When Black + Lesbian + Woman ≠Black Lesbian Woman:
The Methodological Challenges of Qualitative
and Quantitative Intersectionality Research
Published online: 21 March 2008
#Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008
Abstract The notion that social identities and social
inequality based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, and sex/
gender are intersectional rather than additive poses a variety
of thorny methodological challenges. Using research with
Black lesbians (Bowleg, manuscripts in preparation;
Bowleg et al., Journal of Lesbian Studies, 2008; Bowleg
et al., Cultural Diversity & Ethnic Minority Psychology
10:229–240, 2004; Bowleg et al., Journal of Lesbian
Studies, 7:87–108, 2003) as a foundation, I examine how
these challenges shape measurement, analysis, and inter-
pretation. I argue that a key dilemma for intersectionality
researchers is that the additive (e.g., Black + Lesbian +
Woman) versus intersectional (e.g., Black Lesbian Woman)
assumption inherent in measurement and qualitative and
quantitative data analyses contradicts the central tenet of
intersectionality: social identities and inequality are inter-
dependent for groups such as Black lesbians, not mutually
exclusive. In light of this, interpretation becomes one of the
most substantial tools in the intersectionality researcher’s
Keywords Intersectionality research methods .
Black lesbian poet Audre Lorde’s(1984) description of “...
constantly being encouraged to pluck out some aspect of
myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing
and denying the other parts of the self”(p. 120) highlights
eloquently the complexity of intersectionality. For Lorde
and other Black lesbians, one’s identity as a Black lesbian
is the meaningful whole; it is not a mere addition of
ethnicity, sexual orientation, and sex/gender. For research-
ers interested in designing and conducting intersectionality
research, the notion that social identities and social
inequality based on ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex/gender
(and one could add a host of other identities such as class,
disability status, etc.) are interdependent and mutually
constitutive (i.e., intersectional; Collins 1995,1998; Crenshaw
1989,1991; Weber and Parra-Medina 2003), rather than
independent and uni-dimensional poses a variety of thorny
methodological challenges. These challenges shape key
aspects of the research process such as measurement, data
analysis, and interpretation. Using research with Black
lesbians as a foundation (Bowleg, manuscripts in prepara-
tion; Bowleg et al. 2008,2004,2003), I focus in this article
on some of the methodological challenges of conducting
intersectionality research using qualitative and quantitative
The solipsism that equates women with Whiteness, and
Blackness with men rendering the experiences of people who
are women and Black invisible (Hull et al. 1982; Spelman
1998) pervades contemporary scholarship, policy, and
thought. Copious examples exist, but one will suffice. In
Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325
The Trials and Tribulations Study was supported by a 2000 University
of Rhode Island Council of Higher Education Grant.
I presented portions of this article as Black + Woman + Lesbian?
Black x Woman x Lesbian?: Some Conceptual and Methodological
Challenges of Intersectionality Research at the “Practical Issues in
LGBT Research”symposium at the August 2006 Annual Convention
of the American Psychological Association Convention, New Orleans,
L. Bowleg (*)
Department of Community Health and Prevention Program,
School of Public Health, Drexel University,
1505 Race Street, Mailstop 1032,
Philadelphia, PA 19102-1192, USA
1994, the National Institutes of Health released guidelines
requiring researchers to describe their plans for the
“Inclusion of Women and Minorities.”The rationale for
the guidelines were sound but the continued declaration of
“women and minorities”as if these were two mutually
exclusive groups signaled an entrenched misunderstanding
of how women’s experiences as women also intersect with
their experiences as members of ethnic minority groups, as
well as other historically oppressed social groups.
The discipline of psychology has not fared well in terms
of promoting the understanding of intersectionality. Despite
an abundance of theories on social identity within psychol-
ogy, the prevailing view of social identities is one of uni-
dimensionality and independence, rather than intersection.
A notable exception is Ransford’s(1980) multiple jeopar-
dy-advantage (MJA) hypothesis which posits that people
occupy various social status positions that intersect to create
a“unique social space”(p. 277). This unique space manifests
as outcomes that one’s social status location (e.g., race) alone
cannot explain. Instead, this space can be explained only by
the intersection of one of more social status positions (e.g.,
race, sex, class, sexual orientation) to yield multiple jeopardy
(i.e., the intersection of two or more low social status
positions) or multiple advantage (i.e., the intersection of two
or more high social status positions). Deaux’s(1993) work
reconstructing social identity to recognize multiple dimen-
sions of social identity is another exception to the rule, as
are numerous examples within feminist psychology.
Though explicit mention of the term intersectionality is
rare, feminist psychology has been far more progressive
than mainstream psychology in recognizing the intersec-
tions between women’s experiences of structural inequality
based on race, gender, class, and sexual orientation (e.g.,
Greene 1997; Reid and Comas-Diaz 1990; Weber 1998).
Not surprisingly, the Black feminist literature is replete
with narratives and analysis of Black women’s experiences
of the intersections of race, gender, class, and/or sexual
orientation (see Collins 1991; Davis 1983; Hooks 1981)
and notions of double (Beale 1970) and triple jeopardy
(Greene 1995) based on these identities. But while a
plethora of scholarship on the intersection of race, class,
gender, and sexual orientation exists in the multidisciplin-
ary literature, there is a paucity of literature on intersection-
ality from a methodological perspective (Cuadraz and Uttal
1999;McCall2005). Thus, researchers interested in
conducting intersectionality research often have to self-
teach and learn through trial and error. My goal in writing
this article is to help intersectionality researchers sidestep
some mistakes, as well as learn from the insights gained
from the qualitative (Bowleg, manuscripts in preparation;
Bowleg et al. 2008,2003) and quantitative (Bowleg et al.
2004) intersectionality research with Black lesbians of
Bowleg et al. Far from being a comprehensive treatise of
the methodological issues that arise in intersectionality
research, I address here three issues with which intersec-
tionality researchers must grapple: developing questions to
measure intersectionality, analyzing intersectionality data,
and interpreting them.
Black Lesbians in Micro and Macro Perspective: A Brief
Because the lives of Black lesbians are rooted in structural
inequalities based on the intersections of sexual orientation,
sex, gender, and race (see Greene 1995), Black lesbians are
an ideal population in which to study intersectionality.
Intersectionality examines how distinctive social power
relations mutually construct each other, not just that social
hierarchies exist (Collins 1998). At the micro level, a small
empirical literature base has examined the intimate relation-
ships (Hall and Greene 2002; Mays and Cochran 1988;
Peplau et al. 1997), health care (Cochran and Mays 1988),
mental health (Cochran and Mays 1994), workplace
(Bowleg et al. 2008), active coping (Bowleg et al. 2004),
and multiple minority stress and resilience (Bowleg et al.
