The Intersectionality of Oppression Introduction

Woman have been deemed the inferior sex from the creation of time, the justifications for this are long running, involving God’s way, biological, and intellectual differences. However, within oppression there are groups which are more oppressed than others, and groups who are oppressed and then turn around and oppress another oppressed group.  In this case the white male reigns supreme at the top of the totem pole, everyone else falls below him, but dependent on various social factors like race, gender, and class a person, while still oppressed, can simultaneously be the oppressor of another.  “An Act Defining the Status of Mulatto Bastards,” December 1662 demonstrates how the right to their own body and freedom, specifically for woman of color was stripped from them and used as a tool of control, and how the black woman’s purpose on this earth is for production and reproduction in the eyes of everyone else.  “Colonial Intimacies: Legislating Sex in French Louisiana,” 2003 depicts the intersectionality of minority groups, where relations with the natives was encouraged because they provided the colonists with access to land, while the relationships with slaves was discouraged because it was seen as a distraction from the profits, proving that the degree of oppression you face is dependent on where you are in the social hierarchy of things. “The Gender of Violence” in Out of the house of bondage: the transformation of the plantation household 2003 discusses the abuse white women who owned slaves subjected the slaves to, which again shows how one oppressed group can be the oppressor of another and how the white woman are executing more power over the minority women. “Virginia Ladies’ Petition to Eliminate Slavery” 1832 expands on Glymph’s piece, discussing the abuse the white woman forced the black slaves to endure, but they pose the rebellion to the abuse as if the slaves are the ones committing torture and being oppressive.  An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States, By Angelina Grimke 1836 addresses how the status of a person is not only effected by their gender, but the implications of race follow a person everywhere throughout the country, so there is no way to advance in equality when everywhere is rooted in oppression, and how the degradation of slavery expands in the degradation of labor. Angelina Grimké to Theodore Weld, August 12, 1837 is a piece highlighting how some people feel bad about the separation of the suffrage movement from the abolition movement but also how the intersectionality of oppression has made that divide beneficial to one movement and not the other. With the advance in the abolition movement discussed in Union Women In Wartime 1865 it also speaks about the racial difference in treatment in women during this time.  Zitkala-Sa, excerpts from “The School Days of an Indian Girl,” 1900 expands on the notion of oppression of different groups and how white woman were forcing Native Girls to assimilate to a culture that will never fully accept them because of other social factors that deem them inferior.  The Race problem- An Autobiography 1904 addresses how regardless of any other social characteristic, like gender, a black person will always be labelled that, and how suffrage movements used the oppression of blacks as a way to advance their own movement towards white woman’s suffrage, leaving behind the black woman. “Arm in Arm: Gender, Eugenics, and Virginia’s Racial Integrity Acts of the 1920s” highlights how while white woman are advancing politically and socially, minority woman are being literally killed off because of their other characteristics like class, race, and disability.  The first piece in Abbey Lincoln, “Who Will Revere the Black Woman?” 1966. addresses the justifications for the oppression of minority woman, and how even after legal action was taken, they were still faced with prejudice and hardship.  Then in Abbey Lincoln, “Who Will Revere the Black Woman?” 1966. it relates back to “An Act Defining the Status of Mulatto Bastards,” December 1662  demonstrating how the role of a minority woman has not changed all that much in centuries.  “Women’s liberation has a different meaning for blacks,” 3 October 1970 speaks of the different levels of equality that people in the same category can achieve at completely different times, because of the intersectionality of oppression.  Even today white woman are presented with many more opportunities than their black female counterpart because of the oppression that they have faced throughout history that has not necessarily been as severe for a white woman.

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“Women’s liberation has a different meaning for blacks,” 3 October 1970

“Do black women and white women have the same social, economic and political priorities and problems and how do they affect the status of the women’s liberation movement in the minds of black women?”

