Intersectional feminism. It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot at Bowdoin. It’s the answer to half of the questions asked by your Feminist Theory professor. It’s a buzzword. It makes us sound smart when we say it. But what does it actually mean?

We have been thinking about this question a lot lately, specifically in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement, which strives for an end to violence against black people in the United States. For us, examining this movement’s relationship with feminism sheds some light on the often used and sometimes complicated concept of intersectional feminism.

Historically, the feminist movement has excluded African Americans, as well as others who do not identify as Christian, middle-class, white, heterosexual, cisgendered and able-bodied. For instance, in 1913, when 5,000 women marched in Washington D.C. in support of women’s suffrage, the organizers of the parade attempted to make black women march in the back, behind the white women and men. More recently, Taylor Swift accused Nicki Minaj of “pitting women against each other” when Nicki called out the VMAs’ racial bias. These are only a couple of examples of the many times that white feminists have contributed to the oppression of black people. Hint: this is not intersectional feminism.

When feminists intentionally or inadvertently neglect issues facing black people, they not only play a part in the continued marginalization of black communities, but also erase black women from their narrative. This forces black women to prioritize either their blackness or their womanhood, which is an impossible choice. Until the feminist movement entirely embraces all people who identify as women, it can only consider itself “feminist” to an extent.

In order for feminism to truly advocate for gender equality, violence against black people needs to be considered a feminist issue. If (white) feminists stand by and do nothing when innocent black men and women are killed by the police, they send the message that they don’t care about black communities. Black issues are women’s issues. Period. Police violence against black men is an epidemic, but we must also acknowledge that police brutality affects black women too and that their struggles are often brushed under the rug.

Now, fast forward to the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s not common knowledge, but the movement was founded by three black women, two of whom are queer. Alicia Garza, Opal Tometi and Patrisse Cullors, the founders of Black Lives Matter, have worked tirelessly to expose the injustices of systemic racism, but are rarely mentioned in mainstream media. This not only undermines their integral role in the movement but also reflects a more extensive erasure of black women’s voices in our society.

People often associate black men as the only victims of police brutality, but this issue also affects black women, especially trans women and women with disabilities. When the media predominantly focuses on the deaths of black cisgendered men, it creates the impression that black women are not affected by police violence and thus excludes their stories. We are in no way discounting the very real injustices facing black men, or the fact that they are disproportionately at risk of dying at the hands of police. But to ensure that all black lives matter, we must also #sayhername.

Any sort of feminism is incomplete if it does not include the voices and liberation of black women as a part of its goal, just as any racial justice movement cannot achieve egalitarian objectives without recognizing the unique struggles facing women of color. Omitting certain stories invalidates those experiences and renders them invisible. It simultaneously leverages one group’s interests over another’s, which furthers the oppression of already marginalized people. This is where intersectional feminism comes in. It is a feminism that acknowledges the vast diversity of women’s experiences, that understands that each woman has a multitude of identities and that constantly works to be inclusive.

Intersectional feminism allows us to see women’s liberation as intimately connected to liberation for black people, for the LGTBQ+ community, for people with disabilities. It helps us understand that justice for women necessitates economic justice, climate justice, racial justice and so much more. Our lives are multidimensional. And our feminism should be too.