When I first became engaged in political struggle in the mid-1960s, most of my focus was on the battle for civil rights—fighting against the continuing oppression of black Americans. I had grown up in a household where discussions of class and racial struggle were consumed along with breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In my early 20s I organized as a part the Black Panther Party Rainbow Coalition with Latinos, Asian-Americans, Native Americans, and Appalachian whites, which expanded my understanding of what shaped their oppression—and their political movements to counteract it. During that period I also embraced feminism. Much of the time there were conflicts and discomforts in my attempts to bring these disparate elements together in my head and in my practice. What became most difficult for me was being a black woman—a woman of color—in the context of all these movements.
As my feminism developed I learned by watching and listening to women who were part of a broad swath of activities. Some were militant activists like Mrs. Fannie Lou Hamer, and others were engaged in electoral politics, like Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm—and some were cultural workers like Audre Lorde. In late 1969/early 1970, while engaged in formulating and writing a women’s position paper in the predominately Puerto Rican Young Lords Party (YLP), I was also in contact with Frances Beale, a veteran of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who had formed a Black Women’s Alliance (renamed the Third World Women’s Alliance), which published Black Women's Manifesto—Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female.
Since that time, more pieces of the puzzle have come together and now race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, social class, age, and disability can be understood via an exploration of “intersectionality.” The word and the theory behind it are still not widely understood, though the term has gained considerable traction since its introduction into our lexicon.
I often resist academic jargon, though I’m currently working in that realm. But “intersectionality” goes far beyond academics and has key applications to the current status of our movements, and building coalitions to achieve a better and more equitable future.
Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw, who coined the term “intersectionality,” recently was the keynote speaker at the Women of the World (WOW) Festival in London. Here is her discussion of intersectionality and intersectional politics. In it she delivers a primer on just what intersectionality is, and goes on to give specific examples. She also critiques President Obama’s “My Brother’s Keeper” program and discusses intersectional feminist movements like #SayHerName.
About Kimberlé Crenshaw:
Crenshaw was born in Canton, Ohio in 1959, to parents Marian and Walter Clarence Crenshaw, Jr. Crenshaw attended Canton McKinley High School. She received a bachelor's degree in government and Africana studies from Cornell University in 1981, where she was a member of the Quill and Dagger senior honors society. She received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1984. In 1985, she received an LL.M. from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she was a William H. Hastie Fellow, and law clerk to Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge Shirley Abrahamson.
Following completion of her LL.M, Crenshaw joined the faculty of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law in 1986. She is a founder of the field of critical race theory, and a lecturer on civil rights, critical race studies, and constitutional law. In 1991 and 1994, she was elected professor of the year by matriculating students. In 1995, Crenshaw was appointed as full professor at Columbia Law School, where she is the founder and director of the Center for Intersectionality & Social Policy Studies, established in 2011
In 1996, she co-founded and is the executive director of the nonprofit think tank and information clearinghouse, The African American Policy Forum, which focuses on issues of gender and diversity. Its mission is to build bridges between scholarly research and public discourse in addressing inequality and discrimination. Crenshaw has been awarded the Fulbright Chair for Latin America in Brazil, and in 2008, she was awarded an in-residence fellowship at the Center of Advanced Behavioral Studies at Stanford.In 1991, Crenshaw assisted the legal team representing Anita Hill at the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Crenshaw is the co-founder and executive director of the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), a think tank focused on "dismantling structural inequality" and "advancing and expanding racial justice, gender equality, and the indivisibility of all human rights, both in the U.S. and internationally.
Since there is much to choose from in Crenshaw’s work, here is just one of her many books.
On Intersectionality: Essential Writings
Over the past twenty years the concept of “intersectionality,” first coined by scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, has emerged as an influential approach to understanding discrimination and exclusion in our society, whose members can experience bias in multiple ways—as a consequence of race, gender, sexual orientation, or a combination of these. And as the Washington Post reported recently, “the term has been used by social activists as both a rallying cry for more expansive progressive movements and a chastisement for their limitations.” As a new wave of activism seeks to challenge entrenched discrimination in America, few concepts have acquired such relevance or been so widely debated.
In this first-ever collection of Crenshaw’s writing, readers will find the key essays and articles that have defined the concept of intersectionality and made Crenshaw a legal superstar. The book, which also includes a sweeping new introduction by the author, reveals the trajectory of the subject as it has evolved over the course of two decades and radically changed the face of social justice activism. For anyone interested in movement politics and advocacy, On Intersectionality is compulsory reading from one of the most brilliant critical race theorists of our time.
Thanks to internet media platforms there is now a plethora of material available to expand our understanding of intersectionality, and how to put it into practice in our coalition work. In case you haven’t seen it yet, Race Forward has introduced a new video series, which I’m planning to use in the classroom next semester. It is called “RaceAnd.”
#RaceAnd is a video series exploring the ways that race compounds and intersects with all the other issues faced by people of color. Each video features a different artist, activist, or thinker, sharing their lived experience of how race intertwines with their other identities, and how that mix impacts their lives both personally and systemically. Learn more by visiting www.raceforward.org/…
Here are three of those conversations:
Whether its through her activism or writing, Jamia leads through an intersectional lens because she believes that "There's a problem when we're not actually understanding that the liberation of all people makes us all free."
To learn more about Jamia visit www.jamiawilson.com and follow her at @jamiaw.
ABOUT SONIA GUIÑANSACA As a poet and organizer, Sonia's work reflects on her many identities; shifting from being undocumented to documented, a migrant, a Queer/Femme women of color and artist. Learn more about Sonia and her work www.soniaguinansaca.comand follow her at @theSoniaG
Artist Hye Yun Park wears many hats; filmmaker, performance artist, writer and actor. As a genderqueer fat Asian, Hye uses her many talents to counter act the narrow representation of of people of color like herself.
Other groups, like the Intersectional Souls Project, are applying intersectionality in the deaf community.
The goal of Intersectional Souls Project is to provide the opportunity for Black Deaf Youth and role models to come together and learn from one another. We envision that we will accomplish this by hosting a retreat, during which time we would focus on several areas, including: media, music, arts, poetry, photography, dance, and film.
What does intersectionality mean? Intersectionality is the study of intersections between forms or systems of oppression, domination or discrimination. The concept first came from Black legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 and is largely used in critical theories, especially Feminist theory, when discussing systematic oppression. It means that we recognize that people in the Deaf community have different identities that overlap. For instance, a person might identify as Deaf, DeafBlind, Hard of Hearing, Person of Color, Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Transgender, Elder, Youth, Educated, Grassroots, and so on. Whichever identities encompass a person, we want to take the opportunity to teach and inspire youth so that they may succeed, whatever their path in life.
The Deaf (DDBDDHH*, BIPOC*, LGBTQIA) community is a perfect example of a blend of intersectional souls. Although members of the Deaf community have been talking about the overlapping of identities for a long time, Stephanie "Najma" Johnson, Drago Renteria, and Elena Ruiz-Williams are among a few who have spread awareness about the concept in various communities. Additionally, Dr. Carla García-Fernández has written about the importance of incorporating and cherishing multiple identities in Deaf-Lat education. We thank these wonderful people for their hard work- it is an inspiration to learn from them.
Stephanie D. Johnson, a.k.a. "Najma", a Deaf-Blind Black Panqueer community educator explains different examples and situations where intersectionality* exists. She emphasizes that, without intersectionality, Deaf communities will fall apart.
The full transcript is at the Intersectional Souls Project.
I look forward to hearing your experiences with intersectionality in your own lives, and discussing the resources you have discovered to enhance understanding of both its theory and practice.