2003) experiences of Black lesbians. Other relevant
scholarship, most of it focused on predominantly White
middle-class lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) populations
has addressed the minority stress experiences of LGBs
(Brooks 1981; DiPlacido 1998; Meyer 2003) and the dual-
identity experiences of lesbians (Fingerhut et al. 2005).
A macro level analysis of economic inequality from an
intersectional perspective demonstrates aptly how the social
hierarchies of race, sex, and sexual orientation are mutually
constructed in the lives of Black lesbians. According to the
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s (NGLTF; Dang and
Frazer 2004) analysis of Black same-sex household data
from the 2000 U.S. Census Bureau, Black same-sex couples
reported an annual median household income ($49,000) of
$2,000, lower than that of their Black married heterosexual
counterparts ($51,000). Black female same-sex couples
however reported a median income of $9,000 less than
Black married heterosexual couples, $7,000 less than Black
male same-sex couples, and a stunning $21,000 and $29,000
less than White female and male same sex couples
respectively, illustrating clearly how structural inequalities
grounded in intersections of race, sex, and sexual orientation
affect Black female same-sex couples adversely.
Pitfalls and Insights: Lessons from Intersectionality
Research with Black Lesbians
Two studies, the Black Lesbians Stress and Resilience Study
(BLSR), a mixed methods study with Black lesbians in
southern California (Bowleg, manuscript in preparation;
Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325 313313
Bowleg et al. 2008,2004,2003), and a qualitative study
with a subsample of Black lesbians in Washington, DC who
were part of the Trials and Tribulations Study (TT), a larger
study of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender
(LGBT) people (Bowleg, manuscript in preparation) pro-
vide the foundation for the methodological challenges that I
highlight in this article.
The goal of both studies was to explore and examine
experiences of multiple minority stress and resilience relevant
to the intersections of race, sex/gender and sexual orientation
for Black lesbians. Despite the researchers’interest in the
intersection of and social inequality based on these identities,
much of it prompted by the primary author’s own experience
as a Black lesbian, the research team knew virtually nothing
about intersectionality theory or research. The proof: none of
the literature review sections of these articles reference a
single intersectionality theorist, or even mention the word
intersectionality. Instead, the prevailing wisdom of the triple
jeopardy approach to Black lesbians’experiences (e.g.,
Greene 1995) informed much of the empirical exploration
of what Bowleg et al. (2003) called at the time “multiple
marginalized identities”(p. 89). The researchers’realization
that virtually every methodological choice made in these
studies reflected an additive approach (Black + Lesbian +
Woman), antithetical to the theoretical fidelity of intersec-
tionality would come later, most of it revealed through the
research participants’poignant and complex narratives about
the intersections of ethnicity, sex/gender, and sexual orienta-
tion in their lives. Thus, trial and error, those two marvelous
teachers, inform the methodological issues that I discuss rel-
evant to measurement, data analysis, and interpretation. For
each of these three domains, I present a key methodological
challenge, use examples from the research of Bowleg et al.
(Bowleg, manuscript in preparation; Bowleg et al. 2008,
2004,2003) to highlight relevant issues, and conclude with
insights and recommendations for addressing the challenge.
It is so obvious as to not even warrant mention: the wording
of questions shapes how participants respond to them.
Accordingly, a bounty of excellent resources exist for
researchers interested in designing good qualitative (e.g.,
Patton 2002) and quantitative (e.g., Bradburn et al. 2004)
questions. Obviously, asking good questions is vital to
intersectionality research too, but doing so well can be quite
challenging. At issue is how to ask questions about
experiences that are intersecting, interdependent, and
mutually constitutive, without resorting, even inadvertently,
to an additive approach.
The additive approach posits that social inequality
increases with each additional stigmatized identity. Thus,
a Black lesbian would be multiply oppressed because of the
combination of her ethnicity, sexual orientation, and sex/
gender (i.e., triple jeopardy). Critics reject the additive
approach because it conceptualizes people’s experiences as
separate, independent, and summative (Collins 1995;
Cuadraz and Uttal 1999; Weber and Parra-Medina 2003).
Furthermore, they disavow the additive approach’s impli-
cation that one’s identities and/or discrimination based on
these identities can be ranked (Collins 1991; Cuadraz and
Uttal 1999; Weber and Parra-Medina 2003). Weber and
Parra-Medina (2003) have asked rhetorically: “How can a
poor Latina be expected to identify the sole—or even
primary—source of her oppression? How can scholars with
no real connection to her life do so?”(p. 204). They
contend further that people can be members of dominant
and subordinate groups (e.g., a White man with a physical
disability) simultaneously thereby rendering the ranking
exercise futile (Weber and Parra-Medina 2003). Alas, what
holds in theory does not always translate easily to practice.
Indeed, I would argue that it is virtually impossible,
particularly in quantitative research, to ask questions about
intersectionality that are not inherently additive.
Lessons from the BLSR and TT Studies of Bowleg et al.
The conceptual framework of triple jeopardy (Greene 1995)
shaped the design of both the BLSR (Bowleg et al. 2008,
2003) and TT (Bowleg, manuscript in preparation) studies.
Applied to Black lesbians, this framework is implicitly
additive: Black lesbians are subject to prejudice and
discrimination based on their ethnicity, sex, and sexual
orientation. Three lessons from these studies are key: (1)
ask an additive question, get an additive answer; (2) the
problem of attempting to measure intersectionality through
addition; and (3) ask precisely what you want to know.
Ask an Additive Question, Get an Additive Answer
Consistent with the additive approach, Bowleg (manuscript
in preparation) posed questions in the qualitative phase of
the TT study that implied that participants’identities could
be isolated and ranked:
Some of the people we’ve spoken to have told us that
when it comes to their identities, they are Black first,
and gay, lesbian or bisexual second. Other people said
that they are gay or lesbian first and then Black or
female, second. Still others have said that they don’t
feel as if they can rank these identities. In terms of
your life, do you rank these identities, that is by race,
sexual orientation, gender or anything else?
Not surprisingly, many interviewees responded in kind.
That is, they ranked their identities. For example, Loretta, a
314 Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325
33 year old lesbian noted that she did rank her identities: “I
think I do. I’m African American first but for a while I was
lesbian first and before that I was just [Loretta] and couldn’t
understand what all the fuss was about”(Bowleg, manu-
script in preparation). Although Maggie, a 27 year old
lesbian initially challenged the request to rank her identi-
ties, noting, “[No]. I’ve thought about that and I don’t think
I can,”(Bowleg, manuscript in preparation) she nonetheless
proceeded to do just that:
No, I would say that I’m gay first because being a
lesbian has had such an impact in my life that it has
put me into a different category than just being an
African American. It seems like if I were going to be
discriminated against about something that would be
the first thing. If someone had a choice to hate me or
discriminate against me for something that I was that
would probably be the first thing picked. And that is
the thing I feel I am discriminated against the most. So
then that seems to have the biggest impact so I guess
that’s why it gets first place. And then second place is
being Black. Regardless of where I go being Black in
any part of the world being Black is an issue. Even in
Black countries it’s an issue. Black women and White
woman get treated differently in every country
(Bowleg, manuscript in preparation).
