kimberle-crenshaw

Among the most troubling consequences of the failure of antiracist and feminist discourses to address the intersections of race and gender is the fact that, to the extent they can forward the interest of ‘people of color’ and 'women’ respectively, one analysis often implicitly denies the validity of the other. The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failure of antiracism to interrogate patriarchy means that antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women. These mutual elisions present a particularly difficult political dilemma for women of color. Adopting either analysis constitutes a denial of a fundamental dimension of our subordination and precludes the development of a political discourse that more fully empowers women of color.
—  Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color,” Stanford Law Review 43, no. 6 (July 1991): 1241-1299, 1253.
The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend difference, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite - that it frequently conflates or ignores intragroup differences. In the context of violence against women, this elision of difference in identity politics is problematic, fundamentally because of the violence that many women experience is often shaped by other dimensions of their identities, such as race and class. Moreover, ignoring difference within groups contributes to tension among groups, another problem of identity politics that bears on efforts to politicize violence against women. Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices. And so, when the practices expound identity as woman or person of color as an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resists telling.
—  Kimberle Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color” (Stanford Law Review, vol. 43:1241, July 1991). 
Not only are women of color in fact overlooked, but their exclusion is reinforced when white women speak for and as women. The authoritative universal voice—usually white male subjectivity masquerading as non-racial, non-gendered objectivity—is merely transferred to those who, but for gender, share many of the same cultural, economic, and social characteristics.
— 

Kimberle Crenshaw, 1989, “Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”.

If you are a white woman or are privileged in other ways, attempting to speak for all women erases women who are not like yourself and who face oppressions you do not experience. If you are white or otherwise privileged, be aware of this when you speak. Recognise who you speak for. Lift up voices of people with different oppressions than yourself, and recognise how your own gender-based oppression is both similar to and different from that of, for instance, Black women. 

~mod r

I am suggesting that Black women can experience discrimination in ways that are both similar to and different from those experienced by white women and Black men.
— 

Kimberle Crenshaw, 1989, “Demarginalising the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”.

Kimberle Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in 1989 to be able to talk about the experiences of Black women. In this paper, which I am reading for the first class in my Gender, Ethnicity and Religion course, she discusses three court cases in which Black women sued for discrimination. In one case, for example, Black women lost the case: Even though the company they sued did not hire any Black women, it hired white women and Black men and therefore the judge ruled that no discrimination was taking place.

~mod r

Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices. And so, when the practices expound identity as woman or person of color as an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resists telling.
—  Kimberlé Crenshaw, Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color
Because women of color experience racism in ways not always the same as those experienced by men of color and sexism in ways not always parallel to experiences of white women, antiracism and feminism are limited, even on their own terms…
The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failure of anti racism to interrogate patriarchy means that anti racism will frequently reproduc the subordination of women
—  Kimberle Crenshaw
The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the subordination of people of color, and the failure of anti-racism to interrogate patriarchy means that anti-racism will frequently reproduce the subordination of women. These mutual elisions present a particularly difficult political dilemma for women of color. Adopting either analysis constitutes a denial of a fundamental dimension of our subordination and works to precludes the development of a political discourse that more fully empowers women of color.
— 

Kimberlé Crenshaw

And this is where my political ideology, as a Womanist starts because of my own identity; but (as much of her writing alludes to as well, though not in this particular quote) I am also concerned with class, ability, sexual orientation and more. I cannot embrace White women’s feminist or Black men’s anti-racist interests if they are not intersectional. I am not interested in any “equality” that requires the oppression of another person, for any particular identity facet.

The point is that Black women can experience discrimination in any number of ways and that the contradiction arises from our assumptions that their claims of exclusion must be unidirectional. Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going in all four directions. Discrimination, like traffic through an intersection, may flow in one direction, and it may flow in another. If an accident happens in an intersection, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, sometimes, from all of them. Similarly, if a Black woman is harmed because she is in the intersection, her injury could result from sex discrimination or race discrimination.
—   Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” U. Chi. Legal F., 1989, 139.  
brief notes on feminism, class and identity

This was sparked off by the confusion that generally predominates on the internet and in nominally left spaces about what ‘identity’ is. The standard ‘left’ identitarian position/response to anyone questioning the validity goes something like “Identity Politics and Intersectionality are radical theory about how race, gender, and class all come together to oppress and exploit millions of Americans” (as seen in this woeful article https://medium.com/@jeevesmeister/dear-wearetheleft-you-are-not-the-left-d01355f274d5#.no50qaezn). There are more than a few massive problems with this theoretical understanding that I can barely begin to condense into in a Tumblr post.

First off, intersectionality was Kimberle Crenshaw’s attempt to account for oppression within a legalistic framework to enable the construction of a legal class (this is different from ‘class’ as a material social entity) in order to create legal remedies to the specific problem of discrimination. Specifically, it was about solving the problem caused by the pre-existing legal classes ‘black’ and ‘female’ that did not account for black women (the most famous example being the landmark case where a firm laid off all the black female employees and claimed it was not unfairly dismissing them because of discrimination since they kept black men and white women on), and which operated to the legal disadvantage of black women and other women of colour. Like other forms of problem-solving theory, it is a liberal theoretical framework whose innovation and raison d’être is inclusion. Inclusion is not the end goal of liberation movements, nor is it intrinsically the means of getting there. As for taking intersectionality to be some type of social theory, I would argue that if you needed a model of ‘intersection’ between groups, whose fundamental theoretical definition was based on a discrete particularity that did not adequately account for the group as a whole (eg ‘women’=white women, ‘black’=black men), I would scrap that theoretical model and try to come up with something new that better accounted for the whole picture.

