The term intersectionality was created by Kimberlé Crenshaw to help us think about the ways that “multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage sometimes compound themselves” and create unique problems for certain groups of people. Often, these problems that are not experienced in the same ways as other who share some of the same facets (or parts) of identity.
“the reality is that you have people like myself who are Black, disabled, and women and so many other things. And when you live at the intersections of all three of those, then you can’t split your political and social dynamics between these three different groups” – Keri Gray in Intersectionality & Disability, ft Keri Gray, the Keri Gray Group #DisabilityDemandsJustice – YouTube
In the United States, identity impacts our lives in ways that we often don’t recognize. Where we live and go to school, our access to resources, our healthcare needs and access are all affected by our many facets of identity. All of this shapes the information and data we need, the ways we seek it, and how well we can comprehend it.
Understanding how this works in our communities can help libraries and staff plan services and develop collections that meet the needs of Disabled people should not be an afterthought while planning library and information services. Libraries, as local community institutions that purport to be anchors or third places (Elmborg, 2011), can impact the way individuals and groups experience their communities and their ability to seek access to various kinds of information.
In their blog post What is Intersectionality?, Misty Dawn suggests a few ways to acknowledge and embrace intersectionality:
- Recognize that all unique experience of identity are valid. Especially those that involve multiple overlapping oppressions.
- “Do not shy away from recognizing that people experience the world differently based on their overlapping identity markers.”
- Avoid using language that seeks to define people by a singular identity marker.
- Understand and realize that your experiences are not a baseline. Be open to listening to others’ points of view.
Graphic: Images of Intersectionality
Pause for Reflection
Answer the following questions on your own, thinking about the graphic above:
- What facets of your identity are represented in this graphic?
- How do they intersect and impact how you move through the world?
- Are there facets of identity that are no included in this graphic? How might this speak to how parts of identity are overlooked or marginalized in your community or culture?
To Learn More About…
What is disability identity development, and why is that important? (Tennessee Works)
Can disability be an identity without defining us? (The Mighty)
My disability, my identity (World Economic Forum)
Critical Disability Theory (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Self Advocacy and Intersectionality : Black Girls with Learning Disabilities
(The National Center for Learning Disabilities)
Respond in Your Library
- Review your libraries policies for user conduct while in the library. How might your policies affect users with disabilities? Do they discriminate against disabled community members?
- Reflect on and review your library’s disability community. How are their voices incorporated into library in decision making, collection development, and library design/functionality? Is there a way for disabled users to provide anonymous feedback and is this feedback valued?
- Are there currently any disability advocates or experts employed at your library? If not, are you partnering with local organizations or nonprofits for their feedback or input? Are these people or partners being properly compensated for their time and efforts?