There is more to power and privilege than a White face. Justice advocates of any stripe have to be prepared to challenge the problematic norms they participate in just as much as those they are working to dismantle. This was the main thrust of a recent panel discussion on feminism and intersectionality held on March 30. It was sponsored by Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a youth led policy think tank, in conjunction with Hollaback Baltimore, an organization which works to end street harassment of women.

Intersectionality is the idea that various forms of oppression – say racism and sexism – intersect, requiring responses that take into account various perspectives without any necessarily dominating the others.

The forum was part of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle’s monthly series of Malcolm X Talks, which consist of seminars and workshops on issues related to the Black experience in America and advocacy in the Black community. Saida Agostini, director of LGBTQ resources for FreeState Legal Project, spoke to the need some feel to highlight a specific form of oppression to the exclusion of others as they work towards liberation.

“You have so many people who are hungry to hear and understand what is freedom. What will freedom look like for me? How can I be engaged in a movement that is calling for action? Yet we’re constrained or we’re limited because we’re so fearful that if we start to acknowledge the multiplicity of identities that we all hold erase people, then, all of a sudden, we will lose our ability to be free ourselves,” said Agostini.


The panelists, all Black women, agreed that no one form of oppression takes precedence over another, and that the pursuit of justice must benefit all persons, not just some.

There was more variety of opinion, however, on the topic of self-identifying as a ‘feminist,’ with some feeling that feminist movements have failed to adequately include the perspectives of women of color and therefore preferring not to identify by the term, and others embracing it while acknowledging that no one term can fully describe someone’s personhood.

“At all times I believe that I, as a woman, should be heard, and respected, and valued, and that everyone else in my community deserves that kind of respect and value as well,” said Amber Phillips, former field organizing director for UltraViolet, of her self-identification as a feminist. “But I can’t separate out the fact that I’m a Black woman in any space that I’m in, whether that’s in the office or at home with my family.”

Jetaime Ross, an instructor at the Baltimore Free School, said that because feminism has not always been intersectional, it is important to identify as an ‘intersectional feminist,’ and that such an intersectional stance speaks more authentically to what feminism is.

“Feminism is not about female domination . . . feminism is about the freedom of everyone,” said Ross.

For A. Adar Ayira, director of the More in the Middle Initiative of the Associated Black Charities, the key is to focus less on particular labels that describe one’s orientation towards the question of justice and more on the quest for justice itself. “Because if we talk about justice, then we’re not talking about justice for just some,” said Ayira. “We’re talking about the concept of justice and that concept is intersectional.”

Ayira gave the example of the phrase ‘Black lives matter,’ which she said has been used in a way that suggests really only Black straight male lives matter, and that just as long as they have no blemishes on their record. This raises a need, then, for advocates to turn their critical lens on themselves.

“Let’s call what we do , the ways in which we operate out of a patriarchal philosophy, the ways in which we operate out of a homophobic, cisgender philosophy, the ways in which we operate out of a classbased philosophy, let’s call those things out in a way that we as a justice community never ever do,” said Ayira.