This quote comes from a piece questioning on whether women’s liberation means the same thing to both the black and white woman.  They do not.  Through the intersectionality of oppression women of different races and class have been given different ranks in the social order in America.  Because of the intense abuse and discrimination directed towards black women by white and black males, and white females they are on completely different paths to what they deem “equality”.  “At a time when some radical white feminists are striving for a different family structure, many black women are trying to stabilize their families” (1) The woman who also are oppressed by their race and class have been placed several steps behind the white woman on the road to equal rights because of the oppression they have faced from every avenue of their lives, so when someone speaks of women’s rights like how “the radicalism of women’s liberation movement became the engine for change in women’s organization and consciousness” (2), it must be noted that that is speaking about the white women’s liberations, and minority women are operating in a completely different movement because they face completely different challenges.


1. Renee Ferguson, excerpts from “Women’s liberation has a different meaning for blacks,” 3 October 1970, Washington Post

2. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Twentieth- Century America.” Clio in the Classroom. Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 68. Print.

Abbey Lincoln, “Who Will Revere the Black Woman?” 1966.

“We are the women whose strong and beautiful Black bodies were— and are— still being used as a cheap labor force for miss Anne’s kitchen and Mr. Charle’s bed, whose rich, black and warm milk nurtured— and still nurtures— the heir to the racist and evil slavemasters” (1)

The black women throughout the entirety of history are being used and abused by everyone regardless of if the other women have faced the same burdens because of her gender.  She is constantly been seen as a source of production and reproduction like in “An Act Defining the Status of Mulatto Bastards”.  Even in the 1960s the black women is waiting on the needs of the white woman and the white man and her struggle is nowhere near over in comparison to the success of the white woman’s attempt to gain rights.  At this time for white women “the radicalism of the women’s liberation movement became the engine for change in women’s organizations and consciousness” (2).  But when they say “women” they mean “white women”, while women of color are being discriminated against still.  


1.  Abbey Lincoln, “Who Will Revere the Black Woman?” 1966.

2.  Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Twentieth- Century America.” Clio in the Classroom. Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 68. Print.

Abbey Lincoln, “Who Will Revere the Black Woman?” 1966.

“ The general white community has told us in a million different ways and in no uncertain terms that “God” and “nature” made a mistake when it came to fashioning us and ours…” (1)

Throughout history the black woman has been degraded by every other other social group in society, and there are constantly new excuses created to justify why they are of less importance than everyone else.  Evident from the progression of history that white people created to justify the discrimination and abuse because of the guilt and moral conflictions they faced, like in the 19th century claiming biological and innate differences between the races, to the 20th century where it was focused on social opportunities and life experiences to the 21st century where race is a social construct but it is still used as a justification for belittlement and disrespect.  

The oppression the black community faced even after Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that made it “unlawful to discriminate against any individual with respect to compensation, terms and conditions, or privileges of employment, because of the individuals race, color, religion, sex, or national origin” (2) is still a very prominent thing that even takes form in regards to black men oppressing black woman, proving that people cannot see the goal of equality, they believe oppression is wrong when directed at their group, but when they get to enforce oppression it becomes a different story of power dynamic.  


  1.  Abbey Lincoln, “Who Will Revere the Black Woman?” 1966.
  2. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Twentieth- Century America.” Clio in the Classroom. Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 67. Print.

“Arm in Arm: Gender, Eugenics, and Virginia’s Racial Integrity Acts of the 1920s”

“A small group of lobbyists who supported, along with eugenics, traditional principles of family and government, promoted Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 as part of a wave of legislation that sought to control marginalized populations”(1)

Lisa Lindquist Dorr writes about the eugenics movement in the 1920s, which is forced sterilization, sometimes unknown to the person it is being performed on.  The government has long since been controlling the family life of everyone, exhibited in“An Act Defining the Status of Mulatto Bastards,” and now that white woman have been taking a stand (although they are still very much regulated but minorities are much more controlled) the government went as far as eugenics to prevent the non white women from reproducing and furthering the racial differences.  While white woman at this time are advancing with the right to vote,  being encouraged to have babies, and facing freedoms given like the classic portrayal of a “flapper” dancing, drinking, and smoking.  “The women of color continued to face racial discrimination and segregation” (2) and are literally having their ability to their natural right stolen away from them.  In fact, while the white woman are making strides they pose no opposition to the complete oppression of minority groups, “there was no public opposition to the ideas of eugenics, even from radicals and feminists” (3)

This contrasts greatly with the “An act of Defining the Mulatto Bastard”, in terms of economic incentives for child rearing. Before the minority woman were needed for the reproduction of children, especially with the Atlantic Slave Trade being shut down in 1808, but now that these people are not economically value to white people, their right to have children is seen as a nuisance and something unnatural which can legally be stripped away.

