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Learning to Bridge Human Difference 101 – Part 2

Learning to Bridge Human Difference 101 – Part 2
Reading Time: 4 minutes

By: Iyabo Onipede – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.

Lesson #2

In this series on Learning to Bridge Human Difference 101, I am engaging in a learning experience with you the reader, to build on shared language as we begin to build key skills that will equip us to change our immediate environments and move towards a more just world. Last week, we talked about shared language and gave a clear definition for “racism.” This next lesson covers “Intersectionality.”

What is that, a learner might ask?

It is that complicated spot of where two or more ‘isms’ collide and the complications that ensue. For example, an African American female has two aspects of marginalization: Gender and race. Me? I have three or more: Gender, race and immigrant origins.

The Oxford English dictionary defines “intersectionality” as: “The interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage; a theoretical approach based on such a premise.”

To further elaborate on the significance of understanding intersectionality, the data shows the following:

  • “Women” make $0.78 for each dollar that a “man” makes.
  • A “black” person makes $0.74 for each dollar that the man makes.

Unfortunately, in the first statement above, those two figures relate only to white people. And in the second statement, it only refers to a black male. When you dig into the research further, you find that:

  • Black women only make $0.64 for each dollar that the white male makes.

And obviously, over a lifetime, this translates into a huge disparity of wealth. Plus, it becomes generational. There is value of noticing and recognizing intersectionality. If you do not see the disadvantages of race, class, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, and other identity markers, then you are oblivious to the lived realities and economic cost of human difference.

The term “intersectionality” was first coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a law professor and social theorist, in 1989 based on her critique of Western feminism that left out the concerns of Women of Color. For instance, twenty years earlier, feminism was fueled by middle-class stay at home moms and most black women could not afford that lifestyle. Also, many black women were involved in the civil rights movement but did not have access to leadership positions. Therefore, they lived between this world of the feminist movement and the civil rights movement with no representation or no real voice but they were the workhorses for both movements.

Please note, I could not find any earnings for immigrant women as it relates to this article.

These figures are important because they represent “systemic oppression” in the form of gender bias as well as racism. It is one thing to not like a person and even hold his or her race, against them. However, when you choose to pay them less, or you work in an organization that continues to pay them less, you are part of that system.

No matter who you are, I want you to imagine sitting in a circle with three other people. You landed this dream assignment. It was a dream come true. You did a fabulous job. You were awesome. And so were your co-workers. All four of you worked super hard. Each of you did the same job. There are four people. The white man holds a paycheck for $100,000. The white woman’s check is $78,000 and the black man’s check is $74,000. Now, you are the black woman. And your check is $64,000.

How would you feel?

Now, compound that feeling with a lifetime of getting the 64 cents on the dollar for every ounce of work that you have done, or will do, in a lifetime. You know that is your reality.

It shows up in the disparity of paychecks, not being promoted, being the first to be laid off when there is a layoff and not being hired because you have a “black” sounding name or a name like mine that employers find it hard to pronounce.

What message are you receiving by imagining being paid less than 2/3rds of your white male counterpart?

Sit in that empathetic experience for some time and keep revisiting it over the next week and enter into the empathetic space of that lived experience.

When you walk down the street, or you are at the mall, or when you watch TV and see a black female news anchor delivering the news next to her white male counterpart, remember, she makes less than two-thirds of that white man. Not because she is not good at her job, but because of the color of her skin and her gender.

What’s worse….. You have contributed to this by not speaking up against it and by not demanding transparency about such things where you work.

What are some baby steps, right where you are, that you can take, that will begin to even the playing field?


More by Iyabo:

Learning to Engage in Human Difference 101




Iyabo is a Leadership Development Coach whose work focuses on the soul of the leader. She moves leaders from thriving careers into discovering, crafting and living into their life work. By helping successful people integrate spirituality into their leadership roles, they become more engaged with their work, expand the connection of their work to social justice issues and experience more satisfaction in their life work. Using the power of narrative and reflection, she helps leaders fine tune the sacred “work their souls must have” (Alice Walker).

Iyabo is located in Atlanta, Georgia and graduated from Goucher College (B.A.), Georgetown University Law School (J.D.) and Candler School of Theology at Emory University (M.Div.).

Iyabo’s home on the web is at


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