Intersectional invisibility revisited: How group prototypes lead to the erasure and exclusion of Black women

Stewart M. Coles, Josh Pasek

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Intersectionality theory allows us to examine how systems of power and oppression (e.g., racism, sexism) co-construct each other to create complex and unique forms of systemic harm and injustice. More particularly, intersectional invisibility provides a framework to understanding how Black women, who live at the intersection of racism and sexism, may be harmed when their unique experiences as Black women are not recognized. This study takes a stereotype content approach to explore how group prototypes result in Black women’s intersectional invisibility. Employing a novel stereotypical attribute awareness task administered to more than 1,000 U.S. adults, we build on previous work regarding prototypes and intersectional invisibility. We also advance a differentiation hypothesis positing that the prototypical Black woman and Black man will be less distinct from each other than the prototypical White woman and White man. Respondents differentiated between White men and White women to a greater extent than they differentiated between Black men and Black women. Black women were also rated as being less similar to women in general than were White women. Using nonmetric multidimensional scaling techniques to visualize prototype similarity, we identify racial and gender dimensions in prototype similarity and depict how various group prototypes cluster along these dimensions. We conclude that demographic group prototypes lead to Black women being erased through masculinization and underdistinction from Black men and excluded through overdistinction from women in general. These findings help to explain Black women’s simultaneous victimization by the criminal legal system and neglect from “single-axis” social justice movements.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)314-324
JournalTranslational Issues in Psychological Science
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2020


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