What is Intersectionality and what does it mean for an organization to be intersectional?

The concept of intersectionality was first developed by a legal scholar named Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989. Her original paper on the topic was: Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics. 

Intersectionality means that different people have different aspects to their identity, for example people’s gender, sexuality, race, ability, and so forth, are all part of who they are. Often people who have identities and differences that are marginalized by the mainstream society, experience discrimination, and oppression in relation to particular aspects of their identities. 

Not everyone belonging to a particular identity group has the exact same experiences, and sometimes aspects of our identities intersect and overlap. People who experience prejudice in more than one area of their lives often find that the different types of prejudice and discrimination that they experience overlap.

For instance, an Autistic person of colour, or indigenous person, might find that people interpret their “odd” mannerisms, or stiming as more suspicious because of stereotypes about their race or ethnicity. An example of this is the case of Troy Canales, which ASAN has called attention to (content note: article contains decriptions of police brutality against an Autistic person, and racial stereotyping). 

Autistic people of colour are then subject to unnecessary suspicion, not just because of racial stereotypes but also because of ableism. These intersecting stereotypes may even lead to Autistic people of colour being at greater risk of coming into unnecessary contact with police, experiencing discrimination and exclusion, or even experiencing violence. 

Another example would be, that many Autistic women, Autistic trans people and non-binary people, as well as Autistic people of colour, have a hard time getting diagnosed because of stereotypes about what Autistic people look like

Their experiences of being Autistic are impacted by other parts of their identity. The stereotypes about what Autistic people look like, are not just based in preconceptions about autism and Disabled people, but also preconceptions about race and gender. It’s important to challenge all of these preconceptions when trying to change people’s views about Autistic people. 

In this second example, the difficulty in getting diagnosed might result in certain policies having unexpected impacts on people because of their race and/or gender. For instance, if most of the funding for supporting Autistic people is directed to supports for very young children, and some Autistic people are not being diagnosed until they are older due to stereotypes about gender or race, those people are going to be more likely to miss out on what support is available. No one is setting out to deny support to Autistic people on the basis of gender or race, but by failing to look at the intersections between gender, race and disability, those policies disproportionately result in Autistic people with particular identities being at a greater disadvantage. This process is called systemic discrimination, or institutional discrimination. 

Being intersectional as an organization means that we strive to be aware of these different experiences, and that we listen to Autistic people when they tell us how other aspects of their identity impact their experiences of being Autistic. 

We understand that different aspects of discrimination overlap and that we need to be aware of how other forms of oppression impact Autistic people’s experiences. It is not enough to simply oppose ableism without looking at other forms of inequality and how those inequalities impact Autistic people. 

Additional information:

The Theory Of Intersectionality: A New Lens For Understanding The Barriers Faced By Autistic Women 

For More info on intersectional advocacy check out our the Books and Films List on our Resources page. 

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