By contrast, others such as Karen, a 36 year old lesbian,
reflected the intersectionality perspective with their rejec-
tion of the notion that they could rank their identities. Karen
observed, “No, I always resort to ‘there is no higher
political repression.’So I personally don’t ascribe to that
I’m Black first, lesbian second, woman third. I’m all those”
(Bowleg, manuscript in preparation).
Attempting to Measure Intersectionality Through Addition
Another question from the Bowleg (manuscript in prepara-
tion) TT study asked: “... If someone dropped in from
another planet and asked you to tell them about your life as
a Black lesbian woman. First, what would say about your
life as a Black person?; Woman? Lesbian?; and Black
lesbian woman?”It is obvious now in retrospect that a truly
intersectional question would simply ask the respondent to
tell about her experience without separating each identity.
This is precisely what Karen implied in her response to the
question about her life as a Black or African American
woman?: “Well, you probably could combine all those
statements”(Bowleg, manuscript in preparation). The
research suggests that even if the interviewer omitted the
question singling out each identity, respondents might still
seek to do so. For example, at a later point in the interview
when asked, “In terms of your own life, what are some of
the things you like most or the advantages about being
Black and lesbian?”Karen countered, “Not Black, lesbian,
and woman? Just Black and lesbian?”(Bowleg, manuscript
in preparation). Her questions seeking clarification high-
light the importance of articulating intersectionality explic-
itly in interview questions. Even if a respondent asks an
interviewee to disaggregate identities, it seems advisable for
the interviewer not to do so, but to instead invite the
interviewee to discuss her identities and experiences
however they best resonate with her. Karen’scounter
questions are also a fitting example of the problem of
assuming that the experience of being a woman is
subsumed within that of being lesbian.
Ask Precisely What You Want to Know
The aforementioned measurement mistakes notwithstand-
ing, an interview question in Bowleg’s (manuscript in
preparation) BLSR study elicited narratives that captured
the experience of intersectionality. For example, in response
to the question, “What are some of the day-to-day
challenges that you face in terms of your race, gender
and/or sexual orientation?”Nancy, a 44 year old lesbian
with a physical disability stated: “Getting listened to. I
think that a lot of time people discredit me because I am a
Black lesbian, who walks with a cane most of the time”
(Bowleg, manuscript in preparation). Ethnicity, sex, sexual
orientation and disability intersect in Nancy’s narrative,
these are not discrete identities.
In the TT study, Johanna, a 36 year old woman who said
that she sometimes identified as lesbian and other times as a
lesbian-identified bisexual depending on her audience,
described the intersection of her identities this way:
I clearly ... see myself as Black first. Although ... I feel
that ... I am not just Black, but I’m also a woman, I’m
lesbian identified bisexual, I also come from a
working class background. So I see those other parts
of myself (Bowleg, manuscript in preparation).
Johanna’s presentation of her identities was seamless;
the absence of the conjunction and in her description
underscores her perception of her identities as intersectional
rather than additive. Noteworthy in Johanna’s mention of
socioeconomic class, an identity that the interviewer did not
ask about explicitly, is the reality that interviewers are
limited in the number of different identities about which
they can ask questions. It is simply not practical for an
interviewer to ask an exhaustive list of questions about
intersecting identities (e.g., class, disability status, etc.). If
the researcher asks the question well, however (i.e., by
inviting participants to discuss any other dimensions that
are important to them), then the interviewee can add, as
Johanna did class and other dimensions that the researcher
might otherwise have overlooked.
Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325 315315
Asked how she typically described herself, Kim, a
33 year old lesbian interviewee from the TT study
explained, “I think I usually describe myself as a Black
lesbian or African American lesbian cause it feels like I
have to carve myself some space for myself there because
there isn’t already”(Bowleg, manuscript in preparation).
Thus, for Kim the intersection of these identities formed an
interdependent identity that she presented to the world
rather than a summation of additive identities.
By contrast, in response to the same question others
such as Leslie, a 48 year old lesbian in the BLSR study
(Bowleg et al. 2003) separated each identity, illustrating a
disconnect between how the researchers intended to have
the question answered (i.e., with a focus on all of the
intersecting identities rather than single identities) and
how Leslie perceived and interpreted the question (i.e.,
Well, the primary challenge would be around race...
Because it’s like every day you get up and you don’t
know if you will get to work without one of these mad
dog police pulling you over and getting into a beef and
you get arrested; then you lose your job. You don’t
know if you’ll get home at night. You don’t know if
when you go shopping they’ll put security on you and
be following you around the store. The queer part is
probably something ... I personally encounter in up
close relationships so it would probably be in a work
environment or just out in the street where maybe a
guy is hitting on me or something. And the woman
part is kind of like the same [as the queer part] where
you interact with men on the street and at work with
your coworkers or bosses (p. 14).
As for how one might measure intersectionality quanti-
tatively, none of the options are ideal. For example, in the
quantitative phase of the BLSR study, Bowleg et al. (2004)
gave participants the option of using a five-point Likert-
type scale (1 = strongly agree, 5 = strongly disagree) to
indicate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with
statements such as: “Racism is a much more serious issue
in my life than homophobia”and “Racism is a much more
serious issue in my life than sexism”(p. 234). In retrospect,
this approach seems farcical for all of the obvious and
previously stated reasons. Nonetheless, it has prompted me
to think how I would ask the question with another similar
study. I remain stumped. The simplest, albeit inadequate
approach appears to be the inherently additive check all that
In the past year, would you say that you have
experienced stress as a result of discrimination due to
your race, sex, and/or sexual orientation? If so, please
indicate by checking all that apply below, the response
that best describes the basis for the discrimination you
experienced. Was it primarily because of your:
Race Sex Sexual orientation
Insights about Measuring Intersectionality
The BLSR (Bowleg et al. 2008,2003) and TT (Bowleg,
manuscript in preparation) research experiences of Bowleg
et al. have yielded some clear insights about asking
questions intersectionality. The most obvious is that no
part of the question should even hint at addition. For
example, if I were to ask a question about day to day
challenges today, I would ask something like this: “Now,
I’d like you to tell me about some of the day-to-day
challenges that you face as a Black lesbian woman.”That
is, I would not use a phrase such as “race, gender and/or
sexual orientation”in which the presence of the conjunc-
tions and/or could imply that I wanted the experience
recounted serially (race, then gender, then sexual orienta-
tion) or that these identities could or should be separated.
