For young folks who are in the process of becoming aware of their personal traits and social self, an intersectional perspective can guide the construction of modern and complex identities, denounce their exposure to social inequality, and foster leadership and (solidary) participatory action.
Social identity groups typically have a singular focus, such as race, sexual orientation, etc., while the presence of two or more personal characteristics is usually treated as a double or a multiple identity, e.g., woman and Latina, or young, Black, and queer. However, this additive approach, which suggests that the experience of oppression is lived in terms of cumulative costs, implicitly assumes that those identities are different and separate (Chan et al., 2017).
To focus on the cumulative impacts of different systems of oppression –instead of an intersection of identities– could negatively affect the life experience of individuals, and particularly of young folks, to the point of generating competition among those experiencing the most oppressive situation (Purdie-Vaughns and Eibach, 2008). Different scholars argue that dividing people into groups on identity grounds weakens progressive forces and inhibits the development of a universal perspective capable of advancing the emancipation of everyone (Gitlin, 1995; Rorty, 1998). Moreover, the cumulative approach is unable to identify the simultaneous situation of privilege and oppression, a common feature in minority leaders.
Different sociopolitical movements advocate for the human rights of marginalized groups, but often these groups fail to represent the experiences of individuals living in the intersections of systems of oppression that are not necessarily the main target of the movement’s efforts, losing the voice in the sociopolitical movement and in any further policy change (Crenshaw, 1991). An additional problem is that the identification with multiple minority groups gives pace to an intersectional invisibility (Carbado et al, 2013), which may lead to pressure to choose and adhere to a primary identity group that is not fully representative.
However, if used correctly, delineations of difference can well become sources of social empowerment for the educational justice movement. Collins (1991) and Crenshaw (1988, 1991), argue that intersectionality understands social identity as a multidimensional concept that acknowledges the distinctive lived experiences of individuals with multiple identities, which might create “an intersectional experience [that] is a more complete framing of experiences and identity within a complex layered social context” (Chan et al. 2017, p.XX).
The advantages of intersectionality need to be tempered by recognizing the positive achievements of expressly race-based and gender-based politics in building intellectual, social, and political resources among aggrieved groups (Crenshaw 1988). As an example, it is argued that LGBTQ prominence among undocumented young activists can, in part, be attributed to identity processes within the movement. The recognition and activation of multiple marginalized identities, at various levels of collective identity formation, catalyzes intersectional mobilization, creating high levels of activism and commitment among a disadvantaged subgroup within an already marginalized constituency (Terriquez, 2015).
Along the same line, the explicit adoption of an intersectional optic at the educational justice movement can empower insurgent identities that are dynamic and dialogic, more fluid and flexible than those from single-axis approaches. Organizations such as the Asian Immigrant Women Advocates (AIWA) do not embrace intersectionality simply because its members have been wounded by racism, sexism, imperialism, class exploitation, and language discrimination, but because each realm of these experiences has helped the organization to see how power works and how new identities are needed to combat its intersectional reach and scope (Chun et al, 2013).
Because social location, power relations, and therefore leadership and subordination are generally determined by individuals and clusters that enjoy privileged positions within groups, an intersectional movement is not complete until it dismantles (discriminatory/exclusionary) stereotypes and assumptions that are embedded in sociopolitical groups (Chan et al, 2017).
The educational justice movement should promote intersectional leadership that represents as holistically as possible its base or constituency. In the same way a member of a Trade Union might already represent the organization’s base because they all share a similar occupation, but to represent the identity of the most oppressed members would help the movement go beyond the label of diversity, and truly address an intersectional orientation.
Although it takes a high degree of sensibilization for a whole sociopolitical group to behave empathically with members impacted by systems of oppression different than those targeted by their original mission (Chun et al, 2013; Winder, 2018), it still might be possible for people to follow intersectional leaderships by feeling inspired by those who overcame barriers they could or might have experienced.
By using an intersectionality lens to assess the accounts of three Black women school principals in different countries, Moorosi et al (2018) suggest that the leadership position of Black women is frequently not a choice but a result of their unique experiences in the intersections of race, gender, and class. They also point out that “the empowered position of leadership, which affords these women the opportunity and ability to serve as role models to younger Black women, and influence and shape their own Black communities, is packaged with both privilege and oppression – an analysis made possible by intersectionality”. (p. 156)
Considering that assumption, then how to foster empathy toward a set of seemingly abstract characteristics not shared by everyone in a sociopolitical group? What we suggest is that intersectionality becomes more recognizable when it is personified in someone who disrupts the status quo through a message and a complex identity, in the same way Kimberl© Williams Crenshaw was the right individual to pioneer the discourse.
Students and all activists participating in the educational justice movement need to self-identify with leaders that come from an intersectional life experience, interiorizing that it is possible to successfully challenge and defeat discrimination. An intersectional leader is someone who has valuable experience in dealing with different systems of oppression and has ideally dismantled one or more in order to become a model. Then, the ideal would be for young folks to be aware of examples of success despite pronounced adversity, pursuing leadership positions while being are aware that “…key constructions about successful leadership…are informed by their own gendered, racialized, and classed background…” (Moorosi et al, 2018: 157). (I would prefer not to use the quote in here but to reword and cite)
In sum, the more diverse the educational justice movement becomes, and the more empathy it promotes towards the most marginalized backgrounds within it, the better it can adapt to an intersectional message, accept intersectional leadership, and self-identify with other groups and fights.
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