In response to the shortcomings of first and second wave feminism, third wave feminists have worked to develop a movement that is centered on an intersectional approach. Though the term was officially coined by feminist and legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw in the late 1980s, feminists such as Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, Patricia Hill Collins, and bell hooks called for individuals to examine the intersections among various forms of oppression. For example, the women who formed The Combahee River Collective in 1974 declared that they were working to overcome “racial, sexual, heterosexual, and class oppression… as they saw that the synthesis of those oppressions create the conditions of Black women’s lives.” Therefore, the oppressions are not independent of each other, but rather influence one another. Furthermore, third wave feminists, such as the women of The Combahee River Collective, proposed that the experience of oppressed groups of people, like Black women, cannot be understood without considering their multiple identities and how these identities “intersect” or interact with one another.
Today, it is now a requirement that groups who seek to work for the liberation of all women, not just White, middle class women, adopt an intersectional approach. This includes an understanding that the dismantling of systematic oppression in relation to race, gender, class, sexual orientation, age, ability, etc. is necessary for liberation. It also includes centering the experiences of marginalized groups of people, such as women of color and transgender individuals, in the movement and allowing them to have a platform to speak out against the many forms of oppression that they encounter.
Quite a few individuals and organizations who have prided themselves on utilizing an intersectional approach have critically analyzed racism, gender constructions, classism, homophobia, and ableism. However, one intersection that I rarely see examined is regional identity. Regional identity is the specific region or area where someone is born and/or raised. In the United States, there are five main regions: the Southeast, the Southwest (collectively known as the South), the Northeast (North), the West, and the Midwest. Each region of the United States has a particular culture of its own, including style, food, and colloquialisms.
I believe that in addition to other intersections, regional identity must be considered in an intersectional approach. Though it may seem cliché, growing up in the South is a vastly different experience than growing up in the North. As a Southerner, I have witnessed first-hand what growing up and living in the South is like. I have also visited other places outside of the South and spoken with individuals who were from other regions of the United States. These opportunities have led me to conclude that regional identity intersects with other identities and strongly influences people’s conception of themselves.
While growing up in the South, I read and saw images of how the South was the powerhouse of chattel slavery. My grandmother often told me stories of how her grandparents were born a little after slavery was abolished and worked as sharecroppers, a job that their parents had passed down to them. I knew that the South was also the birthplace of Jim Crow laws and my hometown was where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. In order to deal with the insurmountable acts of racism in the Jim Crow south, my Southern ancestors developed an array of musical styles, including blues, that transformed American music.
One genre that blues inspired was hip hop, and in turn, another genre was developed in the South—crunk music. I remember listening to Three Six Mafia and Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz while dancing in the mirror, trying to “get low” and pretending that I was a “thick junt.” Crunk music features upbeat tempos and lyrics that some might deem objectifying to women. One of my favorite songs is “Shake That Monkey,” a tune that is essentially about a woman “twerking” for the pleasure of multiple men. Lil Jon starts off with “put a hump in ya back and shake ya rump” and Too $hort chimes in on the first verse with “bounce dat a** till ya can’t no mo…” Though crunk songs such as “Shake That Monkey” seem to encourage women to do sexual favors for the enjoyment men, which can be quite objectifying, they are catchy and one can’t help but to sing along.
On Sundays, I was not allowed to listen to such raunchy music because that was the day that my family, and all the other Black families that I knew, spent the day at church. In addition to music, religion, specifically Christianity, is another aspect of Southern life, as the South contains the Bible Belt. For quite a few Southerners like myself, religion was a salient part of growing up in the region, as it translated to every aspect of life: home, school, community centers, and work. Though there is a supposed separation of church and state, people in the South somehow find a way to use Christianity as the foundation of everything that they do, even politics. There can be no discussion of a sex education program in schools other than abstinence because sex before marriage is “outlawed” in the Bible. It is taboo to work on Sundays, except if one absolutely has to, because that is the day designated for church in most sects of Southern Christianity. And after church, it is only custom to eat the famous Southern cooking of your mom and grandmother.
Aside from Southern culture, there are some issues that occur nationally and are exacerbated in the South. For example, there are higher “poverty areas” in Southern states. Additionally, a majority of students in public schools throughout the South are low-income (the 4 Western states with the largest populations also have a majority of low-income students). Though mouthwatering, traditional Southern cooking includes comfort foods, and these foods typically contain high concentrations of salt and sugar. As a result, quite a few Southern states have the highest rates of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes in the country.
Growing up in the South, with its unique culture and set of challenges, has shaped how I perceive myself as a Black feminist. There are several aspects of Southern culture that complicate Southern Black feminism, with religion encouraging women to maintain purity on their quest to becoming virtuous women and crunk music suggesting that women bend over to the front and touch their toes for the male gaze. Similar to the intersections of race and gender, it is hard to separate regional identity, as it also contributes to the ways in which one experiences systematic oppression. Regional identification does not act independently, but instead simultaneously with other forms of identities. My experience as a Black woman living in the South offers me a certain perspective that is different than those in other regions. Though there are similarities among the regions, there is still a certain uniqueness about the place in which one is physically located in the country. This specific location gives rise to an outlook that is distinct and this allows us to have a more nuanced understanding of the concept of intersectionality.