Going forward, there are two key points to which
researchers should attend in constructing questions about
intersectionality. First, questions about intersectionality
should focus on meaningful constructs such as stress,
prejudice, discrimination rather than relying on demograph-
ic questions alone (Betancourt and Lopez 1993; Helms et
al. 2005; Weber and Parra-Medina 2003). Widespread
advocacy for the infusion of multicultural perspectives
within psychology (e.g., Sue et al. 1999) notwithstanding,
psychologists’tendency for considering ethnic and racial
categories to be conceptually meaningful persists in much
research. The reality though is that concepts such as race
and class are socially constructed, and as such, explain
virtually nothing in and of themselves (Helms et al. 2005).
Thus, a study with an ethnic minority or ethnically diverse
sample that includes demographic measures of racial or
ethnic identification, socioeconomic status (SES), and
sexual orientation, for example, is not intersectionality
research de facto. By contrast, a similar study that focused
on the dimensions of experience (e.g., annual earnings,
access to health care, stress experiences, etc.) shaped by the
participants’experiences of intersecting identities of racial or
ethnic identification, SES, and sexual orientation would
exemplify intersectional research. Second, questions should
be intersectional in design; that is they ought to tap the
interdependence and mutuality of identities rather than imply
as the BLSR (Bowleg et al. 2008,2003) and TT (Bowleg,
manuscript in preparation) studies of Bowleg et al. did, that
identities are independent, separate, and able to be ranked.
My clarity on the aforementioned points notwithstand-
ing, there are other measurement issues with which I
316 Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325
continue to grapple, however. For example, I am increas-
ingly agnostic about how much energy ought to be
expended on asking the right question to measure inter-
sectionality. Overzealous focus on designing the perfect
qualitative or quantitative question harkens back to positi-
vism’s ontological tenet that there is some single fixed
reality (see Tashakkori and Teddlie 1998) about intersec-
tionality that can be measured if only the researcher had just
the right question. Yet, as Nancy (Bowleg, manuscript in
preparation) and Leslie’s (Bowleg et al. 2003) different
answers to the same question demonstrate, there is no
single reality about the experience of one’s intersecting
identities, only multiple constructed realities about one’s
own experience of intersectionality. As for asking questions
about intersectionality in quantitative research, I question
whether the positivistic assumptions implicit in quantifica-
tion are compatible with intersectionality research. McGrath
and Johnson (2003) have captured the dilemma aptly:
Quantification imposes a very strong meaning system
on the information thus gathered—the meanings that
are implicit in various arithmetics and mathematics.
This, in turn, imposes many assumptions about sub-
stantive elements and relations (e.g., linearity, unidi-
mensionality) that go with the meaning system (p. 36).
Interdependence, multi-dimensionality and mutually
constitutive relationships form the core of intersectionality,
attributes that contradict the positivist assumptions inherent
in most quantitative approaches. Since I use both quantita-
tive and qualitative methods in my research, it should be
obvious that I have no interest in resurrecting that tired and
ultimately futile debate about the superiority of quantitative
versus qualitative methods. Rather, my argument here is
that the positivist paradigm that undergirds much (but not
all) quantitative research appears to be orthogonal to the
complexities of intersectionality. A researcher’s philosoph-
ical or “qualitative stance”(Marecek 2003, p. 49) exempli-
fied by an epistemological commitment to “situating ...
investigations in specific historical, social, and cultural
contexts”(Marecek 2003, p. 56) is paramount; not whether
the questions they ask to measure intersectionality are
qualitative or quantitative.
Analyzing Intersectionality Data
The next step after asking questions about intersectionality
is to analyze the amassed data. Quantitative and qualitative
analysts face overlapping concerns. First, is the imposition
of the researchers’philosophical paradigm and the relevant
assumptions with which the analyst approaches the data
(Baptiste 2001; McGrath and Johnson 2003); these will
“both shape and constrain the meaning(s) of the evidence”
(McGrath and Johnson 2003,p.42).Second,isthe
transformation of observations into data for analysis (e.g.,
coding). Thereafter, the analysis of intersectionality data
can confound novice and seasoned researchers alike. A few
examples from my research with Black lesbians will
highlight some of the issues.
Lessons from the BLSR and TT Studies of Bowleg et al.
Data analysis of the Black lesbians’experiences of
intersectionality in the BLSR and TT studies highlighted
two key methodological challenges: (1) how to handle
intersectionality data that are more implicit than explicit;
and (2) the additive assumption implicit in both qualitative
and quantitative analytical strategies.
Handling Implicit Intersectionality Data
Both the BLSR (Bowleg, manuscript in preparation;
Bowleg et al. 2008,2003) and TT (Bowleg, manuscript in
preparation) studies abound with poignant narratives
documenting the intersections of ethnicity, sexual identity
and sex/gender for Black lesbians. Typical is Patricia, a
42 year old lesbian in the BLSR study who described her
intersecting identities this way: “Yeah so there’s things that,
you know being a woman, and a Black and lesbian, I mean
it’s, I mean...the deck is definitely stacked [against you].
You know, so it takes strength”(Bowleg et al. 2003, p. 18).
In contrast, when interviewees did not articulate the
experience of intersectionality explicitly, data analysis
became more perplexing. Indeed, intersectionality research-
ers may sometimes find themselves pondering the question:
“What counts as data?”(Cuadraz and Uttal 1999, p. 8). For
example, in the BLSR study in response to the interview
question about the day-to-day challenges that she faced as a
Black lesbian, Sylvia a 39 year old mother of a 13 year old
The biggest challenge is staying true to yourself.
Because of those multiple identities, there are so many
stereotypes and so many roles that you’re supposed to
be in. You know, there’s your church, there’s your
family, there’s your workplace, your personal life,
being a mom (Bowleg, manuscript in preparation).
At first glance, it may not be clear how Sylvia’s narrative
relates to intersectionality. One could argue that the
multiple identities and roles (e.g., worker, being a mother,
having a personal life) are challenges that most women face
regardless of race or sexual orientation. Therefore, an initial
analytical strategy is to regard “individual accounts ... as
individual experiences”(Cuadraz and Uttal 1999, p. 11).
Candace, a 30 year old lesbian and like Sylvia, also a
mother of a 13 year old girl characterized the day-to-day
Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325 317317
challenges that she experienced as a Black lesbian as
“vast and great”(Bowleg, manuscript in preparation).
