Diversity and Inclusion: Intersectionality

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No one person is defined by one social identity. In other words, someone isn’t just White or Black but a Baptist, African American, straight woman from Savannah, Georgia. And these identities only tell part of our story. This same woman could be a grandmother, a community leader, a gardener, a wife, and so on.

Intersectionality is a word we use to describe overlapping social identities and the impacts of holding multiple identities at the same time. Some identities come with privilege and others come with disadvantage depending the social context. The layering of these identities mean that everyone’s experience of bias is different even when similarities exist based on group identity. Why is this important to understand?

A person-centered approach recognizes that we are not defined by any one social group identity.  The combination of identities matter.

When we really know the person we bring them the honor and respect they deserve.

When we do not acknowledge multiple intersecting identities we run the risk of making assumptions based on simplified or partial information. For example, we often assume that people who are immigrants are poor and uneducated. This is certainly not the case for many immigrants who seek employment in senior living and who have completed multiple or esteemed degrees in their home countries.

Intersectionality points us to question our assumptions and value the diversity that each person brings to the community. Thinking in this way can help you strengthen your community. For example, knowing your resident was not only a loving grandmother but was also a civil rights leader could help you identify the perfect person to help plan Black History Month activities.

How can you and your organization take a more inclusive perspective and work toward becoming a person-centered organization?

Some starting points might be:

  • Ask staff and residents to reflect on their life histories.
  • Listen to their experiences and brainstorm ways together that the strengths of your community members – both residents and staff- could enhance the ways you celebrate diversity and include all members.
  • After staff and residents have shared life histories, ask each other what was surprising about the other’s stories?

How does this reflect the assumptions made before we listened to each other and acknowledged our overlapping social identities?

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