Namitha Rathinappillai (she/they) is a queer, Tamil, disabled poet and academic living on unceded and unsurrendered Algonquin Anishinaabeg territory, colonially known as Ottawa, Canada. They are a two-time Canadian Festival of Spoken Word (CFSW) team member and represented Ottawa at the Canadian Individual Poetry Slam (CIPS) in 2021. She published her first chapbook titled Dirty Laundry with Battleaxe Press in November of 2018. In 2019, they won the RBC Youth Ottawa Spirit of the Capital Award for Arts and Culture. Having completed her Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice at Carleton University in 2021, Namitha is now an MA Candidate in Sociology at York University.
Listen to the audio version of this text, performed by the author.
Intersectionality: A Play In 3 Acts
I am woman when I am raised in the air by the doctor,
my gender, declared by my genitals.
I wear a tongue-in-cheek shade of pink to every occasion.
A bow in my hair so that my girlhood never goes unnoticed.
Strangers in my life read my future like a crystal ball.
Tell me I will remain untouched until worthy,
pure until union,
beautiful before anything else.
All this read from the palm of a newborn infant.
I am told and not asked what I want.
My life, a road trip I am given the directions for but never the keys to.
I am taught to be out of sight,
I am (woman and) brown at age five when I think my best friend more attractive than me
because of and not despite
I learn to pray every morning that when I wipe down the foggy mirror,
my distorted reflection, an unknown complexion,
will be a white face, instead.
I learn a new lesson on silence.
I do not move when the white girls compare their tanned forearms to mine in the blistering heat,
do not flinch when I am spoken over by the white people in the room.
In my own family, this lesson of silence is one I am homeschooled for, too.
I am taught to be out of sight when I am not serving others.
My only companions in the kitchen are the cardamom pods in the milk tea,
I am (woman and brown and) queer at age 18 when I leave my high school in the dust
and finally see faces like mine love the way I have been embarrassed to do for years.
I meet queer adults with dark skin and know now that I am the descendant
of something beautiful.
Something worth a lineage.
I learn yet another lesson on silence when the white gays talk about their families that know,
and still love them the same.
When they share coming out stories like it is hazing to be accepted into queerness,
I look at my palms and realize
I do not know where these intersecting lines will lead me,
but I know it will be somewhere new.
I am woman at birth
brown at five,
queer at 18.
These parts of me found in myself in succession,
and now, I am all at once.
- Black scholar and leading critical race theorist, Kimberlé Crenshaw, coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 to describe the violence and discrimination faced by Black women. Crenshaw notes the term has subsequently become “a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects” (CLS, 2017). Why is it significant that this term has its genesis in Black identity?
- How is your identity a unique constellation of varying degrees of disparity? To begin, think about race, gender, sexuality, class, age, ability, credentialed/formal education, fertility, and citizenship. What other aspects of identity create disparity?
- What are some experiences of intersectionality that you have faced? How have they privileged or disadvantaged you? Think about what ways or things you have been able or unable to do, say, exhibit, act because of your identities.
- How might major institutions (e.g., academia, healthcare) apply an understanding on intersectionality to provide more inclusive guidance?
First, take a few moments to reflect on the privileges you hold. Do you notice how they affect how you move through the world? Next, complete this quiz on the Buzzfeed website. How does your score compare to others? Given that this quiz was made in 2014 by a popular media company, how would you update or revise it? What are your criticisms and praises regarding this exercise? Lastly, how does privilege tie into the discussion of intersectionality?
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