ON INTERSECTIONALITY: A workshop

It's the end of June and, for many, this time means a new chapter in their life journey. For example, my newsfeed on social media has been filled with "today is my last day!" posts by friends who are starting new jobs on July 1. I, and my partner, are two of those people (wheeee!!)

But, what I also noticed about this group of people is that they were almost all (save a few) people of color in education. Hmm....? Interesting. 

Okay, you may be thinking, "Wait, why is that interesting? I don't get it." Or, perhaps you're thinking, "Dang, Liza. Yes, I know, right?"

Why two responses? Well, I think that has to do with intersectionality. 

intersectionality is a term coined by legal scholar and activist, Kimberle Crenshaw. She describes it as the study of how overlapping or intersecting identities -- particularly minoritized ones -- relate to systems of oppression, dominance, and discrimination. She originally was looking at the ways in which Black women experienced oppression and discrimination due to their ethnicity, economic background, and sexuality. 

So, again, why two responses? 

Well, for some of us who hold identities that are often marginalized or minoritized, we're like, "Yeah, I call that behavior 'Tuesday.' There is nothing special about it. Happens all the time." For those who hold identities that are often privileged, it's not a first-reaction to think about how the statement or scenario is one that highlights oppression. 

One of the greatest gifts I have had in my career has been the opportunity to have these kinds of conversations with people as young as 6 and as old as .. well.. it's not polite to ask ages (okay, 66+). But, one group that I often get asked to speak with is teenagers.

I've had the privilege of working with an incredible group of young girls and women called Girls Rock Boston. For the past two years, I've facilitated workshops on intersectional feminism, in particular. Seriously? Shout out to Girls Rock Boston for even hosting these! YOU ROCK!

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I've been asked to summarize the kinds of things we talk about with this group, and I hope you use this post as a resource to talk with young people of all genders and gender identities about this. The more we understand and embrace an intersectional lens, the more likely we are to be advocates for justice and equity. 

Great videos

Here are some videos that I have found to be particularly helpful when talking about intersectionality with teens. 

  • This one here is from Teaching Tolerance. Nice job, folks! It is easy to understand but also names the privileges and the ways in which intersectionality was designed to explore issues with and within marginalized groups. 
  • I appreciate this one here by Soyheat because it's children describing it to children. I wish they had leaned more into the aspect of intersectionality being about really looking at marginalized identities, but it was a good beginner video. 
  • And, this from Kimberle Crenshaw herself from the NAIS conference. And, again, note that in the description it clarifies that this is about a lens of "overlapping or intersecting social identities—and particularly minority identities—relate to systems and structures of discrimination"
 Photo: Kimberle Crenshaw Twitter

Photo: Kimberle Crenshaw Twitter

Okay, so you watched these videos. Are you getting what I'm trying to drive home here? Intersectionality, in many ways, has morphed over time -- probably by well intentioned people -- to simply mean "all these identities." Right? Like, I've been in so many rooms where people are all, "I'm intersectional! See, I have all these different things going on, too!" But, hold up. That's not what we're talking about here. Identity doesn't mean intersectionality. Don't get it? Watch Kimberle Crenshaw here and take a listen. It's only about a minute, so rewind and listen to it again. 

Catch it? She's saying that intersectionality is about the structure that "make certain identities the consequence of and the vehicle for vulnerability." 

Okay, so what do I do in workshops?

I have people talk. For teenagers, I give a brief primer on intersectionality, and then I let them struggle through it a bit. After all, it is in that struggle that real learning happens -- a real reckoning with who we believe ourselves to be. 

Here are questions I typically ask. Play along! How would you answer these if you were in one of my workshops?

  • You have about 60 seconds. Using those 60 seconds, what are all the words that come to mind when I say, "Describe all the parts that make up your identity." I don't structure that question much beyond that - they are 12-16 year olds. Let them think. Let them explore. 
  • Now, taking into consideration that big list you just created, where are the places where you feel you can be all of those identities? Where are all of those identities accepted?
  • Where are the places where you need to hide or dampen those identities? 
  • Our lives are made up of people and structures (and a whole lot of other things). Who can you be all of those parts of yourself with? Who are you with when you have to dampen those parts of yourself? 
  • What do you experience when you can be your fullest self? What do you experience when you have to dampen or hide aspects of yourself?
  • How true is it that people can be their fullest identities when they are with you? How do you know that?
  • How true is it that people have to dampen or hide their fullest identities when they are with you? What would it mean if that were true?
  • In thinking about a place where you can be your fullest self, what rules, behaviors, attitudes or norms exist in that place that let you be your fullest self?
  • In thinking about a place where you have to hide or dampen your fullest self, what rules, behaviors, attitudes or norms exist in that place? 

Now, look over your answers. Use the remainder of this paper to draw those structures that keep you and others from being their fullest selves. Next to those structures, write down 1 thing that society (e.g., our government, laws, places, rules) should be different in order to live your fullest self. Now, write down 1 thing YOU can do to create change or make a difference in attitudes, behaviors or norms of a place.

Okay? Now, what's stopping you? What do you need to move forward? Who do you need to talk to, connect to, get help from in order to make change? 

So, there it is. A Liza Talusan workshop on intersectionality for teens. 

The key is doing this in a way that really privileges developmental processes at this age -- making it real-world focused, self-reflective, and action-oriented. 

Alright. How did you do? 

Interested in learning more about my workshops or bringing me in to facilitate a learning experience for your group or organization? Send me a note and contact me here

Peace and love, 

Liza