Social Science – Sociology Discussion assignment

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Why is intersectionality important?  In your answer you should address: the definition of intersectionality; the origin of the term; intersecting oppressions; the matrix of domination; construct of dichotomous oppositional difference and at least one way to practice intersectionality.  Make sure to answer each element of the question.  Use and cite ALL required materials-reading, slides, etc provided.  For the Crenshaw article, read ONLY the first 20 pages.  The materials should be cited within the text and in “references” at the end of the text.  Use APA style.  Your discussion should be at least 250 words.

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University of Chicago Legal Forum

Volume 1989 | Issue 1 Article 8

Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex:
A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination
Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics
Kimberle Crenshaw
[email protected]

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Recommended Citation
Crenshaw, Kimberle () “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine,
Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” University of Chicago Legal Forum: Vol. 1989: Iss. 1, Article 8.
Available at:

Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race
and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of
Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist

Theory and Antiracist Politics
Kimberle Crenshawt

One of the very few Black women’s studies books is entitled
All the Women Are White; All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of
Us are Brave.1 I have chosen this title as a point of departure in
my efforts to develop a Black feminist criticism 2 because it sets
forth a problematic consequence of the tendency to treat race and
gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis.’
In this talk, I want to examine how this tendency is perpetuated
by a single-axis framework that is dominant in antidiscrimination
law and that is also reflected in feminist theory and antiracist

I will center Black women in this analysis in order to contrast
the multidimensionality of Black women’s experience with the sin-
gle-axis analysis that distorts these experiences. Not only will this
juxtaposition reveal how Black women are theoretically erased, it
will also illustrate how this framework imports its own theoretical
limitations that undermine efforts to broaden feminist and an-

t Acting Professor of Law, University of California, Los Angeles Law School.
Gloria T. Hull, et al, eds (The Feminist Press, 1982).
For other work setting forth a Black feminist perspective on law, see Judy Scales-

Trent, Black Women and the Constitution: Finding Our Place, Asserting Our Rights
(Voices of Experience: New Responses to Gender Discourse), 24 Harv CR-CL L Rev 9
(1989); Regina Austin, Sapphire-Bound!, forthcoming in Wisc Women’s L J (1989); Angela
Harris, Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory (unpublished manuscript on file
with author); and Paulette M. Caldwell, A Hair Piece (unpublished manuscript on file with

The most common linguistic manifestation of this analytical dilemma is represented
in the conventional usage of the term “Blacks and women.” Although it may be true that
some people mean to include Black women in either “Blacks” or “women,” the context in
which the term is used actually suggests that often Black women are not considered. See, for
example, Elizabeth Spelman, The Inessential Woman 114-15 (Beacon Press, 1988) (discuss-
ing an article on Blacks and women in the military where “the racial identity of those iden-
tified as ‘women’ does not become explicit until reference is made to Black women, at which
point it also becomes clear that the category of women excludes Black women”). It seems
that if Black women were explicitly included, the preferred term would be either “Blacks
and white women” or “Black men and all women.”


tiracist analyses. With Black women as the starting point, it be-
comes more apparent how dominant conceptions of discrimination
condition us to think about subordination as disadvantage occur-
ring along a single categorical axis. I want to suggest further that
this single-axis framework erases Black women in the conceptual-
ization, identification and remediation of race and sex discrimina-
tion by limiting inquiry to the experiences of otherwise-privileged
members of the group. In other words, in race discrimination cases,
discrimination tends to be viewed in terms of sex- or class-privi-
leged Blacks; in sex discrimination cases, the focus is on race- and
class-privileged women.

This focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes
those who are multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot
be understood as resulting from discrete sources of discrimination.
I suggest further that this focus on otherwise-privileged group
members creates a distorted analysis of racism and sexism because
the operative conceptions of race and sex become grounded in ex-
periences that actually represent only a subset of a much more
complex phenomenon.

After examining the doctrinal manifestations of this single-
axis framework, I will discuss how it contributes to the marginal-
ization of Black women in feminist theory and in antiracist polit-
ics. I argue that Black women are sometimes excluded from femi-
nist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are
predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not ac-
curately reflect the interaction of race and gender. These problems
of exclusion cannot be solved simply by including Black women
within an already established analytical structure. Because the in-
tersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sex-
ism, any analysis that does not take intersectionality into account
cannot sufficiently address the particular manner in which Black
women are subordinated. Thus, for feminist theory and antiracist
policy discourse to embrace the experiences and concerns of Black
women, the entire framework that has been used as a basis for
translating “women’s experience” or “the Black experience” into
concrete policy demands must be rethought and recast.

As examples of theoretical and political developments that
miss the mark with respect to Black women because of their failure
to consider intersectionality, I will briefly discuss the feminist cri-
tique of rape and separate spheres ideology, and the public policy
debates concerning female-headed households within the Black




A. The Experience of Intersectionality and the Doctrinal

One way to approach the problem of intersectionality is to ex-
amine how courts frame and interpret the stories of Black women
plaintiffs. While I cannot claim to know the circumstances under-
lying the cases that I will discuss, I nevertheless believe that the
way courts interpret claims made by Black women is itself part of
Black women’s experience and, consequently, a cursory review of
cases involving Black female plaintiffs is quite revealing. To illus-
trate the difficulties inherent in judicial treatment of intersection-
ality, I will consider three Title VIP cases: DeGraffenreid v Gen-
eral Motors,5 Moore v Hughes Helicopter6 and Payne v Travenol.’

1. DeGraffenreid v General Motors.
In DeGraffenreid, five Black women brought suit against Gen-

eral Motors, alleging that the employer’s seniority system perpetu-
ated the effects of past discrimination against Black women. Evi-
dence adduced at trial revealed that General Motors simply did
not hire Black women prior to 1964 and that all of the Black
women hired after 1970 lost their jobs in a seniority-based layoff
during a subsequent recession. The district court granted summary
judgment for the defendant, rejecting the plaintiffs’ attempt to
bring a suit not on behalf of Blacks or women, but specifically on
behalf of Black women. The court stated:

[P]laintiffs have failed’ to cite any decisions which have
stated that Black women are a special class to be pro-
tected from discrimination. The Court’s own research has
failed to disclose such a decision. The plaintiffs are
clearly entitled to a remedy if they have been discrimi-
nated against. However, they should not be allowed to
combine statutory remedies to create a new ‘super-rem-
edy’ which would give them relief beyond what the draft-
ers of the relevant statutes intended. Thus, this lawsuit
must be examined to see if it states a cause of action for
race discrimination, sex discrimination, or alternatively
either, but not a combination of both.’

Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 USC § 2000e, et seq as amended (1982).
‘ 413 F Supp 142 (E D Mo 1976).
6 708 F2d 475 (9th Cir 1983).
7 673 F2d 798 (5th Cir 1982).
8 DeGraffenreid, 413 F Supp at 143.



