Intersectionality Matters (and here’s why)

"People of color and many other minority groups find themselves struggling to get people to understand their story... Sheriffs, mayors, governors, representatives, congressmen, presidents, and oil companies move forward on their agenda as if an entire group of people were non-existent. THEY DON’T HEAR US." Kimberly Riofrio, a Montgomery County activist in Progressive Maryland, defends a conscious and dynamic -- if sometimes uncomfortable -- awareness of diversity in our progressive movements.

/By Kimberly Riofrio/ As a first-generation Indigenous Ecuadorian-American Woman, I often find myself having to prove my own experiences. As I write that I think, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t. When I speak up, I’m told to be quiet. The more I connect with people, I realize I’m not the only one. This is happening everywhere and the consequences have been disastrous.

Transgender women are dying. No one is talking about it. Black and brown families are faced with racism every day, lives are lost and yet up until Trump came into office, many people believed racism was a thing of the past. I kept hearing, “how did this happen?” If you found yourself baffled at how we ended up with Trump as our president and this apparent rise in KKK groups, you haven’t been listening. I promise not to bash you. Please keep reading.

People of color and many other minority groups find themselves struggling to get people to understand their story. It’s infuriatingly true. If a group out there does decide to listen, there is such a disconnect between experiences and perspectives that our missions remain limited. Then we have people that just really don’t get it because it’s their privilege not to. This is why when BLM activists protest, you will immediately find articles, posts, tweets, and blogs describing them as “disruptive.” Native American treaties have been broken so many times their issues barely exist to most post-colonial Americans. Sheriffs, mayors, governors, representatives, congressmen, presidents, and oil companies move forward on their agenda as if an entire group of people were non-existent. THEY DON’T HEAR US.

Our water is toxic and our children are being poisoned. Yet, nothing has changed. Communities of color have the highest asthma rates but somehow the environmental crisis seems to be an issue for “white hippies” and not a racial or an economic one. How is that possible? Some brown children are being deported to war zones, others condemned to remain there, both by no fault of their own. People respond with “that’s just how it is. You can’t save everyone.” Why do we have to go to great lengths to prove our worth? If we all continue to stand alone in our efforts we will continue in the same trajectory and not be heard. We would continue to praise ourselves making slight changes but decades later asking ourselves why we were still making the same protest signs.

What is the solution here? How do we get the people on the Hill to listen? How do we light a fire under the ass of people in charge? Progressive groups are organizing to replace local positions. Great. How do we make sure we get people that truly get all of our needs? How do we get people to listen to all of us? We need to do our part to build power behind all of our voices and build some amazing relationships along the way.

At least 470,000 people came out to the Women’s March in Washington, DC alone! What if these fabulous women turned around and stood with our transgender sisters? Are they not women who are oppressed and told their lives are worth less? Are we not riding on the same ocean waters? What if those protestors stood by BLM protestors? Are they not mothers, sisters, and aunts that care for their children? That’s just women alone, imagine the numbers! What if protestors of all genders, races, ethnic and religious backgrounds came together and called city council members and representatives, and the administration demanding we respect Native American treaties and halt the North Dakota Access Pipeline? What if we all got mad together? What if we remind them they won’t get our vote next term? Don’t live in their districts? What if you help spread the word to people in the area so his/her constituents switch their votes? What if we all demanded our cities, banks, colleges, and businesses to divest and reinvest in our communities? Sounds like a fairy tale? Google the words “divest, South Africa, apartheid.”

We don’t have the privilege to stand alone. And no, it is definitely not enough to say, “I’m a Democrat.” Our political parties don’t represent clear-cut positions on racist vs. non-racist issues. They certainly don’t represent clear-cut positions on environmental issues. We had Democrats refer to Black Americans as “super predators.” We had Democratic presidents sending undocumented children back to a war zone that our country had part in creating. We had Democratic presidents endorse the Keystone Pipeline and lease out more ocean waters for further drilling. Just like we have Republicans that want to rip our resources from under our feet so the wealthy can lead more cushioned lives as poor children starve – and continue to claim climate change is based on inconclusive data. We have representatives from both sides take part in destroying our planet. So it isn’t a matter of party loyalty. That’s bullshit. It’s time to call a spade for a spade.

The distraction needs to stop and true unity amongst the people needs to start. Here are some thoughts on how to get the momentum going and conversations happening in hope to stimulate change and bring unity:

  1. Grassroots movements start with people talking to each other; please make sure your group is diverse, in ALL sense of the word.
  2. Have an organization already working on a specific cause? Team up with other organizations with a different cause but share a common struggle. For example, if you are in an organization dedicated to saving the environment, reach out to the local Native American Tribes! Reach out to the parents and teachers of students whose schools still have lead in their tap water.
  3. Women Rights chapters taking action? Reach out to the Transwomen community and really make sure no women are taken advantage of.
  4. You have every weekend booked with protests and can’t make all of them? Make sure you attend at least one that stands up for a community of color.
  5. You hear about an issue that affects minorities? Email your representative. Call them. It only takes a few minutes. Make sure they know you won’t vote them next time. This is probably the biggest bang for the smallest amount of your time.
  6. Talk to people. It may be awkward at first, but you would be surprised at how talking to one another can genuinely create a wonderful connection.
  7. If you live in a gentrified community and you aren’t black, brown, or poor, please understand you purchased a home through a system that keeps black and brown people impoverished. So please support black and brown small business owners over that chain business down the street. Hire local artists to paint murals and beautify the community. Empower local artists by checking out local performances. Whether you intended it or not, don’t be the bully. Uplift your neighbors and you will be surprised at how you will truly uplift yourself.

Our issues may appear to just be our own but the problem with that is we limit our voice. We limit ourselves when trying to implement change. We limit ourselves to connecting with other human beings. We limit our people power. I used to think knowledge was power, but really it’s an avenue. PEOPLE=POWER. So if you are on a mission for change, ask yourself who else is affected? If you are tired of not being heard team up with people and you will be empowered to do greatness. If you are on a mission for change, stop and ask who else is traveling on this path and team up. Together we are a force to be reckoned with.