Intersectionality scoring, what it means for you

Intersectionality, coined in 1989 for overlapping identity, instances where the margins of criteria by which we define ourselves both apply, has now become topical. Why? Well, there are statistical differences that show disadvantage*, but also I think that a lot of people are looking for something to point to, a quantified metric that they can claim to be evidence that they have been treated unfairly by life, then go on to infer that the structured systems of civilisation have been arranged (suggesting deliberately) to perpetually disadvantage outlying groups such as the one with which they identify. For example, if a certain ethnicity and social ‘elite class’ are perceived to hold all the positions of authority in a society (people probably have devised a society in their image), anyone who is dissimilar to this intersection of class/race may notice or imagine themselves to be at a disadvantage and seek compensation. They might be right or they might be ‘playing a card’ to gain an advantage over others who have worked harder for their property, so the truth of a claim can be blurry without the full evidence of many variables. Also, what advantages and disadvantages an ethnicity (or language, or religion) depends where you are in the world, so no advantage is geographically even.

*Data on one subject alone is not enough to prove disadvantage to a group because the picture can be insanely complicated. For example, the Jamaican diaspora in the UK predominantly reside within London. It is feasible that this is a free choice, rather than anything preventing this one-criterion ‘section’ of population living in the countryside. The average age at which young males of Jamaican ancestry in London discontinue their education is younger than all other ‘sections’ of Londoners, such as young males of British ancestry, and they quit much younger than young males of Indian, Vietnamese and Chinese (incl. Hong Kong) ancestry who lead the education committment statistics. Is this early leaving age pure racism or is it (very likely) that cultural expectations from some communities around getting the most out of education are different to those of other communities? A poor education across multiple generations might be expected to result in less income and fewer advantages in life for a child, theoretically lowering that family’s social and economic classification (class is defined in different ways in different countries). Then let’s look at the intersection, where being of Jamaican ancestry overlaps with low income and lack of social position. The correlation between ancestry and poverty exists but does one thing (Jamaican cultural background) cause lower life chances and potentially even poverty? Correlation is not causation. Generalising here only to make the point (as there are highly educated British barristers of Jamaican ancestry, for example), do you see from the statistical connection an injustice to be corrected here? Would you say that the design or prejudice of society has consciously kept this part of the community down, or has that part of the community been disadvantaged by their own decisions not to pursue opportinities openly available to them (e.g. too many males quitting education and parents not encouraging them to continue)? Similarly, if an intersection is under-represented in the ethnic spectrum of university professors, how can that absence be repaired except by promoting lower achievers over and above people from over-represented ‘sections’ who can prove they are more qualified and harder-working? This correcting of the system by over-ruling meritocracy is equally unfair because someone outside the assisted group has made way and thus been disadvantaged because of their intersectional criteria alone, which is genuine racism. You can’t win. All you can do is provide open opportunities to all, then avoid bias by being sure not to filter the applicants by any of their personal characteristics.

Not everyone reaches the next conclusion, but some do: typically, that the ‘type’ who devised the system and benefit from it by entitlement are still in conscious or subconscious collusion to keep it unchanged. If this ‘ type’ of people (caution - possibly imagined phantoms) represent oppressors in people’s minds, they may be awarded a pejorative label (e.g. The Illuminati) to encourage others to agree with the accuser that (a) they exist, (b) they are malign and (c) a levelling by retribution is necessary. This method caused the Holocaust. Blaming others for your own problems is cathartic and creates commonality and friendship between like-minded people, which is doubly satisfying, but can — at the crowd level — reach disgusting extremes. It is my contention that a proportion of apparent intersectionality injustice is real but a proportion is a paranoid and self-referencing illusion which could, by applying knee-jerk counter-bias, cause new injustices.