Although General Motors did not hire Black women prior to
1964, the court noted that “General Motors has hired … female
employees for a number of years prior to the enactment of the
Civil Rights Act of 1964.”‘ Because General Motors did hire
women-albeit white women-during the period that no Black
women were hired, there was, in the court’s view, no sex discrimi-
nation that the seniority system could conceivably have

After refusing to consider the plaintiffs’ sex discrimination
claim, the court dismissed the race discrimination complaint and
recommended its consolidation with another case alleging race dis-
crimination against the same employer. 10 The plaintiffs responded
that such consolidation would defeat the purpose of their suit since
theirs was not purely a race claim, but an action brought specifi-
cally on behalf of Black women alleging race and sex discrimina-
tion. The court, however, reasoned:

The legislative history surrounding Title VII does not in-
dicate that the goal of the statute was to create a new
classification of ‘black women’ who would have greater
standing than, for example, a black male. The prospect of
the creation of new classes of protected minorities, gov-
erned only by the mathematical principles of permuta-
tion and combination, clearly raises the prospect of open-
ing the hackneyed Pandora’s box.”

Thus, the court apparently concluded that Congress either did
not contemplate that Black women could be discriminated against
as “Black women” or did not intend to protect them when such
discrimination occurred. 2 The court’s refusal in DeGraffenreid to

Id at 144.

10 Id at 145. In Mosley v General Motors, 497 F Supp 583 (E D Mo 1980), plaintiffs,

alleging broad-based racial discrimination at General Motors’ St. Louis facility, prevailed in
a portion of their Title VII claim. The seniority system challenged in DeGraffenreid, how-
ever, was not considered in Mosley.

” Id at 145..
” Interestingly, no case has been discovered in which a court denied a white male’s

attempt to bring a reverse discrimination claim on similar grounds-that is, that sex and
race claims cannot be combined because Congress did not intend to protect compound clas-
ses. White males in a typical reverse discrimination case are in no better position than the
frustrated plaintiffs in DeGraffenreid: If they are required to made their claims separately,
white males cannot prove race discrimination because white women are not discriminated
against, and they cannot prove sex discrimination because Black males are not discrimi-
nated against. Yet it seems that courts do not acknowledge the compound nature of most
reverse discrimination cases. That Black women’s claims automatically raise the question of
compound discrimination and white males’ “reverse discrimination” cases do not suggest



acknowledge that Black women encounter combined race and sex
discrimination implies that the boundaries of sex and race discrim-
ination doctrine are defined respectively by white women’s and
Black men’s experiences. Under this view, Black women are pro-
tected only to the extent that their experiences coincide with those
of either of the two groups.'” Where their experiences are distinct,
Black women can expect little protection as long as approaches,
such as that in DeGraffenreid, which completely obscure problems
of intersectionality prevail.

2. Moore v Hughes Helicopter, Inc..
Moore v Hughes Helicopters, Inc.” presents a different way in

which courts fail to understand or recognize Black women’s claims.
Moore is typical of a number of cases in which courts refused to
certify Black females as class representatives in race and sex dis-
crimination actions.’ 5 In Moore, the plaintiff alleged that the em-
ployer, Hughes Helicopter, practiced race and sex discrimination
in promotions to upper-level craft positions and to supervisory
jobs. Moore introduced statistical evidence establishing a signifi-
cant disparity between men and women, and somewhat less of a
disparity between Black and white men in supervisory jobs.’6

that the notion of compoundedness is somehow contingent upon an implicit norm that is
not neutral but is white male. Thus, Black women are perceived as a compound class be-
cause they are two steps removed from a white male norm, while white males are apparently
not perceived to be a compound class because they somehow represent the norm.

13 I do not mean to imply that all courts that have grappled with this problem have
adopted the DeGraffenreid approach. Indeed, other courts have concluded that Black
women are protected by Title VII. See, for example, Jefferies v Harris Community Action
Ass’n., 615 F2d 1025 (5th Cir 1980). I do mean to suggest that the very fact that the Black
women’s claims are seen as aberrant suggests that sex discrimination doctrine is centered in
the experiences of white women. Even those courts that have held that Black women are
protected seem to accept that Black women’s claims raise issues that the “standard” sex
discrimination claims do not. See Elaine W. Shoben, Compound Discrimination: The Inter-
action of Race and Sex in Employment Discrimination, 55 NYU L Rev 793, 803-04 (1980)
(criticizing the Jefferies use of a sex-plus analysis to create a subclass of Black women).

” 708 F2d 475.
” See also Moore v National Association of Securities Dealers, 27 EPD (CCH) 32,238

(D DC 1981); but see Edmondson v Simon, 86 FRD 375 (N D 111 1980) (where the court was
unwilling to hold as a matter of law that no Black female could represent without conflict
the interests of both Blacks and females).

16 708 F2d at 479. Between January 1976 and June 1979, the three years in which
Moore claimed that she was passed over for promotion, the percentage of white males occu-
pying first-level supervisory positions ranged from 70.3 to 76.8%; Black males from 8.9 to
10.9%; white women from 1.8 to 3.3%; and Black females from 0 to 2.2%. The overall male/
female ratio in the top five labor grades ranged from 100/0% in 1976 to 98/1.8% in 1979.
The white/Black ratio was 85/3.3% in 1976 and 79.6/8% in 1979. The overall ratio of men to
women in supervisory positions was 98.2 to 1.8% in 1976 to 93.4 to 6.6% in 1979; the Black
to white ratio during the same time period was 78.6 to 8.9% and 73.6 to 13.1%

For promotions to the top five labor grades, the percentages were worse. Between 1976


Affirming the district court’s refusal to certify Moore as the
class representative in the sex discrimination complaint on behalf
of all women at Hughes, the Ninth Circuit noted approvingly:

… Moore had never claimed before the EEOC that she
was discriminated against as a female, but only as a
Black female . . . . [T]his raised serious doubts as to
Moore’s ability to adequately represent white female

The curious logic in Moore reveals not only the narrow scope of
antidiscrimination doctrine and its failure to embrace intersection-
ality, but also the centrality of white female experiences in the
conceptualization of gender discrimination. One inference that
could be drawn from the court’s statement that Moore’s complaint
did not entail a claim of discrimination “against females” is that
discrimination against Black females is something less than dis-
crimination against females. More than likely, however, the court
meant to imply that Moore did not claim that all females were
discriminated against but only Black females. But even thus re-
cast, the court’s rationale is problematic for Black women. The
court rejected Moore’s bid to represent all females apparently be-
cause her attempt to specify her race was seen as being at odds
with the standard allegation that the employer simply discrimi-
nated “against females.”

The court failed to see that the absence of a racial referent
does not necessarily mean that the claim being made is a more
inclusive one. A white woman claiming discrimination against fe-
males may be in no better position to represent all women than a
Black woman who claims discrimination as a Black female and
wants to represent all females. The court’s preferred articulation of
“against females” is not necessarily more inclusive-it just appears
to be so because the racial contours of the claim are not specified.