The eugenics movement was a movement set in place to control minorities, because they were viewed as different than the white community, just like the Native Americans, and how they were forced to assimilate to the white culture in Zitkala-Sa, excerpts from “The School Days of an Indian Girl,” 1900.


  1.  Lisa Lindquist Dorr, “Arm in Arm: Gender, Eugenics, and Virginia’s Racial Integrity Acts of the 1920s” Journal of Women’s History 11 (1999): 143-166.
  2. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Twentieth- Century America.” Clio in the Classroom. Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 53. Print.

  3. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Twentieth- Century America.” Clio in the Classroom. Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 61. Print.

The Race problem- An Autobiography 1904

“It does not matter how good or wise my children may be, they are colored.  When I have said that, all is said.  Everything is forgiven in the South but color” (1)

An anonymously published piece in 1904 by a Southern black women, she expresses her grievances that her children will face regardless of their gender, but of the color of their skin.  White woman have fought for their rights but in doing so they have left behind a whole other community that faces oppression and persecution from a biological difference.  At this time white woman are making great strides on the way to equality and in moving closer to suffrage, but in the South there needs to be an inferior and superior, so now the brunt on that falls on the black woman. In some suffrage movements they use the oppression of blacks as a way to advance their own movement towards white woman’s suffrage, leaving behind the black woman. ” Southern suffragists promised that (white) women’s suffrage would ensure white supremacy in the South” (2).  While the way that people are oppressed is changing throughout history, society is still finding ways to ensure certain groups who are oppressed remain the oppressors of other groups below them.


  1. “The Race problem- An Autobiography” In Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women, 286-290. 2nd ed. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996.

  2. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Twentieth- Century America.” Clio in the Classroom. Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 53. Print.

Zitkala-Sa, excerpts from “The School Days of an Indian Girl,” 1900

“and she had overheard the paleface woman talk about cutting our long, heavy, hair.  Our mothers had taught us that only unskilled warriors who were captured had their hair shingled by the enemy”(1)

A young Native American girl in an industrial school accounts the act of the white woman cutting off her braids,  after struggling and fighting to protect them because they are a sign in her Native American culture of honor.  The white women uses her position of power to oppress and destroy the Native Americans culture and last remaining thing to her heritage.  Just like the female slave owners from Glymph’s piece and from the slave owners during wartime, who used their intersectionality as a way to gain power in one aspect of their lives, these white women destroy the last remaining thing this girl has and forces her to assimilate to a culture that will never truly accept her because of the color of her skin.

Native Americans were oppressed from the beginning of settlement in America because they did things completely different than the European settlers. For instance, many of the tribes were matriarchal in nature, an idea completely foreign to the settlers.  They spoke negatively of it “describing it as heathen, savaged, and unnatural because of gender roles and sexual practices that seemed a mirror opposite of their own culture” ( 2).  Thus one that must be eliminated, during the time of the Westward Expansion in the late 19th century “Indian women were encouraged to submit to a role of legal and social dependence on their husbands and to abandon traditional roles, along with tribal activities and rituals” (3).  Just like how this young girl is describing the white woman stripping her of her heritage, the white culture believed it to be the superior and right culture, and so they oppressed everyone who did not follow it, and forced their customs onto others as a means of control.


  1. Zitkala-Sa, excerpts from “The School Days of an Indian Girl,” 1900

  2. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Colonial and Revolutionary America.” Clio in the Classroom . Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 17. Print.
  3. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Ninteeth Century America.” Clio in the Classroom . Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 41. Print.