The modern tribes that people seem to be casually sorting themselves into are interesting from a human psychology perspective, partly because the common identity of the group you think you are part of is usually fake (a false perception or simplification incorrectly assuming that other people and their multiple motivations are identical to one’s own) and then because the arch enemy hate organisation that the self-identified victims picture in their heads as picking on them probably doesn’t exist anyway as a structured institution, or is a real institution but within it not everyone supports one intention. How can an illusion of political singularity threaten or oppress you? Well, it can’t, but you can use the phantasm as a convenient reference against which to define your own identity; overlapping the sections of (i) what you were born as, with something else, (ii) a declaration of what you stand against. If you draw that red line on the battlefield, you could be standing there for a very long time if your arch-enemy organisation can’t show up because they don’t exist in any tangible way. If you talk to people in opposition to you, they generally don’t believe what you assume they believe. It’s complicated.

Liberals, Antifa, Rainbow Alliance, New World Order, Hipsters, Snowflakes, Hufflepuff. As an example of the absurdity, the common enemy of self-defined Liberals is usually fascism (boo, no one likes that) but the people they accuse of being fascists are almost always not fascist (because they do not support any fascist policies), just people who fo not agree for one reason or another (which may be valid, if anyone asked). Perhaps the Liberal ‘section’ would be rather surprised to find that, in their need to impose their future vision on others against their will, the Liberals themselves are repeating a genuine 1940s fascist policy. This complacency error arises where you have a noble image of self and also an image of bad people you don’t want to be like, then you continue comfortably through the rest of your life without thinking through the details of your position. Impartial thinking is an effort and most people, particularly self-identifying liberals, try to avoid exploring complexity which can undermine their world-view.

“Verbal intelligence is correlated with a tendency to believe one’s future income will be higher under economically liberal policies, the correlation between verbal intelligence and economically liberal beliefs could be explained by selfishness, at least in part.” (Dr Noah Carl, Intelligence, 2014). This suggests that people may identify themselves with this label not because they believe in liberal social policies but because they have chosen the group they believe will best massage their bank balance. That won’t apply to everyone.

Another key flaw in the determination of intersectional scores is that they are estimates made by the subject person themselves. If the individual is asked (A) to place themselves somewhere on a scale between rich and poor and then (B) tells them where they are in comparison to other people, there are immediate undermining concerns. The first is the perception of what rich means. To some, a household income of fewer than fifty thousand pounds is poor. To others, not being in debt or having more income than outgoings by a penny is rich. Some people have nothing but stand to inherit riches, so which are they? If there are 100 people all earning the same figure, say 24,000, some will identify themselves as rich and some will say they are poor. An income of £100 a week is rich in India and poor in Sweden, so regional differences also exist which are not taken into account.

(Contd.) In (B), the calculation does not compare the individual’s (culturally biased) self-scoring to the world’s population but instead compares it to a data-set of those who have sought out the intersectional scores website tool and considered it important enough to fill in their details. These people have already filtered themselves into a separate set from the background population of the world, so how can you find a relational average and believe it? In other words, what is the use of being informed you are advantaged or disadvantaged in comparison to an outlier sub-set of: educated, well-paid, urban, politically socialist or liberal, middle class, LGBT+, English speaking, internet savvy amateur activists?

The point I’m making is, who goes to the intersectionality calculator, except someone trying to prove a feeling? Who is it you are being compared to? People who study disadvantage are usually those who already perceive themselves to be disadvantaged. The largest and most vocal group of those may be race or LGBT+, which is ordinarily about 6 percent of the population. Therefore, if a disproportionate fraction, say for sake of argument 40% of people who calculate their intersectional score on one particular day are LGBT+, it yields a comparison of your place in relation to an average score of a skewed database (because 10x the average of this section across the full population took the test that day) and therefore this is a false result when upscaled. If you are reading this assessment and object to that point, the probability is your disagreement is based on campaigning for your prefered group to be accepted (which on the whole it is), not a logical refutation.