The court’s preference for “against females” rather than
“against Black females” reveals the implicit grounding of white fe-
male experiences in the doctrinal conceptualization of sex discrimi-
nation. For white women, claiming sex discrimination is simply a
statement that but for gender, they would not have been disadvan-
taged. For them there is no need to specify discrimination as white

and 1979, the percentage of white males in these positions ranged from 85.3 to 77.9%; Black
males 3.3 to 8%; white females from 0 to 1.4%, and Black females from 0 to 0%. Overall, in
1979, 98.2% of the highest level employees were male; 1.8% were female.

” 708 F2d at 480 (emphasis added).



females because their race does not contribute to the disadvantage
for which they seek redress. The view of discrimination that is de-
rived from this grounding takes race privilege as a given.

Discrimination against a white female is thus the standard sex
discrimination claim; claims that diverge from this standard ap-
pear to present some sort of hybrid claim. More significantly, be-
cause Black females’ claims are seen as hybrid, they sometimes
cannot represent those who may have “pure” claims of sex discrim-
ination. The effect of this approach is that even though a chal-
lenged policy or practice may clearly discriminate against all fe-
males, the fact that it has particularly harsh consequences for
Black females places Black female plaintiffs at odds with white

Moore illustrates one of the limitations of antidiscrimination
law’s remedial scope and normative vision. The refusal to allow a
multiply-disadvantaged class to represent others who may be sin-
gularly-disadvantaged defeats efforts to restructure the distribu-
tion of opportunity and limits remedial relief to minor adjustments
within an established hierarchy. Consequently, “bottom-up” ap-
proaches, those which combine all discriminatees in order to chal-
lenge an entire employment system, are foreclosed by the limited
view of the wrong and the narrow scope of the available remedy. If
such “bottom-up” intersectional representation were routinely per-
mitted, employees might accept the possibility that there is more
to gain by collectively challenging the hierarchy rather than by
each discriminatee individually seeking to protect her source of
privilege within the hierarchy. But as long as antidiscrimination
doctrine proceeds from the premise that employment systems need
only minor adjustments, opportunities for advancement by disad-
vantaged employees will be limited. Relatively privileged employ-
ees probably are better off guarding their advantage while jockey-
ing against others to gain more. As a result, Black women-the
class of employees which, because of its intersectionality, is best
able to challenge all forms of discrimination-are essentially iso-
lated and often required to fend for themselves.

In Moore, the court’s denial of the plaintiff’s bid to represent
all Blacks and females left Moore with the task of supporting her
race and sex discrimination claims with statistical evidence of dis-
crimination against Black females alone.18 Because she was unable
to represent white women or Black men, she could not use overall

” Id at 484-86.


statistics on sex disparity at Hughes, nor could she use statistics on
race. Proving her claim using statistics on Black women alone was
no small task, due to the fact that she was bringing the suit under
a disparate impact theory of discrimination. 9

The court further limited the relevant statistical pool to in-
clude only Black women who it determined were qualified to fill
the openings in upper-level labor jobs and in supervisory posi-
tions.20 According to the court, Moore had not demonstrated that
there were any qualified Black women within her bargaining unit
or the general labor pool for either category of jobs.2 1 Finally, the
court stated that even if it accepted Moore’s contention that the
percentage of Black females in supervisory positions should equal
the percentage of Black females in the employee pool, it still would
not find discriminatory impact.22 Because the promotion of only
two Black women into supervisory positions would have achieved
the expected mean distribution of Black women within that job
category, the court was “unwilling to agree that a prima facie case
of disparate impact ha[d] been proven.”23

The court’s rulings on Moore’s sex and race claim left her with
such a small statistical sample that even if she had proved that
there were qualified Black women, she could not have shown dis-
crimination under a disparate impact theory. Moore illustrates yet
another way that antidiscrimination doctrine essentially erases
Black women’s distinct experiences and, as a result, deems their
discrimination complaints groundless.

3. Payne v Travenol.
Black female plaintiffs have also encountered difficulty in

‘o Under the disparate impact theory that prevailed at the time, the plaintiff had to
introduce statistics suggesting that a policy or procedure disparately affects the members of
a protected group. The employer could rebut that evidence by showing that there was a
business necessity supporting the rule. The plaintiff then countered the rebuttal by showing
that there was a less discriminatory alternative. See, for example, Griggs v Duke Power, 401
US 424 (1971); Connecticut v Teal, 457 US 440 (1982).

A central issue in a disparate impact case is whether the impact proved is statistically
significant. A related issue is how the protected group is defined. In many cases a Black
female plaintiff would prefer to use statistics which include white women and/or Black men
to indicate that the policy in question does in fact disparately affect the protected class. If,
as in Moore, the plaintiff may use only statistics involving Black women, there may not be
enough Black women employees to create a statistically significant sample.

‘0 Id at 484.
“‘ The court buttressed its finding with respect to the upper-level labor jobs with statis-

tics for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area which indicated the there were only 0.2% Black
women within comparable job categories. Id at 485 n 9.

Id at 486.
23 Id.



their efforts to win certification as class representatives in some
race discrimination actions. This problem typically arises in cases
where statistics suggest significant disparities between Black and
white workers and further disparities between Black men and
Black women. Courts in some cases24 have denied certification
based on logic that mirrors the rationale in Moore: The sex dispar-
ities between Black men and Black women created such conflicting
interests that Black women could not possibly represent Black
men adequately. In one such case, Payne v Travenol,2 5 two Black
female plaintiffs alleging race discrimination brought a class action
suit on behalf of all Black employees at a pharmaceutical plant.2″
The court refused, however, to allow the plaintiffs to represent
Black males and granted the defendant’s request to narrow the
class to Black women only. Ultimately, the district court found
that there had been extensive racial discrimination at the plant
and awarded back pay and constructive seniority to the class of
Black female employees. But, despite its finding of general race
discrimination, the court refused to extend the remedy to Black
men for fear that their conflicting interests would not be ade-
quately addressed;27 the Fifth Circuit affirmed.2″

Notably, the plaintiffs in Travenol fared better than the simi-
larly-situated plaintiff in Moore: They were not denied use of
meaningful statistics showing an overall pattern of race discrimina-
tion simply because there were no men in their class. The plain-
tiffs’ bid to represent all Black employees, however, like Moore’s
attempt to represent all women employees, failed as a consequence

24 See Strong v Arkansas Blue Cross & Blue Shield, Inc., 87 FRD 496 (E D Ark 1980);

Hammons v Folger Coffee Co., 87 FRD 600 (W D Mo 1980); Edmondson v Simon, 86 FRD
375 (N D Ill 1980); Vuyanich v Republic National Bank of Dallas, 82 FRD 420 (N D Tex
1979); Colston v Maryland Cup Corp., 26 Fed Rules Serv 940 (D Md 1978).

