Chapter 1: Understanding Racism and Anti-Black Racism

Racism and Intersectionality

Imagine being asked to define your personal identity. How would you respond? Would you include: 

  • Your ethnicity? 
  • Your culture? 
  • The languages you speak? 
  • The gender you identify with? 
  • Your religious beliefs and traditions? 
  • The places that you call home?

Now imagine if you could only pick one of these features. Most people would find it difficult.  Identity includes gender, sexuality, age, class, race, ethnicity, religion, and ability/disability, all of which overlap and influence how society treats individuals. This is referred to as intersectionality. Depending on your unique combination of identities, you will experience different forms of privilege and oppression in society (Hankivsky, 2014).

You might be wondering where the word intersectionality came from.

It emerged during discussions of a 1976 court case in which several Black women attempted to sue General Motors, which segregated its workforce by both race and gender (Crenshaw, 2015). The organizations only hired men for certain jobs: this included both white and Black men. However, for the jobs designated for women, the company only hired white women, not Black women. 

Clearly, General Motors discriminated against Black women, but the case was dismissed. The court argued that General Motors did not discriminate against race and gender because the company employed Black men and white women (Crenshaw, 2015). 

After this ruling, Kimberlé Crenshaw, a Black American civil rights advocate, created the concept of intersectionality. Crenshaw argued that mainstream feminist theories were based on the experiences of white women and do not address the unique problems faced by Black women, who are not only oppressed because of their gender but also because of the colour of their skin. 

Consider how the following intersections of identities might compound experiences of oppression in Canadian society:

  • A Black woman who is also transgender and bald.
  • An older Indigenous man who is also poor and in a wheelchair.
  • A South Asian man who is also Muslim and not married.

Returning to anti-Black racism, Crenshaw’s work helps clarify how the experiences of Black communities are heavily affected by their identity as Black. These individuals face many barriers, including those related to economic opportunities, and Black women are affected even more. Even in caring gendered professions such as nursing, Black nurses remain under-represented in leadership and are unfairly disciplined compared with their white colleagues (Iheduru-Anderson, 2021; Jefferies et al., 2018). 

As a nurse, you should use a holistic lens to help address the gaps in healthcare for Black, Indigenous, and racialized individuals. Think about the many different forms of oppression that compound and affect a person’s health and well-being. We can use the intersectionality framework to address inequitable policies, culture, and procedures in healthcare. What will you do to address intersectional oppression? How can nurses be agents of change for a better tomorrow?

Activity: Check Your Understanding

Watch the TED talk “The urgency of intersectionality” by Kimberlé Crenshaw to learn more about intersectionality.

Video: The urgency of intersectionality [18:50]


To learn more about Kimberlé Crenshaw


Crenshaw, K. (2015, October 28). Opinion: Why intersectionality can’t wait. The Washington Post.

Encyclopedia Britannica (n.d.). What is intersectionality? Encyclopedia Britannica.

Hankivsky, O. (2014). Intersectionality 101. The Institute for Intersectionality Research & Policy, SFU.

Iheduru-Anderson, K. C. (2021). The white/Black hierarchy institutionalizes white supremacy in nursing and nursing leadership in the United States. Journal of Professional Nursing, 37(2), 411–421.

Jefferies, K., Goldberg, L., Aston, M., & Tomblin Murphy, G. (2018). Understanding the invisibility of Black nurse leaders using a Black feminist poststructuralist framework. Journal of Clinical Nursing, 27(15–16), 3225–3234.

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