“When you begin to understand the biology of human variation, you have to ask yourself if race is a good way to describe that.”–Janis Hutchinson, Biological Anthropologist
Where Do You Come From?
Gender and Sexual Orientation
Sexual orientation refers to a person’s preference for sexual or romantic relationships; one may prefer a partner of the same sex, the opposite sex, or both. Sexual orientation influences one’s worldview or politics because while all societies include members who identify as gay or lesbian, these members do not always receive the same social or health benefits as heterosexual couples. However, this is changing. As of 2015, the Supreme Court of the Unites States made gay marriage legal in all 50 states. On top of these specific benefits, those with a nondominant sexual orientation might still have to contend on a daily basis that some people think they are deviant or somehow less than heterosexual people and couples. This may result in strained family relationships or discrimination in the workplace.
The Role of Money
Individuals cannot look simply at race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, ability, disability, religion, and social class in isolation. Instead, we must look at identity as a combination of these. Cultural identities have many parts that all factor into an individual's identity. Intersectionality is the theory that shows how multiple systems of power and oppression operate on individuals in various degrees that directly corresponds to their identity (Crenshaw, 1989). Intersectionality was a theory articulated by Kimberle Crenshaw, an American civil rights advocate, in the late 1980’s. A United States citizen and a Burmese citizen both growing up in modern times will not have equal opportunities. One might think that the US citizen will have more opportunities based on national privilege. But if the Burmese citizen is from a higher socioeconomic class than the American, the Burmese individual may have more opportunities. Other factors such as race, sexuality and ability also play into how many and which opportunities will be available.
Another example from Kimberle Crenshaw from her 1989 journal article Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics states: “Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in an intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination. . . . But it is not always easy to reconstruct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries simply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts to determine which driver caused the harm.”
Intersectionality is important for intercultural communication because individuals must realize not only the duality but the depth of identities. This theory is useful for critical analysis because it illuminates the different ways systems of oppression overlap and how systems of privilege and oppression can manifest simultaneously on an individual (Allen, 2010). It is easy for people to assume because they are one thing that is it their whole identity, just like not every feminist’s agenda is the same and not every Syrian’s views are the same. Intersectionality is a key to intercultural communication because it reminds individuals that systems of power although do not operate uniformly and effect how people will receive and transmit messages.