2 416 F Supp 248 (N D Miss 1976).
26 The suit commenced on March 2, 1972, with the filing of a complaint by three em-

ployees seeking to represent a class of persons allegedly subjected to racial discrimination at
the hands of the defendants. Subsequently, the plaintiffs amended the complaint to add an
allegation of sex discrimination. Of the original named plaintiffs, one was a Black male and
two were Black females. In the course of the three-year period between the filing of the
complaint and the trial, the only named male plaintiff received permission of the court to
withdraw for religious reasons. Id at 250.

27 As the dissent in Travenol pointed out, there was no reason to exclude Black males
from the scope of the remedy after counsel had presented sufficient evidence to support a
finding of discrimination against Black men. If the rationale for excluding Black males was
the potential conflict between Black males and Black females, then “[i]n this case, to para-
phrase an old adage, the proof of plaintiffs’ ability to represent the interests of Black males
was in the representation thereof.” 673 F2d at 837-38.

28 673 F2d 798 (5th Cir 1982).



of the court’s narrow view of class interest.
Even though Travenol was a partial victory for Black women,

the case specifically illustrates how antidiscrimination doctrine
generally creates a dilemma for Black women. It forces them to
choose between specifically articulating the intersectional aspects
of their subordination, thereby risking their ability to represent
Black men, or ignoring intersectionality in order to state a claim
that would not lead to the exclusion of Black men. When one con-
siders the political consequences of this dilemma, there is little
wonder that many people within the Black community view the
specific articulation of Black women’s interests as dangerously

In sum, several courts have proved unable to deal with inter-
sectionality, although for contrasting reasons. In DeGraffenreid,
the court refused to recognize the possibility of compound discrim-
ination against Black women and analyzed their claim using the
employment of white women as the historical base. As a conse-
quence, the employment experiences of white women obscured the
distinct discrimination that Black women experienced.

Conversely, in Moore, the court held that a Black woman
could not use statistics reflecting the overall sex disparity in super-
visory and upper-level labor jobs because she had not claimed dis-
crimination as a woman, but “only” as a Black woman. The court
would not entertain the notion that discrimination experienced by
Black women is indeed sex discrimination-provable through dis-
parate impact statistics on women.

Finally, courts, such as the one in Travenol, have held that
Black women cannot represent an entire class of Blacks due to pre-
sumed class conflicts in cases where sex additionally disadvantaged
Black women. As a result, in the few cases where Black women are
allowed to use overall statistics indicating racially disparate treat-
ment Black men may not be able to share in the remedy.

Perhaps it appears to some that I have offered inconsistent
criticisms of how Black women are treated in antidiscrimination
law: I seem to be saying that in one case, Black women’s claims
were rejected and their experiences obscured because the court re-
fused to acknowledge that the employment experience of Black
women can be distinct from that of white women, while in other
cases, the interests of Black women were harmed because Black
women’s claims were viewed as so distinct from the claims of either
white women or Black men that the court denied to Black females
representation of the larger class. It seems that I have to say that
Black women are the same and harmed by being treated differ-



ently, or that they are different and harmed by being treated the
same. But I cannot say both.

This apparent contradiction is but another manifestation of
the conceptual limitations of the single-issue analyses that inter-
sectionality challenges. The point is that Black women can experi-
ence discrimination in any number of ways and that the contradic-
tion arises from our assumptions that their claims of exclusion
must be unidirectional. Consider an analogy to traffic in an inter-
section, 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.

Judicial decisions which premise intersectional relief on a
showing that Black women are specifically recognized as a class are
analogous to a doctor’s decision at the scene of an accident to treat
an accident victim only if the injury is recognized by medical in-
surance. Similarly, providing legal relief only when Black women
show that their claims are based on race or on sex is analogous to
calling an ambulance for the victim only after the driver responsi-
ble for the injuries is identified. But it is not always easy to recon-
struct an accident: Sometimes the skid marks and the injuries sim-
ply indicate that they occurred simultaneously, frustrating efforts
to determine which driver caused the harm. In these cases the ten-
dency seems to be that no driver is held responsible, no treatment
is administered, and the involved parties simply get back in their
cars and zoom away.

To bring this back to a non-metaphorical level, I am sug-
gesting that Black women can experience discrimination in ways
that are both similar to and different from those experienced by
white women and Black men. Black women sometimes experience
discrimination in ways similar to white women’s experiences; some-
times they share very similar experiences with Black men. Yet
often they experience double-discrimination-the combined effects
of practices which discriminate on the basis of race, and on the
basis of sex. And sometimes, they experience discrimination as
Black women-not the sum of race and sex discrimination, but as
Black women.

Black women’s experiences are much broader than the general
categories that discrimination discourse provides. Yet the contin-
ued insistence that Black women’s demands and needs be filtered


through categorical analyses that completely obscure their exper-
iences guarantees that their needs will seldom be addressed.

B. The Significance of Doctrinal Treatment of Intersectionality

DeGraffenreid, Moore and Travenol are doctrinal manifesta-
tions of a common political and theoretical approach to discrimina-
tion which operates to marginalize Black women. Unable to grasp
the importance of Black women’s intersectional experiences, not
only courts, but feminist and civil rights thinkers as well have
treated Black women in ways that deny both the unique com-
poundedness of their situation and the centrality of their exper-
iences to the larger classes of women and Blacks. Black women are
regarded either as too much like women or Blacks and the com-
pounded nature of their experience is absorbed into the collective
experiences of either group or as too different, in which case Black
women’s Blackness or femaleness sometimes has placed their needs
and perspectives at the margin of the feminist and Black libera-
tionist agendas.

While it could be argued that this failure represents an ab-
sence of political will to include Black women, I believe that it re-
flects an uncritical and disturbing acceptance of dominant ways of
thinking about discrimination. Consider first the definition of dis-
crimination that seems to be operative in antidiscrimination law:
Discrimination which is wrongful proceeds from the identification
of a specific class or category; either a discriminator intentionally
identifies this category, or a process is adopted which somehow dis-
advantages all members of this category.29 According to the domi-
nant view, a discriminator treats all people within a race or sex
category similarly. Any significant experiential or statistical varia-
tion within this group suggests either that the group is not being
discriminated against or that conflicting interests exist which de-

29 In much of antidiscrimination doctrine, the presence of intent to discriminate distin-
guishes unlawful from lawful discrimination. See Washington v Davis, 426 US 229, 239-45
(1976) (proof of discriminatory purpose required to substantiate Equal Protection viola-
tion). Under Title VII, however, the Court has held that statistical data showing a dispro-
portionate impact can suffice to support a finding of discrimination. See Griggs, 401 US at
432. Whether the distinction between the two analyses will survive is an open question. See
Wards Cove Packing Co., Inc. v Atonio, 109 S Ct 2115, 2122-23 (1989) (plaintiffs must show
more than mere disparity to support a prima facie case of disparate impact). For a discus-
sion of the competing normative visions that underlie the intent and effects analyses, see
Alan David Freeman, Legitimizing Racial Discrimination Through Antidiscrimination
Law: A Critical Review of Supreme Court Doctrine, 62 Minn L Rev 1049 (1978).



feat any attempts to bring a common claim.30 Consequently, one
generally cannot combine these categories. Race and sex, moreover,
become significant only when they operate to explicitly disadvan-
tage the victims; because the privileging of whiteness or maleness
is implicit, it is generally not perceived at all.