Like Sylvia, self-authenticity was also an important theme
for Candace who emphasized the importance of “Having
our own truth about who we are and how do we walk
through this world [as Black lesbians].”And like Sylvia,
Candace also encountered the challenges of modern
living, though her narrative focused more explicitly on
the challenges relevant to the intersections of racism and
For example, I work in a national corporation and I
live in [large mid-western city] which is an extraordi-
narily racist place. ... So, the homophobia of other
people and having to be so concerned about what
other people think so much [in terms of my publicly
displaying my affection for my partner], and how that
affects simple day-to-day life, i.e., working and a
career and being able to pay the mortgage and... and
eat. They’re basic fundamentals [laughs] (Bowleg,
manuscript in preparation).
At first glance, both Sylvia’s narrative, and the part of
Candace’s narrative focused on career and financial
independence, mirror the multiple role stress narratives of
many contemporary middle-class professional mothers. A
subsequent analytical stage seeks to learn how other and
different individual accounts are shaped by their location
within social hierarchies based on race, sex, and sexual
orientation (Cuadraz and Uttal 1999). Rather than viewing
Sylvia’s and Candace’s narratives from an individualistic or
idiosyncratic framework, an overlay of historical analysis of
the multiple role expectations for Black women (Jones and
Shorter-Gooden 2003) combined with knowledge about the
historical legacy of slavery in creating gender role expect-
ations that Black women be psychologically androgynous
(i.e., strong and capable workers, but traditionally feminine
in family and intimate relationships; Binion 1990; Jones
and Shorter-Gooden 2003) deepens understanding about
how Black lesbians such as Sylvia and Candace may
experience multiple minority stress. Later in her interview,
for example, Candace recounted: “I have been fired from
two jobs for being out [as a lesbian]. Yes, and there are no
laws on the books that protect me in this state”(Bowleg et
al. 2008). Far from being just an individual account of a
workplace firing, the structural reality that only a handful of
states (excluding Candace’s) extend antidiscrimination
protections to LGBs in the workplace (National Gay and
Lesbian Task Force 2005) underscores Candace’s position
within the social hierarchy of intersections of ethnicity, sex,
and sexual orientation. Knowledge about institutionalized
heterosexism in the workplace as well as heterosexism in
religious institutions and families, further allows the analyst
to bridge individual accounts within the historical and
contemporary social contexts in which they occur (Collins
1995; Cuadraz and Uttal 1999). Intersectionality research
demands that researchers who employ an intersectionality
perspective broaden their analytical scope beyond the
collected data to become intimately acquainted, if they are
not already, with the sociohistorical realities of historically
oppressed groups. In so doing, the intersectionality
researcher must forgo disciplinary myopia and seek out
knowledge about participants’experiences employing the
insights of other fields of study, including economics, legal
studies, history, women’s studies, and ethnic studies to
name just a few.
The final stage of analysis examines any contradictions
or tensions relevant to these intersections (Cuadraz and
Uttal 1999). The fact that Sylvia and Candace are both
mothers of 13-year old girls (Bowleg, manuscript in
preparation) adds one such tension to the analysis. That
is, it is important to examine how the experience of being a
mother intersects with the other identities and how this
relates to social inequality. Again, a social hierarchical
analysis is key, as is knowledge about the sociocultural
context of motherhood for, in this case Black lesbians. The
latest U.S. Census data show for example that 52% of
Black women in same-sex households reported living in a
house with at least one child 18 years old or younger,
compared with 32% of their White counterparts (Dang and
Frazer 2004). Indeed, 35% of the Black lesbians in the
quantitative BLSR sample reported that they had children
(Bowleg et al. 2004). The tendency for Black same-sex
households to report higher rates of parenthood than their
White counterparts signals additional social inequality for
Black lesbian parents: they are likely to bear the dispro-
portionate brunt of anti-gay parenting policies and legisla-
tion (Dang and Frazer 2004).
Nor is quantitative research immune from the question of
what counts as data. Returning to the example of the check
all that apply question for experiences of discrimination
due to race, sex and sexual orientation that I presented
earlier, it is not clear how a researcher might analyze data
from respondents who checked say, discrimination due to
race, but not sexual orientation. Albeit poorly worded, the
quantitative questions from the BLSR study (Bowleg et al.
2004) nonetheless highlight some of the analytical chal-
lenges. One question asked, “Racism is a more serious
issue in my life than homophobia”(p. 234) to which 5%
strongly disagreed, 16% disagreed, 28% were neutral, 29%
agreed, and 20% strongly agreed. Another question asked,
“Racism, sexism, and homophobia are all serious issues in
my life”(p. 234) to which 3% participants strongly
disagreed, 6% disagreed, 21% were neutral, 34% agreed,
and 32% strongly agreed. I will discuss the implications of
interpreting this data in the next section on interpreting
318 Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325
As I noted previously, critics of the additive approach
deride the notion that social identities and inequality that
are intersectional can be separated, treated independently,
or added (Collins 1995; Cuadraz and Uttal 1999; Weber
and Parra-Medina 2003). Yet, addition is often a critical
step in preliminary analysis. Despite their criticism of the
additive approach to intersectionality, Cuadraz and Uttal
(1999) concede that isolating the meaning of each identity
is an essential analytical step to understanding intersection-
ality in qualitative research. Thus, the researcher must
analyze each structural inequality separately, as well as
simultaneously. Another example from the Bowleg’s
(manuscript in preparation) TT study will highlight the
issue. In this account, Karen discussed the times that she
had been gay bashed:
There was a series of a point in my life when I was
between 18 and 24 where I had been bashed five
times. There was physical assault. There was verbal
assault. I found that each time that I was, that that
happened to me I was with White women. There came
a point in time where I decided I would no longer date
White women because they attract too much negativity
to me and besides which they don’t understand what
I’m dealing with. .... But there’s something about the...
that the bashings were typically done by males and
that the bashings were, three out of five cases, were by
Black men and so there’s something about the
disappointment that happened and the sadness that
happens when I know I have put my life on the line for
Black men and to have a Black man raise his hand to
me or raise his mouth, his verbal crap to me is...I will
be forever disappointed around that. There’s some-
thing that’s very messed up about that.
Coding would be an initial analytical step. Pursuant to
Grounded Theory analytical strategies, my coding typi-
cally involves three stages: open, axial and selective
coding (Strauss and Corbin 1990). During the open
coding phase, I would broadly code Karen’s aforemen-
tioned passage using multiple and overlapping codes. Thus,
there would be a code for heterosexism, another for violence,
another for sexism, and a fourth for intersectionality. In the
axial and selective coding phases, I would refine each of the
separate codes (i.e., sexism; violence; etc.) into more distinct
codes (e.g., intersections of sexism and heterosexism,
intersections of racism, sexism, and heterosexism, etc.).
During the selective coding phase, I would further refine the
codes to reflect a specific dimension of an intersectional
experience to highlight, for example, how Black lesbians’
experiences of violence reflect intersections of racism,
sexism, and heterosexism.
