Many of us remember when “running errands” was a bigger project than it is today. Even now, when most of us have free time to go and take care of stuff, there is a list a mile long: 1) Buy the week’s groceries 2) Make a deposit at the bank 3) Get a new pair of mittens [it’s December, and you’ll be darned if you don’t usually put the pair inside your pocket together] 4) Get the oil changed in the car 5) Stock up on thank-you notes.

Though this list is scattered, it is fairly representative of what many have to do on errand day. We used to spend entire Saturdays criss-crossing town, from service station to clothing store to grocery store, to the optometrist, to the bank.

I’ll bet I’m not the only one who felt great relief at the emergence of a certain store which shall remain nameless, but that is in nearly every town in America, at which we became suddenly able to accomplish multiple errands in one stop. Suddenly, taking care of our lives became markedly easier.

I do not have enough space in this article to address the various arguments that have arisen about this store since its genesis. However I chose to focus on the store as a metaphor for a key ingredient in social improvement and harm reduction efforts: intersectionality.

Intersectionality is a phenomenon embodied by every individual. It is the unique combination of one’s (often involuntary) espousal of multiple identities including those that are socioeconomic, racial, geographical, gender-based, and healthcare-driven. Put simply: none of us have only one identity. We ourselves are intersectional, as we are a unique compilation multiple perspectives and multiple characteristics.

Okay, So I’m Multifaceted. So What?

One of the most harmful things to real social progress is the mistake many of us make: identifying ourselves only by to one facet of our intersectional selves. In our quest to protect the interests of the identity that we have deemed most important, we often overlook other parts of ourselves that also have contributing needs. For example, if I vote in an Arizona election, I may choose to think of myself primarily as a taxpayer, and vote for policies that best protect my interests regarding taxes. But if I am an environmentalist as well, I may choose to subsume that part of my identity in favor of my identity as a taxpayer. Because most policies cannot reflect our intersectional identities, we end up choosing to represent only the part of our identity that seems most important to us.

Unfortunately, as we attempt to whittle our own identities down to one dimension, we tend to begin viewing others around us as singular, as well. Moreover, in seeking to protect ourselves and our families, we tend to identify others according to their characteristics we view as most dangerous. Thus, someone who is a resident of Phoenix, a mother, and a user of intravenous drugs tends to get labeled by members of her community merely as an intravenous drug user. The other parts of her identity that need support? They get swept under the rug.

It is crucial for all of us, we members of the intersectional human race, to understand is that we all have multiple needs and multiple motivations. But others who may seem dangerous to us must be treated as residents of the communities that we share. In order to make our state safer, we need to keep safe all of the residents of our state. In order to protect my interests as a resident of Phoenix, I need to consider all of the residents of Phoenix as part of the equation. Just like the famous store, our communities are made up of many different sections, many of which do not affect us personally.

When we are able to see all lives as intersectional and having various needs, we are better equipped to support policies and programs that may affect some of our fellow Arizonans, but perhaps not us directly. We in the Harm Reduction community seek to remind our fellows that programs empirically proven to help members of marginalized social arenas, help all of us. If we want to make all of Arizona safer and healthier, we must seek to bring safety and health to all Arizonans. None of us has only one identity; we must focus on the parts of identity that we share.