Underlying this conception of discrimination is a view that the
wrong which antidiscrimination law addresses is the use of race or
gender factors to interfere with decisions that would otherwise be
fair or neutral. This process-based definition is not grounded in a
bottom-up commitment to improve the substantive conditions for
those who are victimized by the interplay of numerous factors. In-
stead, the dominant message of antidiscrimination law is that it
will regulate only the limited extent to which race or sex interferes
with the process of determining outcomes. This narrow objective is
facilitated by the top-down strategy of using a singular “but for”
analysis to ascertain the effects of race or sex. Because the scope of
antidiscrimination law is so limited, sex and race discrimination
have come to be defined in terms of the experiences of those who
are privileged but for their racial or sexual characteristics. Put dif-
ferently, the paradigm of sex discrimination tends to be based on
the experiences of white women; the model of race discrimination
tends to be based on the experiences of the most privileged Blacks.
Notions of what constitutes race and sex discrimination are, as a
result, narrowly tailored to embrace only a small set of circum-
stances, none of which include discrimination against Black

To the extent that this general description is accurate, the fol-
lowing analogy can be useful in describing how Black women are
marginalized in the interface between antidiscrimination law and
race and gender hierarchies: Imagine a basement which contains all
people who are disadvantaged on the basis of race, sex, class, sex-
ual preference, age and/or physical ability. These people are
stacked-feet standing on shoulders-with those on the bottom
being disadvantaged by the full array of factors, up to the very top,
where the heads of all those disadvantaged by a singular factor
brush up against the ceiling. Their ceiling is actually the floor
above which only those who are not disadvantaged in any way re-
side. In efforts to correct some aspects of domination, those above
the ceiling admit from the basement only those who can say that
“but for” the ceiling, they too would be in the upper room. A hatch

30 See, for example, Moore, 708 F2d at 479.



is developed through which those placed immediately below can
crawl. Yet this hatch is generally available only to those who-due
to the singularity of their burden and their otherwise privileged
position relative to those below-are in the position to crawl
through. Those who are multiply-burdened are generally left below
unless they can somehow pull themselves into the groups that are
permitted to squeeze through the hatch.

As this analogy translates for Black women, the problem is
that they can receive protection only to the extent that their ex-
periences are recognizably similar to those whose experiences tend
to be reflected in antidiscrimination doctrine. If Black women can-
not conclusively say that “but for” their race or “but for” their
gender they would be treated differently, they are not invited to
climb through the hatch but told to wait in the unprotected mar-
gin until they can be absorbed into the broader, protected catego-
ries of race and sex.

Despite the narrow scope of this dominant conception of dis-
crimination and its tendency to marginalize those whose exper-
iences cannot be described within its tightly-drawn parameters,
this approach has been regarded as the appropriate framework for
addressing a range of problems. In much of feminist theory and, to
some extent, in antiracist politics, this framework is reflected in
the belief that sexism or racism can be meaningfully discussed
without paying attention to the lives of those other than the race-,
gender- or class-privileged. As a result, both feminist theory and
antiracist politics have been organized, in part, around the equa-
tion of racism with what happens to the Black middle-class or to
Black men, and the equation of sexism with what happens to white

Looking at historical and contemporary issues in both the
feminist and the civil rights communities, one can find ample evi-
dence of how both communities’ acceptance of the dominant
framework of discrimination has hindered the development of an
adequate theory and praxis to address problems of intersectional-
ity. This adoption of a single-issue framework for discrimination
not only marginalizes Black women within the very movements
that claim them as part of their constituency but it also makes the
illusive goal of ending racism and patriarchy even more difficult to


Oddly, despite the relative inability of feminist politics and
theory to address Black women substantively, feminist theory and



tradition borrow considerably from Black women’s history. For ex-
ample, “Ain’t I a Woman” has come to represent a standard re-
frain in feminist discourse.”1 Yet the lesson of this powerful ora-
tory is not fully appreciated because the context of the delivery is
seldom examined. I would like to tell part of the story because it
establishes some themes that have characterized feminist treat-
ment of race and illustrates the importance of including Black
women’s experiences as a rich source for the critique of patriarchy.

In 1851, Sojourner Truth declared “Ain’t I a Woman?” and
challenged the sexist imagery used by male critics, to justify the
disenfranchisement of women.”2 The scene was a Women’s Rights
Conference in Akron, Ohio; white male hecklers, invoking stere-
otypical images of “womanhood,” argued that women were too frail
and delicate to take on the responsibilities of political activity.
When Sojourner Truth rose to speak, many white women urged
that she be silenced, fearing that she would divert attention from
women’s suffrage to emancipation. Truth, once permitted to speak,
recounted the horrors of slavery, and its particular impact on
Black women:

Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted and gath-
ered into barns, and no man could head me-and ain’t I
a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a
man-when I could get it-and bear the lash as well!
And ain’t I a woman? I have born thirteen children, and
seen most of ’em sold into slavery, and when I cried out
with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me-and
ain’t I a woman? 3

By using her own life to reveal the contradiction between the
ideological myths of womanhood and the reality of Black women’s
experience, Truth’s oratory provided a powerful rebuttal to the
claim that women were categorically weaker than men. Yet Truth’s
personal challenge to the coherence of the cult of true womanhood

“, See Phyliss Palmer, The Racial Feminization of Poverty: Women of Color as
Portents of the Future for All Women, Women’s Studies Quarterly 11:3-4 (Fall 1983) (pos-
ing the question of why “white women in the women’s movement had not created more
effective and continuous alliances with Black women” when “simultaneously . ..Black
women [have] become heroines for the women’s movement, a position symbolized by the
consistent use of Sojourner Truth and her famous words, “Ain’t I a Woman?”).

3″ See Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on
Race and Sex in America 54 (William Morrow and Co, Inc, 1st ed 1984).

3 Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Women’s Rights Movement in the United
States 91 (Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1975). See also Bell Hooks, Ain’t I a
Woman 159-60 (South End Press, 1981).



was useful only to the extent that white women were willing to
reject the racist attempts to rationalize the contradiction-that be-
cause Black women were something less than real women, their ex-
periences had no bearing on true womanhood. Thus, this 19th-cen-
tury Black feminist challenged not only patriarchy, but she also
challenged white feminists wishing to embrace Black women’s his-
tory to relinquish their vestedness in whiteness.

