"The more I wonder, the more I love.” - Alice Walker
The term "intersectionality" was first coined by Black American civil rights activist Kmberlé Williams Crenshaw, in order to describe the complex overlapping of social identities and how they intersect with systems that oppress, discriminate and dominate. Intersectionality is the idea that the whole deserves to be seen as a different entity than that of its parts.
Nothing short of brilliant, really.
A Journey of Self-Discovery
I was raised as a white woman in my country of Brazil, immersed in much financial privilege, in a family who considered looking back a mistake—I was raised to have almost no idea of who my great-grandparents were. My financial and white privilege, however, did not shelter me from gender violence.
Life has a way of turning things around, and it has broken and humbled me. I became an immigrant to Canada in 2003, and being Latina and having an accent in North America meant I no longer experienced white privilege. In 2014, I also became a single mother. Since my separation, I've immersed myself in a journey searching for a much deeper sense of identity, love, and spirituality.
This journey of growth and understanding would have been impossible without learning the term “intersectionality” and what it means. I realized that I could never own the whole of myself until I understood each one of my parts: being Latina in North America, having experienced gender violence, having repressed my sexuality since grade 3, and the list goes on. It also led me to finally remember my culture, which I had learned to repress in order to be accepted in North America.
Ultimately, it led me back home, rescuing the stories and awareness of my great-grandmother, an Indigenous woman from South America who had 22 pregnancies. This journey also brought me back to my father’s land in Salvador, in the Brazillian state of Bahia, where the Yorubá mythology—which permeated my childhood connection with nature—thrives.
A Love Letter to Black Women
This journey was firmly led and anchored by Black women. It was the poetry of Maya Angelou that showed me how to stay connected to truth. It was the sorrow in Nina Simone’s music that soothed me in my loneliest nights. It was Michelle Obama’s authenticity as a woman, mother, and leader that freed me to recognize all of those traits in myself as well. It was Oprah Winfrey’s infinite wisdom and faith that gave me hope to continue to say yes when all I wanted to say was no. And it was watching Beyoncé’s bravely portraying the Yorubá goddess of love and fertility, Oshun, that showed me I could no longer hide the fact that I am a Brazilian woman, who is also connected to that mythology.
We constantly hear the term “Black Girl Magic” without critically questioning what it really means. Instead, we dismiss Black women’s genius by equating them to girls, and their transformative power to mere magic. I think it’s time we begin to face what is, in my experience, obvious: Black women are leading the way into a new world that is still forming. They always have been. And the fact that they are so ahead of the times, makes it hard to comprehend the magnitude of their influence.
Their ability to resist, survive, and innovate is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. The Black women who have inspired me so deeply are women who have remained connected to their faith in themselves and to a higher creative power. They rose above against all the odds because they are still connected to what I think is one of human beings' most powerful feelings: hope. And they know the system like the back of their hands. Having been forced to enter structures of power from the back doors, they have learned to navigate it, and know their way around it like no other. And now it’s time to get into formation…
What I would really like to see is for our society and our systems to start recognizing Black women’s genius and leadership everywhere: from NASA Mathematicians (Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson), to music (Beyoncé, Ibeyi, Lianne La Havas), to sports (Venus and Serena Williams), masterful poetry (Audrey Lorde, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) and social activism (c’mon: Janet Mock is a goddess!). The list goes on. And as a woman who once saw herself as white, I am also deeply thankful to the Black women whose work and words have guided me into understanding the complexities within myself further.
The Black women I cited above and the Black women in my life have one thing in common: they all have taught me the value of love: self-love first and foremost, and then the love of community, love for other women, and love of beauty. The complexities of love which are not usually taught in school, and which every child I teach—regardless of their colour of skin—deserves to learn.
As bell hooks says in her powerful book All About Love - New Visions, what we cannot imagine cannot come into being. Strong Black women (and I must acknowledge, Indigenous women as well) have been imagining and envisioning a world that is alive and full of love for much longer than our recent new age conversations about the topic. They’ve been resisting the machine and refusing to let their spirits break since they were forced to take roots into to this continent. I say let’s all work hard to be fully aware of their contributions, and then let’s—each one of us (the parts)—make sure this vision of the whole, which is rooted in love, comes true.