Inclusion is the fundamental liberal principle that lies behind notions such as ‘equal opportunity’, which was allegedly brought to us when women were ‘allowed’ to join the workforce in the postwar years in large numbers, and informs us that this is a factual reality, whereas anyone socialised female that has been abused or raped and lives with debilitating trauma, and/or is a single mother, can tell you that because of that they do not have the education, work experience and career status that males the same age in the same economic class have been able to accumulate in the same period of time without the handicap of being the sex-class. ‘Inclusion’ masks that material reality (of power and its lack) and states that there exists parity. Similarly, inclusion is able to mask other material power structures that may operate in a given space - the idea of ‘including’ one’s oppressors in environments that explored the intimate effects of oppression, especially on consciousness, was thought by second wave feminists and the Black Power movement to be anathema to liberation. It was in effect allowing your oppressor to determine your liberation (i.e. how much liberation they would let you have). As the approach of third wave feminism has let us see, it means dragging down the entire movement to be about the achievement of a peaceable consensus between oppressor and oppressed. The limits of ‘educating’ the oppressor were acknowledged by this ‘outdated’ second wave model, which is lightyears beyond the understanding that predominates today - which is all about accumulating ‘allies’ for your cause who may be enlightened at best, but despite this they still manage to benefit from and constitute, and reproduce those same oppressive structures. The disparity between professed enlightenment and action breeds understandable cynicism, which can lead to unproductive anger that lends itself to building essentialist belief systems which are essentially a formal inversion of the dominant ideology to ‘explain’ this incongruent behaviour. The biodeterminism of certain strains of Anglo lesbian separatism being a key example.

Secondly, the confusion of ‘identity politics’ with liberation struggles stems from a fundamental confusion between identity and class. The main thesis of identity politics is that groups that receive behavioural discrimination or differential treatment, somehow are classes in themselves by virtue of this fact alone. It overemphasises the symbolic to the disavowal or complete exclusion of the material/structural. Hence notions of ‘symbolic violence’ that grate against what violence is and what constitutes it. Class, very simply, requires exploitation as its basic condition. The identification of belonging to that exploited class as the rationale for the exploitation, follows the fact of exploitation. Women are exploited in domestic labour (via the family unit/male cohabitation) and the sex industry, and are corporeally appropriated by the class of men to serve male desires. Racialised peoples are marked to occupy low-status jobs within capitalism that ‘reflect’ their supposed inferiority, and are hyperexploited to be kept there. And then there’s the ideology surrounding it all. As a counterexample, homosexuals are not a class -  they are not exploited or physically appropriated for being homosexual. Homosexuals receive discrimination and are on the receiving end of negative ideology, but this is derivative of the patriarchal institution of compulsory heterosexuality (this is not necessarily integral to patriarchy - see Ancient Greece). The value system of compulsory heterosexuality underlies persecution, which can be life-threatening. There is a relation of oppression present, but it is not a class oppression. It is discrimination on the basis of sexuality. Following this, homosexuals experience different oppression based on their sex-class status - male or female. From what I have generally observed, lesbian women don’t emphasise their homosexuality as rendering them as a different class from the rest of women - they situate their being lesbian as embedded in their being female and understanding lesbophobia as based in patriarchy. Gay men however will tend to push more for homosexuality to be considered as a class in itself that pushes against the 'normativity’ of a heterosexist society and exalts the value of being 'deviant’, whence we get the ‘queer’ movement. This approach puts forth a normative perspective of homosexual/queer oppression that does nothing to change compulsory heterosexuality and its institutions such as marriage, but exalts lifestylism/conspicuous consumption and posits the goal of inclusion through tolerance, as contradictory as it is when you have a norm/deviant framework. Hence weird concepts like ‘homonormativity’. This was the opposite approach to that of lesbian separatists, though that wasn’t without its problems. Given all this I wouldn’t necessarily theorise this kind of discrepancy as an ‘intersection’ between homosexuality and gender, since the two aren’t exactly discrete  - the prohibition of homosexuality is derivative of a certain patriarchal logic that is further explicated with regards to sexual difference.

Anyhow, this was just a bunch of thoughts I collated together. A distinction needs to be drawn between identity and class and if intersectionality is going to be any reliable method of joining the dots, one’s basic understanding of a social category has to be rigorous in the first place.

It is somewhat ironic that those concerned with alleviating the ills of racism and sexism should adopt such a top-down approach to discrimination. If their efforts instead began with addressing the needs and problems of those who are most disadvantaged and with restructuring and remaking the world where necessary, then others who are singularly disadvantaged would also benefit. In addition, it seems that placing those who currently are marginalized in the center is the most effective way to resist efforts to compartmentalize experiences and undermine potential collective action.
—   Crenshaw, Kimberle. “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics.” U. Chi. Legal F., 1989, 139.