Contemporary white feminists inherit not the legacy of
Truth’s challenge to patriarchy but, instead, Truth’s challenge to
their forbearers. Even today, the difficulty that white women have
traditionally experienced in sacrificing racial privilege to
strengthen feminism renders them susceptible to Truth’s critical
question. When feminist theory and politics that claim to reflect
women’s experience and women’s aspirations do not include or
speak to Black women, Black women must ask: “Ain’t We
Women?” If this is so, how can the claims that “women are,”
“women believe” and “women need” be made when such claims
are inapplicable or unresponsive to the needs, interests and exper-
iences of Black women?

The value of feminist theory to Black women is diminished
because it evolves from a white racial context that is seldom ac-
knowledged. 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 sub-
jectivity masquerading as non-racial, non-gendered objectiv-
itys3 -is merely transferred to those who, but for gender, share
many of the same cultural, economic and social characteristics.
When feminist theory attempts to describe women’s experiences
through analyzing patriarchy, sexuality, or separate spheres ideol-
ogy, it often overlooks the role of race. Feminists thus ignore how
their own race functions to mitigate some aspects of sexism and,
moreover, how it often privileges them over and contributes to the
domination of other women. 5 Consequently, feminist theory re-
mains white, and its potential to broaden and deepen its analysis
by addressing non-privileged women remains unrealized.

An example of how some feminist theories are narrowly con-

“‘Objectivity’ is itself an example of the reification of white male thought.” Hull et
al, eds, But Some of Us Are Brave at XXV (cited in note 1).

” For example, many white females were able to gain entry into previously all white
male enclaves not through bringing about a fundamental reordering of male versus female
work, but in large part by shifting their “female” responsibilities to poor and minority



structed around white women’s experiences is found in the sepa-
rate spheres literature. The critique of how separate spheres ideol-
ogy shapes and limits women’s roles in the home and in public life
is a central theme in feminist legal thought.36 Feminists have at-
tempted to expose and dismantle separate spheres ideology by
identifying and criticizing the stereotypes that traditionally have
justified the disparate societal roles assigned to men and women.3 7

Yet this attempt to debunk ideological justifications for women’s
subordination offers little insight into the domination of Black
women. Because the experiential base upon which many feminist
insights are grounded is white, theoretical statements drawn from
them are overgeneralized at best, and often wrong.” Statements
such as “men and women are taught to see men as independent,
capable, powerful; men and women are taught to see women as de-
pendent, limited in abilities, and passive, “3 are common within
this literature. But this “observation” overlooks the anomalies cre-
ated by crosscurrents of racism and sexism. Black men and women
live in a society that creates sex-based norms and expectations
which racism operates simultaneously to deny; Black men are not
viewed as powerful, nor are Black women seen as passive. An effort
to develop an ideological explanation of gender domination in the
Black community should proceed from an understanding of how
crosscutting forces establish gender norms and how the conditions

36 Feminists often discuss how gender-based stereotypes and norms reinforce the subor-
dination of women by justifying their exclusion from public life and glorifying their roles
within the private sphere. Law has historically played a role in maintaining this subordina-
tion by enforcing the exclusion of women from public life and by limiting its reach into the
private sphere. See, for example, Deborah L. Rhode, Association and Assimilation, 81 Nw
U L Rev 106 (1986); Frances Olsen, From False Paternalism to False Equality: Judicial
Assaults on Feminist Community, Illinois 1869-95, 84 Mich L Rev 1518 (1986); Martha
Minow, Foreword: Justice Engendered, 101 Harv L Rev 10 (1987); Nadine Taub and Eliza-
beth M. Schneider, Perspectives on Women’s Subordination and the Role of Law, in David
Kairys, ed, The Politics of Law 117-39 (Pantheon Books, 1982).

” See works cited in note 36.
38 This criticism is a discrete illustration of a more general claim that feminism has

been premised on white middle-class women’s experience. For example, early feminist texts
such as Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique (W. W. Norton, 1963), placed white mid-
dle-class problems at the center of feminism and thus contributed to its rejection within the
Black community. See Hooks, Ain’t I a Woman at 185-96 (cited in note 33) (noting that
feminism was eschewed by Black women because its white middle-class agenda ignored
Black women’s concerns).

‘9 Richard A. Wasserstrom, Racism, Sexism and Preferential Treatment: An Approach
to the Topics, 24 UCLA L Rev 581, 588 (1977). I chose this phrase not because it is typical
of most feminist statements of separate spheres; indeed, most discussions are not as simplis-
tic as the bold statement presented here. See, for example, Taub and Schneider, Perspec-
tives on Women’s Subordination and the Role of Law at 117-39 (cited in note 36).


of Black subordination wholly frustrate access to these norms.
Given this understanding, perhaps we can begin to see why Black
women have been dogged by the stereotype of the pathological ma-
triarch”0 or why there have been those in the Black liberation
movement who aspire to create institutions and to build traditions
that are intentionally patriarchal. 1

Because ideological and descriptive definitions of patriarchy
are usually premised upon white female experiences, feminists and
others informed by feminist literature may make the mistake of
assuming that since the role of Black women in the family and in
other Black institutions does not always resemble the familiar
manifestations of patriarchy in the white community, Black
women are somehow exempt from patriarchal norms. For example,
Black women have traditionally worked outside the home in num-
bers far exceeding the labor participation rate of white women.’ 2

An analysis of patriarchy that highlights the history of white
women’s exclusion from the workplace might permit the inference
that Black women have not been burdened by this particular gen-
der-based expectation. Yet the very fact that Black women must
work conflicts with norms that women should not, often creating
personal, emotional and relationship problems in Black women’s
lives. Thus, Black women are burdened not only because they
often have to take on responsibilities that are not traditionally
feminine but, moreover, their assumption of these roles is some-
times interpreted within the Black community as either Black
women’s failure to live up to such norms or as another manifesta-
tion of racism’s scourge upon the Black community.’ This is one
of the many aspects of intersectionality that cannot be understood

” For example, Black families have sometimes been cast as pathological largely because

Black women’s divergence from the white middle-class female norm. The most infamous
rendition of this view is found in the Moynihan report which blamed many of the Black
community’s ills on a supposed pathological family structure. For a discussion of the report
and its contemporary reincarnation, see pp 163-165.

” See Hooks, Ain’t I a Woman at 94-99 (cited in note 33) (discussing the elevation of
sexist imagery in the Black liberation movement during the 1960s).

12 See generally Jacqueline Jones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow; Black Women,
Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present (Basic Books, 1985); Angela Davis,
Women, Race and Class (Random House, 1981).

