates-health-disparities/

 

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