Arts & Sciences

Intersectionality Explained: A tool to practice diversity

February 25, 2019 by Victoria Lim
How many identities do you have?
Lata Murti, Ph.D. is an associate professor of sociology at Brandman University.                    


Every person has more than just one. Even if they choose to compartmentalize or separate them, it’s likely the world does not. That intersection of race, gender, age, class, and a myriad of other categories – also known as intersectionality – and the understanding of it can help resolve many of the societal, workplace and healthcare issues we face today, according to Lata Murti, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology for Brandman University.

“Hopefully (intersectionality) helps us learn about others and learn about diversity. Not just about our differences, but about privilege and experiences. Experiences that we connect with some people on, but also take a step back and learn about identities that we don’t share with others,” said Murti.

Murti says intersectionality can help in the practice of diversity. She points to a recent example of a measles outbreak in New York, Washington, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and Texas just since the start of 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last year, 17 outbreaks were reported.

“Most families or parents who are choosing not to vaccinate children are educated, white, upper-income families. This is interesting. We have the stereotype in the U.S. that it’s people different from us – people of color, immigrants, or poor who tend to…carry more diseases,” she said. “You have to look at it in terms of who is not getting vaccinated, and who is.”

Perhaps because of racial and income privilege, those now suffering from the outbreaks have never known or seen how horrible diseases like measles could be, which leads to choosing not to vaccinate, Murti theorized. Understanding the issue through an intersectional lens can help health care providers and policymakers better serve their communities.

In her book, Murti examined another example of intersectionality through first and second generation Indian doctors in southern California. Doctors shared experiences of being pulled over for “DWB” (a.k.a. “driving while black/brown”) especially in predominately white, wealthy neighborhoods. Once the officer or deputy saw the doctor’s white coat or doctor’s badge, the doctor would receive an apology and be free to go.

“This is not just about their race or their gender or their class status as doctors. To understand that whole experience and the assumptions the officers made initially, and then the change of heart, you have to take an intersectional lens. I would hope those going into criminal justice would use that example and think about intersectionality and how that might help you or others not make assumptions about people,” Murti said.

Murti encourages the use of the intersectionality lens to understand how people see others, themselves, and make decisions that affect health, well-being, security and governance. Learn more about intersectionality from Brandman University’s Facebook Live chat here.

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