” As Elizabeth Higginbotham noted, “women, who often fail to conform to ‘appropri-
ate’ sex roles, have been pictured as, and made to feel, inadequate-even though as women,
they possess traits recognized as positive when held by men in the wider society. Such
women are stigmatized because their lack of adherence to expected gender roles is seen as a
threat to the value system.” Elizabeth Higginbotham, Two Representative Issues in Con-

.temporary Sociological Work on Black Women, in Hull, et al, eds, But Some of Us Are
Brave at 95 (cited in note 1).



through an analysis of patriarchy rooted in white experience.
Another example of how theory emanating from a white con-

text obscures the multidimensionality of Black women’s lives is
found in feminist discourse on rape. A central political issue on the
feminist agenda has been the pervasive problem of rape. Part of
the intellectual and political effort to mobilize around this issue
has involved the development of a historical critique of the role
that law has played in establishing the bounds of normative sexu-
ality and in regulating female sexual behavior. “4′ Early carnal
knowledge statutes and rape laws are understood within this dis-
course to illustrate that the objective of rape statutes traditionally
has not been to protect women from coercive intimacy but to pro-
tect and maintain a property-like interest in female chastity.”5 Al-
though feminists quite rightly criticize these objectives, to charac-
terize rape law as reflecting male control over female sexuality is
for Black women an oversimplified account and an ultimately in-
adequate account.

Rape statutes generally do not reflect male control over fe-
male sexuality, but white male regulation of white female sexual-
ity.’ e Historically, there has been absolutely no institutional effort
to regulate Black female chastity.47 Courts in some states had gone
so far as to instruct juries that, unlike white women, Black women
were not presumed to be chaste.’ Also, while it was true that the

” See generally Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will (Simon and Schuster, 1975); Su-
san Estrich, Real Rape (Harvard University Press, 1987).

” See Brownmiller, Against Our Will at 17; see generally Estrich, Real Rape.
” One of the central theoretical dilemmas of feminism that is largely obscured by uni-

versalizing the white female experience is that experiences that are described as a manifes-
tation of male control over females can be instead a manifestation of dominant group con-
trol over all subordinates. The significance is that other nondominant men may not share in,
participate in or connect with the behavior, beliefs or actions at issue, and may be victim-
ized themselves by “male” power. In other contexts, however, “male authority” might in-
clude nonwhite men, particularly in private sphere contexts. Efforts to think more clearly
about when Black women are dominated as women and when they are dominated as Black
women are directly related to the question of when power is male and when it is white male.

” See Note, Rape, Racism and the Law, 6 Harv Women’s L J 103, 117-23 (1983) (dis-
cussing the historical and contemporary evidence suggesting that Black women are generally
not thought to be chaste). See also Hooks, Ain’t I a Woman at 54 (cited in note 33) (stating
that stereotypical images of Black womanhood during slavery were based on the myth that
“all black women were immoral and sexually loose”); Beverly Smith, Black Women’s
Health: Notes for a Course, in Hull et al, eds, But Some of Us Are Brave at 110 (cited in
note 1) (noting that “. . . white men for centuries have justified their sexual abuse of Black
women by claiming that we are licentious, always ‘ready’ for any sexual encounter”).

” The following statement is probably unusual only in its candor: “What has been said
by some of our courts about an unchaste female being a comparatively rare exception is no
doubt true where the population is composed largely of the Caucasian race, but we would
blind ourselves to actual conditions if we adopted this rule where another race that is largely



attempt to regulate the sexuality of white women placed unchaste
women outside the law’s protection, racism restored a fallen white
woman’s chastity where the alleged assailant was a Black man.”9
No such restoration was available to Black women.

The singular focus on rape as a manifestation of male power
over female sexuality tends to eclipse the use of rape as a weapon
of racial terror.5 0 When Black women were raped by white males,
they were being raped not as women generally, but as Black
women specifically: Their femaleness made them sexually vulnera-
ble to racist domination, while their Blackness effectively denied

immoral constitutes an appreciable part of the population.” Dallas v State, 76 Fla 358, 79
So 690 (1918), quoted in Note, 6 Harv Women’s L J at 121 (cited in note 47).

Espousing precisely this view, one commentator stated in 1902: “I sometimes hear of a
virtuous Negro woman but the idea is so absolutely inconceivable to me … I cannot imag-
ine such a creature as a virtuous Negro woman.” Id at 82. Such images persist in popular
culture. See Paul Grein, Taking Stock of the Latest Pop Record Surprises, LA Times § 6 at
1 (July 7, 1988) (recalling the controversy in the late 70s over a Rolling Stones recording
which included the line “Black girls just wanna get fucked all night”).

Opposition to such negative stereotypes has sometimes taken the form of sexual conser-
vatism. “A desperate reaction to this slanderous myth is the attempt … to conform to the
strictest versions of patriarchal morality.” Smith, Black Women’s Health, in Hull et al, eds,
But Some of Us Are Brave at 111 (cited in note 1). Part of this reaction is reflected in the
attitudes and policies of Black schools which have been notoriously strict in regulating the
behavior of female students. See Gail Elizabeth Wyatt, The Sexual Experience of Afro-
American Women, in Martha Kirkpatrick, ed, Women’s Sexual Experience: Exploration of
the Dark Continent 24 (Plenum, 1982) (noting “the differences between the predominantly
Afro-American universities, where there was far more supervision regarding sexual behavior,
and the majority of white colleges, where there were fewer curfews and restrictions placed
on the resident”). Any attempt to understand and critique the emphasis on Black virtue
without focusing on the racist ideology that places virtue beyond the reach of Black women
would be incomplete and probably incorrect.

” Because of the way the legal system viewed chastity, Black women could not be vic-
tims of forcible rape. One commentator has noted that “[aiccording to governing sterotypes
[sic], chastity could not be possessed by Black women. Thus, Black women’s rape charges
were automatically discounted, and the issue of chastity was contested only in cases where
the rape complainant was a white woman.” Note, 6 Harv Women’s L J at 126 (cited in note
47). Black women’s claims of rape were not taken seriously regardless of the offender’s race.
A judge in 1912 said: “This court will never take the word of a nigger against the word of a
white man [concerning rape].” Id at 120. On the other hand, lynching was considered an
effective remedy for a Black man’s rape of a white woman. Since rape of a white woman by
a Black man was “a crime more horrible than death,” the only way to assuage society’s rage
and to make the woman whole again was to brutally murder the Black man. Id at 125.

