Written By: Angela Uno, M.Ed
As I sat in my bed wide-awake at 3AM, pulse racing, palms sweaty, ready to beat the high score on a Facebook game, my identity as a person with a Bipolar II disorder became abundantly clear. My identities play a large role in my life, directing the type of movie that will play out that day –or night. Some days it is a love story about being an ‘exotic Asian woman’ in the bustling nightlife of Dallas, and other days it is a thriller about the cycles of hypomania and depression that creep up on me. Each story weaves together to tell a tale about the struggle for identity in the fast-paced life of a 23 year old. Every person has these movies play out in their life; each one unique to the categories society puts them in. The combination of these categories is called intersectionality.
I started discovering intersectionality in my junior year of high school after reading the controversial essay by Peggy McIntosh called “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” . I clearly remember being the only woman of color in my class fighting against my white female teacher about making us read this preposterous essay. I look back at the passion I had to deny the concept of privilege, and I can’t help but to laugh. There is so much irony in the fact that I had the privilege to deny privilege exists.
Today, I work as an educator in Dallas ISD in which the students are vastly different from the high income, white students I grew up with in California. When describing how DISD students are treated and how they are seen, the word ‘prison’ immediately comes to mind. First, they are bussed to school from all over the city, then they walk through metal detectors. The students have to be in certain areas of the school and the first words they hear at school tend to be “Where’s your badge”. I do what I do because of this disparity. I went to high school believing that if I did not apply to an Ivy League, I was doomed. These students can barely name one.
While many are quick to point to SES as the root of the problem, they are failing to see race, gender, sexuality, disability, English language status, citizenship, and all of the other identities that one person may have on. These identities are not easily shed nor do the people who wear them want to get rid of them. Unlike the cheesy Facebook tearjerker videos in which a low-income, Latina woman graduates as a valedictorian and becomes the first blah blah blah, people are more than just their highlight reels. There are powerful institutions that want you to believe that this story is the only story, but the cycle of failure is real.
If there’s one message I need people to understand, it is that recognizing intersectionality may be the best tool to break us out of this cycle. Denying intersectionality is an oversimplification of the problem. Talking about SES because talking about race is frightening is a problem. Talking about anything but privilege because ‘checking your privilege is so 2016’ IS A PROBLEM. Acknowledging that we all come from places of power and places of oppression is important. It means that we have common ground which allows to initiate change. It may be the spark that initiates conversation between a black woman from Oak Cliff and a white man from Highland Park because they both know what it’s like to be in a wheelchair. It may ignite people to desire progress and deny apathy. So, the first step is figuring out your own movie and then having the courage to go watch someone else’s.