Union Women In Wartime 1865

“When my husband enlisted my master beat me over the head with an ace handle saying as he did so that he bet me for letting Ely Burdett go off”(1)

During the Civil War, Kentucky joined the side of the Union, and many free blacks fought on the to help in the end of slavery, however former slave owners in this area were very resentful of that.  This quote comes from an account of Clarissa Burdett, a former slave who still worked for her master, who recalls being beaten by her former slave master because her husband went to fight in the Union.  This is not just an isolated case, it was the realty for many formers slaves, who “often bore the brunt of their owners’ new sense of vulnerability and dislocation” (2) It is ironic that women who had no say in any “public” matters were held to such a high punishment when their husbands did something that was not deemed socially acceptable.  Women were not supposed to tell their husbands what to do, but clearly in this case the master did not care as long as he had someone weaker to take his aggressions out on.  It shows the racial divides because a white woman during the Civil War would never have another man who was not her husband lay a hand on her, yet Burdett lived in constant fear of being abused because of the social inferiority that was presented with the color of her skin.  Which relates directly back to the status of a child being the status of their mother, a women is only given the illusion of power when it is something that hurts her like enslaving her child, or being punished for her husbands actions. 


  1.  “Union Women In Wartime” In Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women, 268-273. 2nd ed. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996.
  2. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Ninteeth Century America.” Clio in the Classroom . Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 39. Print.

Angelina Grimké to Theodore Weld, August 12, 1837

“I cannot help felling some regret that this shld have come up before the Anti Slavery question was settled, so fearful am I that it may injure that blessed cause” (1)

In a different reading from Grimké, she is speaking to her future husband about the remorse she feels for having her thoughts on woman’s rights heard before the anti slavery rights are addressed.  She is writing this in 1837 which is the year that the anti slavery movement splits from the woman’s rights movement.  “The nineteenth century women’s rights and suffrage movement grew directly out of women’s experience in agitating against slavery” (2).  This shows the progression of the racial and gender dynamic going on in the country before women of color were not even thought of as people by European and white people, but now they have realized that oppression in any form will cause an unjust and broken system, and so they worked together to advance one another’s causes and feel remorse when one gets recognition but not the other because they both are fighting for the same goal, which is equality.  However, it does present issues where Grimké can be seen as a radical thinker and her concern for other oppressed groups is rare. Many people believe their cause is more important than the next, relating to the intersectionality, because they believe they are superior in the social hierarchy of things that their oppression should be addressed first, like the discussion with Fredrick Douglass, when he is asked if he would give up his status as a black male to be a woman he denies it because he believes his group of “male” is superior to “female”. 


1.  Angelina Grimké to Theodore Weld, August 12, 1837
2. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Ninteeth Century America.” Clio in the Classroom . Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 30. Print.

An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States, By Angelina Grimke 1836

“That in consequence of the odium which the degradation of slavery has attached to color even in the free states, our colored sisters are dreadfully oppressed here”(1)

Angelina Grimké was a white abolitionist who also advocated for equal rights of women.  In this appeal she calls out the implications slavery has on even the free northern states and the oppression free black women face everyday.  Free blacks “faced significant limits on their freedom, including restrictions on movement, voting, gun ownership, testifying in court, and serving on jury”(2) While there are strides being made in both the progression of women and racial rights the system is still very much rooted in slavery and even thousands of miles away from it a black woman still faces the persecution of her skin color.  The South was so fond of slavery because with the creating of the cotton gin in 1793 and the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 it greatly increased the profits obtained from slave picked cotton in the South (3). But the North was also tied heavily to slavery with the expansion of factories producing textiles, which carries into the oppression faced by black people in free states.

 In addition, because of superior attitudes there was degradation in labor between whites and blacks and between female and male.  The white man believed that his work was more valuable than the same labor of a black man, and the man believed his labor was more valuable and skilled than the same work performed by a woman, which led to problems with wages, and the impossibility of creating labor unions.  Which correlates to what Grimké is portraying here because regardless of where a person falls in the social hierarchy they were all affected by the intersectionality of oppression.    


  1. “An Appeal to the Women of the Nominally Free States, By Angelina Grimke.” In Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women, 246-51. 2nd ed. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1996.
  2. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Ninteeth Century America.” Clio in the Classroom . Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 38. Print.
  3. Berkin, Carol , ed. “Women in Ninteeth Century America.” Clio in the Classroom . Ed. Margaret Crocco and Barbara Winslow. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 34. Print.