Growing up in a homogeneous, traditional suburb of Georgia, intersectionality was a concept I didn’t hear about often, let alone understood fully until coming to Penn. But upon reflection, it was the word I had been looking for to describe most of my life.
Being black, gay, and female, not a single day goes by that I’m not acutely aware of how I am perceived for any one of my identities, and that I don’t actively consider how every decision I make reflects upon them. In a given day, if I’m not stereotyped when because of my race, it’s my intelligence and work ethic being insulted because of my sex, or my mere mental state questioned because of my sexuality.
As if these feelings of constantly being stereotyped and internally pressured to uphold some sort of model minority image for each of my identities alone aren’t enough, they are only intensified when you consider that they intersect in the same person—like me. In a predominantly white and heteronormative country, where men continue to dominate top positions of corporate and political power, growing up with little representation and no public figure to look up to who looks exactly like you and relates exactly to you isn’t easy.
Accepting myself was difficult growing up. Not to mention, it was hard to find a community that accepted me for everything I am. From homophobia within the black community to white feminism, it’s easy to feel like no one understands you fully. While I’m very much okay with every identity of myself today, constantly being reminded and hyperaware of each of these individual and intersectional stereotypes—and actively combating them daily—is tiring and at times overwhelming.
Stereotypes like the angry black woman prevent me from ever speaking about these issues regularly, or on platforms such as this one. All minorities, but black women in particular, are too often discounted and marginalized for their voice on issues directly affecting them.
From Serena Williams to the late Kim Porter, the phenomenon of is just one of the most recent serious examples of this. But these aren't just one–off incidents, and this isn’t just happening in hospital rooms. From academic and extracurricular settings at Penn alone, to politics and media in the larger society, the silencing of black women and subsequent labeling of them as “angry” or incompetent when they do speak unfortunately remains very real today.
Growing up with a liberal but very religious family, I experienced this dynamic firsthand when attending black church every Sunday, and being surrounded by black film and black music regularly. I became increasingly aware of the toxic homophobia in the black community and the real psychological and economic hardships black LGBTQ youth face because of it. And I began to call out the hypocritical belief and the scapegoating of religion to justify it.
To accept Christian principles like "love thy neighbor" and to simultaneously “disagree” with the “lifestyle choices” of the LGBTQ community is not only paradoxical but absurd. No sexuality is intrinsically immoral, and any Black person in America who refuses to acknowledge this is simply furthering the same logic used to their oppress their ancestors. While getting better, this cultural ignorance and selective religious outrage unfortunately remains a reality for so many black youth today.
Being gay and female, like every other intersectional identity, presents its own struggles. From black “hoteps” who propagate heteronormative gender superiority beliefs, to black men who refuse to condone the terrifying actions of Bill Cosby and like their own life depends on it, sexism and hypocrisy isn’t limited to any race either.
From television to film, the overuse of the flamboyant, white gay male caricature has not only profited off the appropriation of traditional black female culture, but propagated the false standard of what “gay” looks like in 2018 and silo representation of LGBTQ women.
Stereotypes of LGBTQ women as man–haters or raging social activists are other examples of the damaging byproducts of underrepresentation. Furthermore, girl–on–girl relationships are often dismissed as phases. While these anecdotes may seem trivial, the widespread use of girl–on–girl relationships as means of entertainment for men is more than present today and continues to entertain the delegitimization of such relationships across the country.
Constantly having to be aware of any one of the identities mentioned is tiring, but the feeling is compounded when identifying with all three. It's easy to say that we should simply forget about identities and live in a post–judgement society. But not only does the concept of being “race–blind” neglect the beauty and value of individual cultures, it also ignores the fact that my race, sex, and sexuality are all still subject to the implicit biases and historical effects of discrimination imposed and allowed by the majority of those in power today.
Simply put, I don’t have the opportunity to mess up. Blacks, females and LGBTQ individuals are still judged in a discriminatory light compared to their counterparts for the same actions. When involved in criminal activity, black youth are delinquents while white youth are “just being kids.”
One identity does not dismiss the discrimination of another. If anything, identifying as a minority should prompt people to fight for other minorities.
Despite every stereotype, every microaggression, every stare I get that’s just a little too long, every racist, sexist, homophobic, off–hand comment or “joke,” I love every single one of my identities and never want to be anything different. While it’s lonely to be isolated by those you care most for, and tiring to feel responsible for upholding a model minority image, every aspect of who I am is too unique. I would never exchange the struggles I face just to conform.
I also know my situation could be much worse. I come from a high socioeconomic background, I have always lived in safe environment, I’m not disabled or chronically ill, and I attend one of the best universities in the country. But the conditions faced by Blacks, women, and LGBTQ individuals in the United States—let alone the world—are still not where it should be or can be.
While we, as students, may not be able to impact racism, sexism, and homophobia on a national scale, we can control how we interact with each other daily. By being aware of each other’s backgrounds, and actively working to understand the challenges we face, we can work to create a more inclusive and functioning environment that works better not only for minority communities but for everyone.