The issue of conducting additive analysis prior to
interactive analyses also arises with quantitative research.
Indeed, most of our statistical methods are implicitly
additive, even when testing for interactions. In an ANOVA
for example, interactions are contingent on the size of main
effects. For example, when significant main effects exist,
the probability of finding significant first order (a two-way
interaction) or higher order interactions (three, four and n-
way interactions) decreases because the significant main
effects account for the bulk of the variance in the dependent
variable (say, discrimination; Landrine et al. 1995). Thus,
when the effects sizes of main effects are large, the
probability that no interaction effect will be found is
greater. When there are no main effects or just a few,
predicting whether an interaction will be found and the
magnitude of the interaction becomes virtually impossible
(Kerlinger 1973 as cited in Landrine et al. 1995). This
problem is not a trivial one for intersectionality researchers
because interactions between constructs such as race and
sexual orientation lie at the heart of intersectionality
research. One of the foundations of intersectionality
research is the premise that multiple factors uniquely
combine to define an individual’s experience. For instance,
being Black and lesbian confers a unique experience, above
and beyond being Black or lesbian. For this reason,
investigation of statistical interactions in quantitative
intersectionality research is both vital and necessary.
The issue is also more or less one of statistical power
and the extent to which the researcher can be confident that
mean differences are reliable. In the presence of powerful
social forces such as racism, sexism, and heterosexism that
directly influence the experiences of individuals who
participate in intersectionality studies, the remaining vari-
ability in outcomes of interest may be more difficult to
explain via interactions between racism, sexism, and hetero-
sexism. In other words, in a given analysis, main effects such
as racism, sexism, or heterosexism may swamp the effects of
interactions between them. Thus, a finding of significant
main effects for all variables (i.e., race, sex, and sexual
orientation) would signal a lower probability of finding a
significant higher-order interaction. The phenomenon of
interactions thus poses a significant challenge to intersection-
ality researchers who conduct quantitative studies.
Returning to the quantitative results from the Bowleg et
al. (2004) BLSR study in which 67% of the sample
endorsed the statement that “Racism, sexism, and homo-
phobia are all serious issues in my life,”(p. 234) in an
ANOVA, the chances of these participants experiencing
discrimination because of the intersection of racism,
sexism, and homophobia would be low statistically speak-
ing, because the three main effects (i.e., racism, sexism, and
homophobia) would likely account for the bulk of the
variance in discrimination (Landrine et al. 1995).
Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325 319319
Insights about Analyzing Intersectionality Data
Observation is a hallmark of the positivist paradigm. That
is, the researcher seeks to “observe the essential elements of
the phenomena in question (i.e., the “essences”) and render
them in systematic and explicit (preferably, mathematical or
quantitative) form”(McGrath and Johnson 2003, p. 34).
Explaining how intersecting identities mutually construct
each other, or to use Ransford’s(1980) language, create a
“unique social space”(p. 277), however, is not always or
necessarily explicit. Rather, the analyst is charged with the
task of making meaning of participants’intersections of
ethnicity, sex/gender and sexual orientation even when the
participants do not explicitly indicate or describe it. As
such, what counts as data becomes a less important
consideration than the analyst’s epistemological framework
and ability to analyze data in ways that elucidate how the
sociocultural context of structural inequality based on the
intersections of race, sex, gender, and sexual orientation
shape participants’experiences (Collins 1995; Crenshaw
1989; Cuadraz and Uttal 1999). Far from abandoning
scientific rigor and method, I am advocating for a
contextualized scientific method. That is, in addition to
possessing the ability to analyze data systematically and
thoroughly, the intersectionality analyst must be able to
analyze research findings within a macro sociohistorical
context that transcends the observed data. Using the
Bowleg et al. (2004) BLSR quantitative demographic data
as an example, it would be insufficient based on mere
observation of the data that more than half of the sample
reported having a college or graduate degree to conclude
that this Black lesbian sample’s educational achievements
conferred a quality of life or standard living equivalent to
that of historically privileged groups such as White,
heterosexual, middle-class men with similar educational
credentials. Initial analyses would focus on the observed
data about the sample’s high education accomplishments,
followed by analysis of this data within a broader
sociohistorical context of earning disparities based on
intersections of ethnicity, sex/gender, and sexual orienta-
tion for Black lesbians as a whole (e.g., Dang and Frazer
As for the statistical tools that we use to analyze quan-
titative intersectionality data, Audre Lorde’s(1984)famous
quote, the “Master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s
house”(p. 111) seems apt here. That is, the statistical
methods, even those that test interactions, were not designed
with the study of intersectionality in mind. Rather, statis-
ticians rooted in positivistic paradigms developed statistical
assumptions of linearity, unidimensionality of measures,
uncorrelated error components and the like (McGrath and
Johnson 2003) that do not reflect the real world complexities
of intersections of race, sex/gender and sexual orientation. In
short, we need new analytical tools and strategies to assist us
in understanding the complexities of intersectionality.
Interpreting Intersectionality Data
Finally, after the researcher has asked what she or he hopes
are the best questions possible about intersectionality, and
has analyzed the resulting data, there remains the task of
interpreting the data. Here, as with analyzing intersectionality
data, the researcher’s philosophical paradigm is again para-
mount. Intersectionality theorists, not surprisingly, are likely
to interpret data through the prism of intersectionality rather
than other interpretive paradigms such as postmodernism or
neo-liberalism (Baptiste 2001). So what does it all mean?
This is the key question that all researchers must answer.
Qualitative researchers do this through systematic analysis of
transcripts or other texts; quantitative analysts through the
process of inputting their raw data to software for statistical
analysis (Marecek 2003). Thus, the primary goal of
interpretation is determining what those raw numbers or
reams of codes mean. Marecek (2003) has described the task
succinctly: “Whether numbers or words, data do not speak
for themselves; they acquire meaning only within a frame-
work of interpretation created by the researcher”(p. 65).
For intersectionality analysts, the key interpretative task is
to derive meaning from the observed data on the one hand,
and to on the other, interpret this individual level data
within a larger sociohistorical context of structural inequal-
ity that may not be explicit or directly observable in the
data (Cuadraz and Uttal 1999). A few examples from the
BLSR (Bowleg et al. 2004) and TT (Bowleg, manuscript in
preparation) studies of Bowleg et al. will highlight the issue.
Lessons from the BLSR and TT Studies of Bowleg et al.
The BLSR (Bowleg, manuscript in preparation; Bowleg et
al. 2008,2003) and TT (Bowleg, manuscript in preparation)
studies provided important lessons on two interpretive
tasks: (1) how to make sense of quantitative findings about
intersectionality; and (2) how to interpret narratives in
which interviewees talk about some, but not all of their
major intersections of social inequality; for example, the
intersections of racism and heterosexism, but not sexism.
