When Kimberlé Crenshaw was in her third year as a Harvard law student, one of her study group partners became the first African-American member of an infamous Harvard smoking club. Crenshaw and another male friend, Maurice, were invited to be the first formal, African-American guests at the club. Worried about how they would be treated there, the two made an agreement.
“We developed a pact with each other which was, ‘Look, I’m not going to take any mess, you’re not going to take any mess. We go there and we’re going to be treated as equals and if we’re not treated as equals, we’re out of there. We don’t want to be in that club any way,’” Crenshaw said.
The duo arrived at the club, lifted the large brass knocker, and waited to be invited in by their friend. The friend answered the door and closed it behind him, apologizing that he had forgotten to mention something to them. The two were immediately on high alert, bracing for the “rule” that would prevent them from entering because of their race.
“And he said, ‘Oh no, no, no. It’s not you, Maurice. You can actually come in the front door. I forgot to tell you that women can’t come in the front door, so Kim is going to have to go around to the back door.’ My view was, the pact still stands. Neither one of us is going through the front door,” Crenshaw said. “I look and my friend Maurice is walkin’ through the door…I thought, this is coalition time, and he thought, not my issue!”
Crenshaw told this story near the end of her lecture to demonstrate her own experiences with her lecture material.
Crenshaw, Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum and law professor at UCLA and Columbia, visited the Jordan Ballroom in the SUB Wednesday evening to give a lecture titled The Intersectional Paradigm: Race and Gender in Work, Life and Politics. Crenshaw was brought to Boise State by several campus organizations including ASBSU, the Women’s Center, Phi Alpha Honors Society, and many others.
Her work focuses on the concept of Intersectionality, a theory and term she created.
According to Crenshaw, “the term, quite simply, was an attempt to capture the converging dimensions of dynamics that most people tended to see as mutually exclusive, that is, initially, the relationship between racism and sexism.”
Intersectionality was first used to describe a court case. Degaffenreid v. General Motors (GM) was brought against GM by a group of African-American women. The women claimed that GM discriminated against them in employment because of both their gender and their race. There were jobs for African-American men, but not for African-American women. There were also jobs available for white women, but not for African-American women.
“Now, despite the fact that the black women plaintiffs faced a form of, what I call, Intersectional Discrimination, the court that heard their case ruled against them,” Crenshaw said.
According to the court, GM was not guilty of racial discrimination because the company did hire African-Americans and also not guilty of gender discrimination due to their employment of white women.
“Intersectionality became my way of trying to visualize exactly what the court didn’t see. And what the court didn’t see was the combined and simultaneous impact of this race and this gender policy,” Crenshaw said.
According to Crenshaw, these intersections exist not only between race and gender, but also disability, sexual orientation, immigrant status and other classifications. Crenshaw pointed to contemporary examples of intersectionality, including the conflict over the recent passage of the Violence Against Women Act due to its new protections for lesbians, immigrant women and Native American women.
“This is a stark illustration of how partial and self-interested the state’s embrace of domestic violence advocacy really was,” Crenshaw said. “The frame of advancing the interests of all women was left wanting as illustrated by the fight over non-White and non-hetero-normative women.”
The 2012 presidential campaign’s emphasis on the War Against Women was also touched on in the lecture. According to Crenshaw, while many women were quick to speak out against attacks on reproductive rights, other important issues were not mentioned.
“This War on Women tended to fall pretty silent on some of the sights of that war that are most germane to women of color, to poor women, and to other marginalized women,” Crenshaw said. “Let’s consider the war at the border against anchor babies, the war over public support for dependent families, the war that’s being waged against poor mothers in many family courts.”
Crenshaw advocated for anti-discrimination laws that take these intersections into account and protect those who belong to multiple minorities. Crenshaw also said organizations and advocacy groups need to be mindful of each other. Feminists need to advocate for and embrace women of racial minorities. Racial minorities need to be supporters of members of the LGBT communities and so on.