When you are writing, you need to follow general principles to ensure that your language is free of bias. Here we provide guidelines for talking about intersectionality with inclusivity and respect.
When authors write about personal characteristics, they should be sensitive to intersectionality—that is, to the way in which individuals are shaped by and identify with a vast array of cultural, structural, sociobiological, economic, and social contexts (Howard & Renfrow, 2014). Intersectionality is a paradigm that addresses the multiple dimensions of identity and social systems as they intersect with one another and relate to inequality, such as racism, genderism, heterosexism, ageism, and classism, among other variables (APA, 2017b). Thus, individuals are located within a range of social groups whose structural inequalities can result in marginalized identities.
Because people are unique, many identities are possible. As one example of a group with an intersectional identity, Black lesbian women may have similarities to and differences from other oppressed groups in the meanings that are assigned to their multiple positionalities. Black women may identify with the oppressive and discriminatory experiences of White women as well as with those of Black men. At the same time, Black lesbian women’s experiences may not be equivalent to those of these other groups. They may experience discrimination as a response to their race, gender, and/or sexual orientation. Thus, their experience does not necessarily reflect the sum of oppressions of racism, sexism, and heteronormativity (i.e., race + sex + heterosexism) but rather their unique identities and social locations as Black lesbian women that are not based in or driven by the perspectives of White women or of Black men (Bowleg, 2008; Crenshaw, 1989). That is, for example, even though Black women and White women are both women, and Black women and Black men are both Black, this does not mean that the perspectives and experiences of the latter groups are the same as or related to those of Black lesbian women.
Intersectional identities also include experiences of privileged contexts that intersect with those of oppression. For example, a Laotian immigrant woman with a disability may experience a sense of safety and privilege because of her legal immigration status in the United States, but she may experience discrimination and a lack of access to appropriate resources within and outside of her family and ethnic community on the basis of her disability status. A Jewish American adolescent may experience privilege as a result of being perceived as White but may be the target of anti-Semitic slurs at school and in social media because of their religious beliefs. These examples illustrate how perspectives are shaped by the multiplicity of identities and contexts to which an individual belongs, some oppressed and some privileged. Aspects of identity such as race, gender, and class can be oppressed or privileged, in ways that may differ across contexts, and can result in differing experiences that interact dynamically to shape an individual’s experiences, advantages, and disadvantages across time and space. The intersections of multiple identities transform the oppressed and privileged aspects of each person’s layered, interlocking identities.
To address intersectionality in a paper, identify individuals’ relevant characteristics and group memberships (e.g., ability and/or disability status, age, gender, gender identity, generation, historical as well as ongoing experiences of marginalization, immigrant status, language, national origin, race and/or ethnicity, religion or spirituality, sexual orientation, social class, and socioeconomic status, among other variables), and describe how their characteristics and group memberships intersect in ways that are relevant to the study. Report participant data for each group using specific terms as described in the bias-free language pages on age, disability, gender, research participation, racial and ethnic identity, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. For example, when describing participants in terms of their race and gender, write “20 participants were African American women, 15 participants were European American women, 23 participants were African American men, and 18 participants were European American men (all participants were cisgender)” rather than “35 participants were women and 41 were men; 43 were African American and 33 were European American.” Reporting participant characteristics in this way helps readers understand how many groups there are that are composed of individuals with the same characteristics. Likewise, when reporting and interpreting the results, note the impact of any intersections on the findings rather than assuming that one characteristic is responsible for what you found. For more discussion of intersectionality, see the Multicultural Guidelines: An Ecological Approach to Context, Identity, and Intersectionality (APA, 2017b).
American Psychological Association. (2017). Multicultural guidelines: An ecological approach to context, identity, and intersectionality. https://www.apa.org/about/policy/multicultural-guidelines
Bowleg, L. (2008). When Black + woman + lesbian ≠ Black lesbian woman: The methodological challenges of quantitative and qualitative intersectionality research. Sex Roles, 59(5–6), 312–325. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9400-z
Crenshaw, K. W. (1989). Demarginalizing the intersections of race and sex: A Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory, and antiracist politics. University of Chicago Legal Forum, 1989(1), Article 8. https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/uclf/vol1989/iss1/8/
Howard, J. A., & Renfrow, D. G. (2014). Intersectionality. In J. D. McLeod, E. J. Lawler, & M. & Schwalbe (Eds.), Handbook of the social psychology of inequality (pp. 95–121). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-017-9002-4