Beyond Issue Area: Thoughts on Intersectionality for International Women’s Day

I’m not interested in this idea that everybody is only an identity, and I’m definitely not interested in this idea that there are blank issues, like women’s issues or Black issues…If you are really good at hurting black people, you will indeed hurt the environment, I promise you…So I don’t know why we think, in order to make narratives that somehow help us politically, we have to take people down to some kind of identity, as if that identity does not encapsulate the entirety of humanity and the entirety of humanity’s needs.

As the Libra team continues to reflect on the events of the past year, the words of poet Jericho Brown resonate stronger than ever. What is an issue area? The same folks who violently stampeded the Capitol are the same folks stripping women of their reproductive rights. The same folks who stand behind police after they hunt Black bodies are the same folks who deny that mass extraction has led to climate change. 

As an all women of color program team at Libra who hold multiple identities – Black, Latinx, Asian, first-generation, and many more – we’re committed to intersectional practices in all that we do. But we are living through times where a transformational framework coined by Black feminists has become empty rhetoric, losing its meaning by misuse and co-optation by those not grounded in social justice.

In honor of International Women’s Day, we want to shed some light on what intersectionality means to us and how it informs what we do. 

In 1991, Kimberlé Crenshaw wrote about intersectionality as a framework in this article. We like this definition Crenshaw states in a more recent interview

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.

Libra’s guiding principle is that those who are closest to the issues understand those issues the best. This means resourcing marginalized communities of color building power from the ground up, engaging their local communities, and building strong ecosystems for profound social change. This is only possible through deep collaboration and the constant refusal to silo issues. We use program areas as a way of ensuring resources are being distributed across issues guided by folks with leadership, lived experience, and expertise. We all work together closely and understand that justice in one area cannot exist without justice in another.

For all of us at Libra, this understanding comes from our own lives, our own lived experiences as women of color experiencing the collision of oppressions. As funders, it is critical that we support movements without forcing them into just one of our program areas. We seek to fund solutions that reflect the mosaic of our experiences in order to build a different kind of world.

In solidarity with International Women’s Day, we want to join the chorus of voices that are amplifying the specific ways women (cis and trans), girls, femmes, and gender nonconforming folks are experiencing systemic oppression from all sides, and simultaneously, the brilliant grassroots, cross-cutting work happening around the country.

Black women in America are disproportionately affected by mass incarceration, yet they are too often left out of mainstream conversations about criminal justice reform. Over the last twenty years, the number of women in prison grew by 832%, nearly twice the rate for men during the same period. Since 1991, The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that the number of children with mothers in prison has doubled, up to 131%, while the number of children with a father in prison has grown by 77%.

That’s why racial justice groups like BYP100 launched She Safe, We Safe, a national transformative movement campaign to put an end to the different forms of gender violence that Black women, girls, and gender non-conforming people face everyday. BYP100’s message is clear – if we want to protect, trust, and love Black women, then we must reallocate funding from policing to community-determined safety and increase interventions that build a world where Black women can thrive.

Within the United States prison industrial complex, women of color face specific attacks that mirror extreme injustices of the past. Forced sterilization (of Native and Latina women) and disturbing experimentation on female slaves don’t seem very far away when we consider the 2020 complaint published by Project South that reveals inhumane treatment of immigrants at Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, more specifically, the rate at which hysterectomies are performed on immigrant women. Project South cultivates strong social movements in the South and does so with an explicit focus on the myriad ways women of color experience oppression.

There are innumerable ways gender justice and criminal justice are irrefutably bound, just as gender justice is bound to environmental justice and the multiple lenses through which we do our work. It Takes Roots, for example, is a formation of alliances, led by Black, Indigenous, People of Color, women, trans, and gender non-conforming people, representing communities on the frontlines fighting for racial, housing, and climate justice and Indigenous sovereignty. ITR was co-created by Climate Justice Alliance, Right to the City Alliance, Indigenous Environmental Network, and Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, all of which explicitly focus on women as those disproportionately impacted by environmental degradation, housing instability, and abuse, and simultaneously, women as prolific organizers and care providers with relentless dedication. 

All four anchor groups have seats at The Green New Deal Network table, home to the Thrive Agenda, a bold plan for economic renewal that centers marginalized people, particularly women of color that are farmworkers and domestic workers – the women that make all other work possible. This table is large and inclusive, and the network includes Movement for Black Lives and Working Families (both Libra grantees) because its leadership understands that our campaigns and policies need to be as multifaceted as we are.

As funders, and more importantly as people, we need to see every individual in their complexity. No single story, or single issue, defines a human being’s existence. At Libra, we know we haven’t arrived at a perfect strategy (there isn’t one), but we are in the loving practice of asking ourselves, each other, and the movement partners we work with hard questions about how women, cis and trans, and gender non-conforming people are harmed or supported by any given action.  When we uplift BIPOC women, we uplift everyone and our solutions and strategies must boldly reflect that.

Amir Khadar can be found on Instagram (@amir.khadar) and Twitter (@AmirKhadar).