Kimberlé Crenshaw, The Introduction of Intersectionality | MAKERS Moment
KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW: Intersectionality came out of an encounter that I had with the way anti-discrimination law seemed to overlook the challenges that Black women were facing in employment. My first encounter with the problem went back to law school when we were advocating for affirmative action, advocating for the university to really take a hard look at their hiring practices in order to open them up.
And one of the responses to that was to recruit, look for women, and to look for people of color. I was fascinated by the fact that the women of color didn't really seem to be a group that the women's committee was considering or the people of color. And it didn't even occur to them. I mean, that was the thing that was even more interesting. Like, why weren't you thinking about women of color?
So then I started reading law cases trying to find, well, how does the law actually handle what happens when Black women are plaintiffs? And the logic was if an employer does well by Black people, but it's just men. An employer does OK by women, but it's just white women. Then Black women don't have anything to complain about, right?
And to make matters worse, one court said that to allow Black women to put a race and gender discrimination claim together, to basically say, I'm discriminated against as a Black person who's a woman and as a woman who's a Black person. To allow her to do that would be to give her preferential treatment. She gets a chance to do something that neither Black men or white women get a chance to do.
So basically, they were saying, to give Black women what they need because only Black women need it, is to give them preferential treatment. My view was the law was discriminating against Black women by not attending to their needs, not attending to some of the specific ways they experience discrimination, and, quite frankly, some of the ways that their experience of discrimination could be representative of the wider group women or of the wider group African-Americans.
So I was really hard pressed to try to come up with a way of building off of what people understood discrimination to be and allowing them to see that there were other forms of discrimination that compounded that. So I'm a metaphorical thinker. I'd like draw pictures to try to capture ideas. And it seemed to me that one could bring courts and advocates into greater understanding of this problem if we use something that was really common.
And an intersection seemed really common if you thought about the work force is structured by race and by gender, like, who gets hired for what? That's kind of like the roads of intersection. It's like the structure. And then the policies are more or less like the traffic that goes should those roads.
Black women because they were both women and Black were located in two different structures that actually intersected with one another. And it made them vulnerable to both race and gender forms of exclusion. So intersectionality, I call it a word picture. It's a way of giving a snapshot or maybe even a video. This is the way it works, right? It's a dynamic idea. It's not a static idea.