This is exactly how Kimberlé Crenshaw, the legal scholar who coined the term, defined it. In an interview with Columbia Law School in 2017, she explained, “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there. Many times that framework erases what happens to people who are subject to all of these things.” Crenshaw’s definition urges us to resist our desire to oversimplify and equate different types of oppression. This doesn’t necessarily mean that experiences of discrimination don’t matter equally. But it does mean that they aren’t exactly analogous. They are unique and require us to listen and pay attention.
So how is it that in so much of my Jewish community, intersectionality has become a bad word? Perhaps it started at the 2017 Chicago Dyke March when a group of Jewish marchers held up a pride flag with a Jewish star in the center. The marchers were asked to leave or get rid of the sign. The stated reason: intersectionality. Ironically, the marchers were the ones embodying intersectionality, representing both their Jewish and queer identities at once. But the organizers, in an attempt to make Palestinians feel included, excluded Jews. Regardless of whether or not the marchers intended the Jewish star as a symbol for the state of Israel, the organizers acted on a misinterpretation, directly privileging one experience of oppression, that of Palestinian queer people, over another, that of Jewish queer people. More recently, National Women’s March organizer Tamika Mallory, while touting intersectionality, has refused to denounce Louis Farrakhan . Understandably after these high-profile instances that have had an extended airtime in the media, many Jewish people have now come to see intersectionality as a way for left-wing social movements to exclude Jews and Zionists.
Something like the Women’s March should be the epitome of true intersectionality: women marching for women’s rights, dignity and empowerment no matter if they are Jewish, Palestinian, Black, White, Muslim, Christian, Queer, Trans, or more than one of these identities.
Unfortunately, some leaders of the Women’s March largely overlook the points of intersection–in other words, they use “but” where it would be appropriate to use “and.” Feminism is for Jewish women and Black women. For Zionists and Palestinians. None of these identities undermine the reality of the next. We seem to have forgotten that groups of people, by existing, are not and should not be mutually exclusive. We have forgotten that empathy, not a standard of moral purity, is the cornerstone of intersectionality.
This word that has for so long made me feel visible is now being misinterpreted to erase me. Jewish writers write articles accusing me of anti-Semitism for still supporting the Women’s March and intersectional feminism. Feminist writers accuse me of phony allyship for foregrounding anti-Semitism in a much larger fight for liberation. Each of these groups wants me to privilege one identity over the other, but intersectionality taught me that this was not only unnecessary, but impossible.
Although the recent controversy has felt painful and personal, I will continue to participate in movements like the Women’s March. Rather than taking myself out of the conversation, I will bring my full self to the table, Judaism, Zionism, and all. Maybe intersectionality is too long and complicated a word. Why use seventeen letters when you only need three? I’m Jewish and bisexual and Feminist and Zionist, and I support Palestinian human rights, and I believe Black Lives Matter. And I know better than to choose one over the other.
Abigail Fisher is a 17-year-old senior at The Heschel School. She is an alumna of the Jewish Women’s Archive’s Rising Voices Fellowship, as well as a Bronfman fellow. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post and the Jewish Daily Forward. She will be attending Wesleyan University in the fall.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of Lilith Magazine.