This isn’t about defining a value for normal, just reminding you to weigh your own ‘intersection’s’ privilege against the mean of all human life in all 200 countries (to be very accurate) or a scientifically determined large and representative sample group (not ideal but a more realistic reference point). Anything else is cherry-picking causality and non-objective (insecure) interpretation. The fact that some within that dataset will have seen their fortunes and disadvantages rise and fall across the years, as their life unfolded, additionally loosens any reality link between the newly scored and the group they are being compared to, whose position has in reality drifted since their assessment. Self-scoring your position in a complex open system is always pointless because the information is guessed at by someone who can only understand a tiny part of the system and who has no certainty which information that has influenced their view is erroneous. You have to be God to take into account everything relevant sometimes. For example, most people would score themselves as rich or poor in comparison with their neighbours, but will then go on to believe that their (localised) disadvantage score proves they are less privileged in the context of all humans alive in the world today, which isn’t true.

People love sectional classifications and their interconnectedness because we are a story-weaving, fable-composing species. The narative rules our portrayal of ourselves and we can change the narrative or have several for different occasions, depending what we want to prove. We feed off intersectionality naturally because we’ve always claimed loose social and hard factual categorisations such as race, class and gender to build a case that we are natural leaders — or another case to back-up the claim we are disadvantaged or discriminated against. The point that undermines these cases is that we usually prepare two main naratives for different situations, which sound as if we are describing two different people (both the same person). The first is the show-off case, re-enforcing your confidence by bragging your achievements, qualifications and how your ancestor grew up in a palace. This is used to claim respect, a shield to defend yourself from being talked down to. The second case is to list a tragic backstory, all the hardships you had to endure and how you survived so deserve to be given an advantage, as parodied by Monty Python’s classic ‘Yorkshiremen’ sketch, “We ‘ad it tough”. Neither of these narratives can ever be completely true because the ploy requires a coherent case, which in turn requires the omission of everything which contradicts the selective narrative of natural brilliance or cruel disadvantage being claimed today.

So we all have a self-schema, unless we’re rolling about unconscious, and we particularly love to deploy our tragic backstories to attract sympathy. We like people caring about us. Research indicates that we are better at remembering information which can be built into our schema narrative, which means it is preferentially encoded and easily recalled by memory. This is termed self-referential encoding. Self-image is the mental picture, quite resistant to change, that includes hard truths about physical form but also substance you’ve selected, collected and incorporated to fill it out. Essentially, you choose the self-image you want to portray and then find ‘evidence’ to fill the dossier out with. Intersectional scoring does not identify your existing attributes as much as it is used to help create the attributes and the injustice that an individual is struggling to prove. It’s like an actor collecting props to make their character believable.

Intersectionality is used to build up a person’s preferred image of themselves for self-confidence, self-reliance and if we convince ourselves it is all true we can feel happier and bullet-proof. Usually that’s a proud facade. Ten generations back you might be related to someone really famous, but you are also related to 3,000 other people who were forgotten criminals and idiots so we choose not to select them for the back-story. Intersectionality is also used to build that image of how life has discriminated against you, adding the necessary villain (person or organisation, real or imagined) for you to vent rage at and quest to destroy, because there’s strength in siding with the glorious dragon-slayers. Everyone knows life is unfair to most humans. Everyone wants to blame someone for what’s not perfect and achievable. Everyone feels they are owed and they want restitution. It would be a reach to blame someone else for our own mortality, but we can try that too.

The thing about intersectionality is that we are not owed but we’d like to feel we are. The people we blame have very often been dead for fifty or more years and their perpetuation as an oppressor is meme mythology from the entertainment industry. If someone weaves an elaborate case that they have been treated unfairly because of their intersectionality perception, this delusion is very probably random and self-created, giving them a little surge of rage to define their identity but to those who understand the game they are playing, the disadvantage is mostly ignis fatuus and the truth is it’s all a campaign to force a selfish advantage over everyone else. Bad things happen to everyone sooner or later.

Yes, some people are still disadvantaged in society. No, intersectionality is not an accurate way to measure and compare disadvantage. Finding your intersectionality score and beating other people over the head with it in the hope they will change society to favour you or your perceived group is an ineffectual use of time and the score you get means whatever you want it to mean.



Reviewer, Editor, Mars colony volunteer

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