Response from Sarah Hutcheon Mancoll: Flipping the Script on Intersectionality

[Since the launch of SAPIR, we have received a number of letters to the editor, and have decided to begin publishing a select few on this page. Although we cannot publish every letter, please know we read and appreciate all that we receive. Letters may be submitted to letters@sapirjournal.org. —Editor.]

To the Editors:

I’ve been reading through the Zionism issue of SAPIR and thoroughly enjoying it—thank you for putting together such a thoughtful collection of essays! I do have one piece of feedback that I’d like to share since I am the policy director for a social justice-focused scientific association, and since many of my members conduct research on the topic of intersectionality. Re: Adam Hoffman’s piece, “Flipping the Script on Intersectionality”: I think the vast majority of people misunderstand “intersectionality,” and I think that Hoffman does a disservice to the term by furthering public misunderstanding of its true meaning. 

According to Hoffman, “Originally posited as a theory for understanding the ways multiple categories of identity-based oppression can intersect within a person or a group, intersectionality has mutated on campuses and activist movements into an ideology that splits politics into a two-tribe sport of the privileged and oppressed.”

After correctly acknowledging the incorrect definition of intersectionality, Hoffman himself then goes on to reinforce this mutated—and incorrect—definition of intersectionality throughout the rest of the piece. As a result, his piece only adds to the cacophony of voices on the Left and Right, yet again using this term incorrectly to serve their own needs. 

There’s so much great social science research on intersectionality spearheaded by Kimberlé Crenshaw and others that offers insights into how we can better understand complex social issues and work together to realize a more just society. It’s a shame that the term “intersectionality” has been hijacked and misinterpreted to such an extent that, like critical race theory, it’s now nearly toxic.

I’ll leave you with these final thoughts: I’ve found intersectionality an interesting lens through which to examine my own life experience. I’m an Ashkenazi Jew, a woman, a parent, cis, straight, able-bodied, but I have an autoimmune disease that sometimes leads people to think I might be sick. I also grew up in a middle-class American family and am college-educated. There are many ways in which I am privileged but I have also dealt with some discrimination—for being a Jew, for being a mother in the workplace, for having a visible medical condition. I’ve also experienced some discrimination within the Jewish community. Since my father isn’t Jewish and since I didn’t grow up with a “Jewish sounding” last name or “look Jewish,” some Jews in my community questioned my Jewishness and my right to be in Jewish spaces (in the ’90s and early 2000s; people are much more accepting nowadays). At the same time, my ability to “pass” as non-Jewish gives me the freedom to disclose my Jewishness as I so choose, which many Jews—especially religious Jews—do not have the freedom to do. As result, they are more often the target of antisemitic violence. By examining the many ways each of my identities has helped to shape my experience of life—my privileges and disadvantages, my interactions with others and with society more broadly—I feel better equipped to grapple and engage with what comes next.

Sarah Hutcheon Mancoll

Washington, DC