Intersectionality is a concept used to describe the ways in which oppressive institutions (racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) are interconnected and should not be examined separately from one another. This theory suggests that there is a strong focus and favor for the most privileged groups, which creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism. Kimberle Crenshaw explains that Black woman face the most oppression and discrimination because they face sexism and racism simultaneously. I will be explaining how the concept of intersectionality is used to more completely understand workplace discrimination by analyzing scenarios and examples where Black woman have faced discrimination in multiple ways.
The issue of discrimination in the workplace, or in any other institution, can only effectively be understood through the concept of intersectionality. Crenshaw states that because the intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black woman are subordinated (Crenshaw 1989). She uses and example of five Black woman who brought suit against General Motors, saying that the employer’s seniority system commemorated the effects of past discrimination against Black woman. Evidence revealed that General Motors did not hire Black woman before 1960, and that all Black woman hired after that eventually lost their jobs during seniority based layoffs. According to the defendant’s experiences, women could apply for a limited amount of jobs, as they believed only men were suited for most of the positions. This was already a problem in and of itself, but for black women the consequences were augmented. This case was only accounted for in terms of gender, completely leaving out the fact that Black woman were subject to both sex and racial discrimination.
Through intersectionality, Black women’s claims of discrimination raise many issues that the usual sex discrimination claims do not. In another case, Moore v National Association of Securities Dealers, Moore claimed that she was passed over for a promotion. The percentage of white males occupying first-level supervisory positions was about 76.8%, and Black males was about 10.9%. White women were at about 3.3%, while Black women only held 0 to 2.2% of these positions. The overall male to female ratio ranged from 98/1.8% and the overall white to black ratio was 78.6/8.9% (Crenshaw 1989). This case reveals that the anti discrimination doctrine unreservedly fails to fails to take intersectionality into account. It also accentuates the centrality of the white female experience in the conceptualization of gender by denying Moore her request to represent all females in the company simply because of her race. For white women, claiming sex discrimination is simply a statement that but for gender, they would not have been disadvantaged. For them there is no need to specify discrimination as white females because their race does not contribute to the disadvantage for which they seek redress (Crenshaw 1989). Antidiscrimination laws erase Black Women’s experiences and do not take them nearly as seriously as those of white women.
Intersectionality comes into play when analyzing how Black women struggle the most in economic stability due to wage differences in the workplace. Wage differences are very prevalent in all fields of work, and often demonstrate the persistence of sexism in the workforce. Black and Hispanic women are more than twice as likely to work in ‘service’ occupations as White women. Hispanic women are the most likely group of women to work in production, transportation and material moving occupations (Hegewisch 2018). Still, this fails to capture the extreme injustice that Black women experience in the workplace. On average, Black women make $34,000 a year compared to $53,000 for white men (Taylor and Combahee 1977). This discrimination is extremely important to recognize because in eighty percent of black families, woman are the sole or main providers. This leads to Black woman being forced to face heavy economic hardships. Black woman make up twenty-five percent of the poor, compared to white women who make up only ten percent. Looking at the condition of Black women in the workplace discloses the absolute shortcomings of what qualifies as social welfare in the United States.
It is crucial that people understand race and gender as mutually inclusive categories of analysis and experience. Intersectionality considers all forms of social stratification, such as race, gender, sexuality, class, etc., and shows how each are entwined with one another. Intersectionality recognizes how interlocking systems of power impact those who are most marginalized in society. Antidiscrimination law, antiracist politics, and feminist theory all fail to address the experiences of black women because of how they each focus on only a single factor. In so many cases, it is clear that Black woman face the greatest amount of discrimination in the workplace and other institutions, simply due to the fact that they are both Black and women.
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