Interpreting Quantitative Findings
Admittedly, the quantitative questions in the Bowleg et al.
(2004) BLSR study were far from ideal. Given a chance to
re-do the study, the researchers would probably not ask these
questions because they are so implicitly additive. This
notwithstanding, these questions are illustrative of one of
the challenges of interpreting quantitative data on intersec-
tionality. For example, only 9% and 21% of the BLSR sample
320 Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325
disagreed or were neutral respectively about the statement,
“Racism, sexism, and homophobia are all serious issues in
my life”(p. 234). By contrast, more than half of the sample
(67%) agreed with the statement that racism, sexism and
heterosexism were all serious issues in their lives. The
question: how to interpret the 30% who disagreed or were
neutral about these issues? Cuadraz and Uttal’s(1999) advice
that analysts should interpret intersectionality data by
bridging the context of the intersection of individual
biography and structural inequality, guided my interpretation
of this data. Specifically, at the individual level, 30% of the
Black lesbians in the study may indeed have had no
personal experiences with racism, sexism, and heterosexism.
It is also possible that other psychological mechanisms may
be at play such as the tendency for some members of
historically oppressed groups to minimize their personal
disadvantage (Crosby 1984;Crosbyetal.1993). The
absence of personal experiences (i.e., individual biography)
does not obviate the structural inequality that Black lesbians
experience as a group.
The aforementioned NGLTF analysis demonstrating that
Black lesbians earn less than their White and Black
heterosexual and same-sex counterparts provides one
example (Dang and Frazer 2004); Black lesbians’decreased
access to health care compared with White lesbians and
Black and White heterosexual counterparts is an another
(Mays et al. 2002). It is important to note that external
factors such as U.S. region (e.g., large cities such as New
York City, Philadelphia and San Francisco compared with
more rural regions or smaller cities) may also correlate
with Black lesbians’income levels and/or access to health
Interpreting Narratives Voiced by a Minority of Participants
An interesting finding from the qualitative analyses of the
BLSR study was that compared with the overwhelming
narratives about the experiences with racism, a few women
such as Bernice, a 50-year old lesbian recounted having no
experiences with sexism (Bowleg et al. 2003):
I don’t really experience difficulties as a woman. I
mean that I don’t perceive that I do. I’ve been able to
accomplish what I wanted to from my career. I was not
hindered by being a woman. Initially it was because of
being Black. I had some difficulties getting into
school, but, not, by virtue of being a woman (p. 28).
Although Bernice voiced a minority perspective, in
general only a handful of women discussed sexism
explicitly (Bowleg et al. 2003). One possible interpretation
of the finding that so few of the narratives of the Black
lesbians in the BLSR study discussed sexism is that sexism
is not a problem for Black lesbians. Such an interpretation
would be superficial at best, however. Rather, a more
compelling interpretation centers around an appreciation of
the Black lesbians’social location, historically and struc-
turally speaking, at the nexus of race, sex, and gender
(Collins 1991; Davis 1983; Hooks 1981; Jones and Shorter-
Gooden 2003). Therefore, the onus rests not on the
individual narrative, but on the researcher interpreting
the data “to learn about that context and relate it to the
individual’s views presented in the interviewees”(Cuadraz
and Uttal 1999, p. 10). Returning to the BLSR study,
Bowleg et al. (2003) interpreted the finding that the reason
that only a handful of interviewees had focused on sexism
as stressor was because racism and sexism are linked
inextricably in the lives of Black women. Leslie, for
example, recounted her frustration with sexism:
But the part that bothers me is when they try to
denigrate you or belittle you because you’re a woman,
or they don’t recognize your input at work because
you’re a woman, or because you know can’t earn what
you should earn because you’re a woman. And you
don’t move professionally where you should move
because you’re a woman; that part pisses me off, and I
have very little power over that, and quite frankly I
don’t know whether it’s because I’m Black or because
I’m woman or queer (Bowleg et al. 2003, p. 29).
Though Leslie began this narrative with a focus on
sexism, she ended it with an intersectionality analysis;
namely, that she is unclear about whether the sexism that
she experiences is a consequence of the intersection of
sexism and racism, or sexism and heterosexism. Betty, a
51-year old lesbian similarly noted her experiences of the
intersection of sexism and racism: “Well, I think that I
pretty much focus on the fact that I’m a Black female.
That’s been the major challenge. If I get challenged or
become the subject or the object of any bigotry, it’s
usually because of that”(Bowleg, manuscript in prepara-
tion). Thus, the researchers interpreted findings such as these
to mean that because sexism and racism are inextricably
linked for Black lesbians, few are likely to discuss sexism as
a singular experience unrelated to racism (Bowleg et al.
Insights about Interpreting Intersectionality Data
Intersectionality researchers, regardless of whether they are
using qualitative or quantitative methods, bear the respon-
sibility for interpreting their data within the context of
sociohistorical and structural inequality. Too often, upon
finding that “a dependent variable .... Varies for the
different groups categorized by race, class or gender”
(Cuadraz and Uttal 1999, p. 6), investigators conclude that
the found difference can be explained by race, class, or
Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325 321321
gender even though they measured no meaningful con-
structs relevant to race (e.g., discrimination, stereotype
threat), class (e.g., social distancing, prejudice, stereotypes),
or gender (e.g., gender role norms; Betancourt and Lopez
1993; Helms et al. 2005; Krieger et al. 1993). Conversely,
when they find no differences between socioculturally
different groups in a study, researchers readily conclude
that dimensions such as race, class, and gender played no
role in the study’s results. In other words, they homogenize
the groups. This erasure of entrenched systems of structural
inequality based on race, class, and gender, establishes
these differences as a mere socially constructed “never
ending string of equivalent relations, all containing race,
class and gender in some form, but a chain of equivalences
devoid of power relations”(Collins 1995, p. 493).
Nor is this interpretative invisibility limited to quantita-
tive research. Qualitative researchers may also fail to
interpret experiences of intersectionality by rendering the
missing narratives meaningless or giving more credence to
the explicit narratives about an experience. The interpretive
task for the intersectionality analyst is to make explicit the
often implicit experiences of intersectionality, even when
participants do not express the connections. This challenge
is hardly unique. Researchers who conduct community-
based research with historically disenfranchised communi-
ties routinely confront the dilemma of “... connect[ing]
theoretically, empirically, and politically troubling social/
familial patterns with macrostructural shifts when our
informants expressly do not make, or even refuse to make,
the connections”(Fine et al. 2000, p. 116). Making these
connections through our interpretations, is a key goal of
Following Truth: Some Concluding Thoughts
on Intersectionality Research
Depending on the strength of one’s mental constitution, one
of the benefits of reflecting on research already conducted
is the opportunity to reframe that research through new
knowledge gained since the research, and ponder different
ways one might approach the research given a chance to re-
do it. In this article, I have used the research of Bowleg et
al. (Bowleg, manuscripts in preparation; Bowleg et al.
2004,2008,2003) with Black lesbians to illustrate some of
the methodological challenges that arise with regard to
asking questions about intersectionality, and analyzing and
interpreting intersectionality data. Alas, what I conclude
from all of this is that although intersectionality theory
provides a conceptually solid framework with which to
examine the social location of individuals and groups
within “interlocking structures of oppression”(Collins
1995, p. 492; Weber 1998), the methodological choices at
our disposal to do so are severely limited. Try as we might,
it is virtually impossible to escape the additive assumption
implicit in the questions we use to measure intersectionality
and in our analysis of the phenomenon. Thus, it is the
interpretation of the seemingly un-measurable and un-
analyzable data that becomes one of the most substantial
tools of the intersectionality researcher. Simply put,
intersectionality researchers are charged with the responsi-
bility of making the intersections between ethnicity, sex/
gender, sexual orientation (to name just a few) and the
social inequality related to these identities, explicit.
Often the stock phrase in peer-reviewed articles is that
“more research is needed on x.”In the case of intersection-
ality research this is only partially true. Almost 30 years
later, Ransford’s(1980) declaration that research on
multiple jeopardy and advantages of social identities was
a“veritable empirical wasteland”(p. 272) remains true. On
the one hand, a keyword search for intersectionality or
intersections of social identities in the database Psychinfo
yields just a handful of citations. On the other hand, there is
a bounty of social science, epidemiological, and biomedical
research, particularly in the area of health disparities, with
the potential to answer key questions about structural
inequality based on the intersections of race, sex, gender,
class, sexual orientation, and disability (e.g., Schulman et
al. 1999; Smedley et al. 2003). For a variety of reasons
however, these studies tend to have limited ability to
answer important questions about intersectionality. First,
they often fail to develop meaningful constructs to measure
experiences based on the intersections of these social
identities, relying instead on the erroneous assumption that
variables such as race, sex, sexual orientation, class, and
disability are explanatory constructs in and of themselves
(Betancourt and Lopez 1993; Helms et al. 2005; Krieger
1999; Krieger et al. 1993).
Another problem is that variables such as social class are
often inconsistently or insufficiently measured (e.g., relying
on individual-level data only rather than the interaction of
individual, household, and neighborhood level data)
(Krieger et al. 1993). Moreover, many studies neglect to
collect data about identities such as sexual orientation or
gender identity (e.g., transgendered, female-to-male trans-
sexual, etc.; Dean et al. 2000) that would facilitate analysis
of intersectionality. For example, although Healthy People
2010 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
2000) includes 29 objectives that address health disparities
among lesbians, gay men and bisexuals, only six of the 12
federal information systems used to monitor the objectives
have experience collecting sexual orientation data. Nor
does a standardized way of collecting sexual orientation
data exist (Sell and Becker 2001). Proponents of the
collection of sexual orientation data in national population-
based research call the absence of data on sexual orientation
322 Sex Roles (2008) 59:312–325
“one of the greatest threats to the health of lesbian, gay, and
bisexual Americans”(Sell and Becker 2001, p. 876). Thus,
more research that asks more and better questions that can
be used to analyze intersectionality is desperately needed. It
is worth restating, that simply asking questions about
demographic difference or comparing different social
groups does not constitute intersectionality research.
Rather, it is the analysis and interpretation of research
findings within the sociohistorical context of structural
inequality for groups positioned in social hierarchies of
unequal power (Collins 1995; Crenshaw 1989,1991;
Cuadraz and Uttal 1999; Weber and Parra-Medina 2003)
that best defines intersectionality research.
Examining intersectionality from multidisciplinary per-
spectives is a signature strength of scholarship on inter-
sectionality. Scholars from disciplines as varied as women’s
studies, Black feminist studies, social epidemiology, soci-
ology, critical theory, legal studies, and psychology have all
made important contributions to advancing knowledge
about the experience of intersectionality. Nonetheless, this
disciplinary dispersion also reflects a “balkanization of
research on social inequality ... that has precluded integrat-
ed knowledge across systems of oppression”(Reskin 2002
as cited in Weber and Parra-Medina 2003, p. 200). An
essential response to this balkanization of research is
multidisciplinary teams of researchers composed of quali-
tative analysts and statisticians to develop and advance
methodological knowledge about interdisciplinary research.
At issue is not just an expansion of methodological
expertise; multidisciplinary teams challenge the predomi-
nant post-positivist paradigm in which most traditionally
trained researchers are steeped by “incorporating more
dimensions, situationally specific interpretations, group
dynamics and an explicit emphasis on social change”
(Weber and Parra-Medina 2003, p. 222).
The inchoate interest in intersectionality within psychol-
ogy as exemplified by this Special Issue on intersectionality
is both exciting and overdue. More noteworthy though is
the realization that long before academics ventured into the
study of intersectionality, Black women pioneers such as
Sojourner Truth (1851) used their own lives to illustrate the
experience of intersectionality. Truth’s famous “Ain’tIA
Woman?”speech in which she interrogated the intersections
between her experiences as a woman who had “borne 13
children”but because she was Black, had never been “help
[ed] into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or giv[en] any best
place”as the mores of 19th century White society dictated
for economically advantaged White women, remains a
poignant description of intersectionality. Indeed, Truth’s
speech provides an invaluable lesson for the conceptual and
methodological advancement of future research on intersec-
tionality. Inherent in Truth’s wisdom is a call for researchers
to approach intersectionality from the perspectives of
ordinary people who live at the crux of structural inequality
based on intersections of race, class, sex, gender, sexual
orientation, and disability. Approaches grounded in the
experiences of ordinary people, in stark contrast to tradition-
al top-down approaches hold incredible promise for helping
researchers address and respond to the many methodological
challenges of intersectionality research. Indeed the novel
perspectives gained from intersectionality research can
advance knowledge, inform interventions, and shape public
policy in ways that benefit women like Black lesbians and all
others who fall through the “women and minorities”gap.
Acknowledgement To my friend, colleague, and statistical guru
Torsten B. Neilands, Ph.D., Assistant Professor and Director of the
Methods Core at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, University
of California, San Francisco, I offer my immense gratitude for his
thoughtful comments about the implications of intersectionality for
quantitative research. My sincere thanks also extend to Judith
Agyeman, my wonderful graduate research assistant at the School of
Public Health who assisted with fact checking and literature reviews
for this article. Last, but by no means least, I express my gratitude to
the participants of the BLSR and TT study, without whom none of this
research would be possible.
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