“0 See The Rape of Black Women as a Weapon of Terror, in Gerda Lerner, ed, Black

Women in White America 172-93 (Pantheon Books, 1972). See also Brownmiller, Against
Our Will (cited in note 44). Even where Brownmiller acknowledges the use of rape as racial
terrorism, she resists making a “special case” for Black women by offering evidence that
white women were raped by the Klan as well. Id at 139. Whether or not one considers the
racist rape of Black women a “special case,” such experiences are probably different. In any
case, Brownmiller’s treatment of the issue raises serious questions about the ability to sus-
tain an analysis of patriarchy without understanding its multiple intersections with racism.



them any protection.” This white male power was reinforced by a
judicial system in which the successful conviction of a white man
for raping a Black woman was virtually unthinkable.2

In sum, sexist expectations of chastity and racist assumptions
of sexual promiscuity combined to create a distinct set of issues
confronting Black women.” These issues have seldom been ex-
plored in feminist literature nor are they prominent in antiracist
politics. The lynching of Black males, the institutional practice
that was legitimized by the regulation of white women’s sexuality,
has historically and contemporaneously occupied the Black agenda
on sexuality and violence. Consequently, Black women are caught
between a Black community that, perhaps understandably, views
with suspicion attempts to litigate questions of sexual violence,
and a feminist community that reinforces those suspicions by fo-
cusing on white female sexuality.5 4 The suspicion is compounded

” Lerner, Black Women in White America at 173.
” See generally, Note, 6 Harv Women’s L J at 103 (cited in note 47).
” Paula Giddings notes the combined effect of sexual and racial stereotypes: “Black

women were seen having all of the inferior qualities of white women without any of their
virtues.” Giddings, When and Where I Enter at 82 (cited in note 32).

Susan Brownmiller’s treatment of the Emmett Till case illustrates why antirape
politicization makes some African Americans uncomfortable. Despite Brownmiller’s quite
laudable efforts to discuss elsewhere the rape of Black women and the racism involved in
much of the hysteria over the Black male threat, her analysis of the Till case places the
sexuality of white women, rather than racial terrorism, at center stage. Brownmiller states:
“Rarely has one single case exposed so clearly as Till’s the underlying group-male antago-
nisms over access to women, for what began in Bryant’s store should not be misconstrued as
an innocent flirtation …. In concrete terms, the accessibility of all white women was on
review.” Brownmiller, Against Our Will at 272 (cited in note 44).

Later, Brownmiller argues:
And what of the wolf whistle, Till’s ‘gesture of adolescent bravado’? We are
rightly aghast that a whistle could be cause for murder but we must also accept
that Emmett Till and J. W. Millam shared something in common. They both un-
derstood that the whistle was no small tweet of hubba-hubba or melodious ap-
proval for a well-turned ankle. Given the deteriorated situation … it was a delib-
erate insult just short of physical assault, a last reminder to Carolyn Bryant that
this black boy, Till, had a mind to possess her.

Id at 273.
While Brownmiller seems to categorize the case as one that evidences a conflict over

possession, it is regarded in African American history as a tragic dramatization of the
South’s pathological hatred and fear of African Americans. Till’s body, mutilated beyond
recognition, was viewed by thousands so that, in the words of Till’s mother, “the world
could see what they did to my boy.” Juan Williams, Standing for Justice, in Eyes on the
Prize 44 (Viking, 1987). The Till tragedy is also regarded as one of the historical events that
bore directly on the emergence of the Civil Rights movement. “[W]ithout question it moved
black America in a way the Supreme Court ruling on school desegregation could not match.”
Id. As Williams later observed, “the murder of Emmitt Till had a powerful impact on a
generation of blacks. It was this generation, those who were adolescents when Till was
killed, that would soon demand justice and freedom in a way unknown in America before.”


by the historical fact that the protection of white female sexuality
was often the pretext for terrorizing the Black community. Even
today some fear that antirape agendas may undermine antiracist
objectives. This is the paradigmatic political and theoretical di-
lemma created by the intersection of race and gender: Black
women are caught between ideological and political currents that
combine first to create and then to bury Black women’s



Anna Julia Cooper, a 19th-century Black feminist, coined a
phrase that has been useful in evaluating the need to incorporate
an explicit analysis of patriarchy in any effort to address racial
domination. Cooper often criticized Black leaders and spokesper-
sons for claiming to speak for the race, but failing to speak for
Black women. Referring to one of Martin Delaney’s public claims
that where he was allowed to enter, the race entered with him,
Cooper countered: “Only the Black Woman can say, when and
where I enter … then and there the whole Negro race enters with


Cooper’s words bring to mind a personal experience involving
two Black men with whom I had formed a study group during our
first year of law school. One of our group members, a graduate
from Harvard College, often told us stories about a prestigious and
exclusive men’s club that boasted memberships of several past
United States presidents and other influential white males. He was
one of its very few Black members. To celebrate completing our
first-year exams, our friend invited us to join him at the club for
drinks. Anxious to see this fabled place, we approached the large
door and grasped the brass door ring to announce our arrival. But
our grand entrance was cut short when our friend sheepishly
slipped from behind the door and whispered that he had forgotten

Id at 57. Thus, while Brownmiller looks at the Till case and sees the vicious struggle over
the possession of a white woman, African Americans see the case as a symbol of the insane
degree to which whites were willing to suppress the Black race. While patriarchal attitudes
toward women’s sexuality played a supporting role, to place white women center stage in
this tragedy is to manifest such confusion over racism as to make it difficult to imagine that
the white antirape movement could be sensitive to more subtle racial tensions regarding
Black women’s participation in it.

“‘ See Anna Julia Cooper, A Voice from the South (Negro Universities Press, 1969 re-
print of the Aldine Printing House, Ohio, 1892).

” Id at 31.



a very important detail. My companion and I bristled, our training
as Black people having taught us to expect yet another barrier to
our inclusion; even an informal one-Black-person quota at the es-
tablishment was not unimaginable. The tension broke, however,
when we learned that we would not be excluded because of our
race, but that I would have to go around to the back door because
I was a female. I entertained the idea of making a scene to drama-
tize the fact that my humiliation as a female was no less painful
and my exclusion no more excusable than had we all been sent to
the back door because we were Black. But, sensing no general as-
sent to this proposition, and also being of the mind that due to our
race a scene would in some way jeopardize all of us, I failed to
stand my ground. After all, the Club was about to entertain its first
Black guests-even though one would have to enter through the
back door.”

Perhaps this story is not the best example of the Black com-
munity’s failure to address problems related to Black women’s in-
tersectionality seriously. The story would be more apt if Black
women, and only Black women, had to go around to the back door
of the club and if the restriction came from within, and not from
the outside of the Black community. Still this story does reflect a
markedly decreased political and emotional vigilance toward barri-
ers to Black women’s enjoyment of privileges that have been won
on the basis of race but continue to be denied on the basis of sex. 8

The story also illustrates the ambivalence among Black
women about the degree of political and social capital that ought
to be expended toward challenging gender barriers, particularly
when the challenges might conflict with the antiracism agenda.
While there are a number of reasons-including antifeminist
ones-why gender has not figured directly in analyses of the subor-
dination of Black Americans, a central reason is that race is still
seen by many as the primary oppositional force in Black lives. 9 If

57 In all fairness, I must acknowledge that my companion accompanied me to the back
door. I remain uncertain, however, as to whether the gesture was an expression of solidarity
or an effort to quiet my anger.

“8 To this one could easily add class.
‘” An anecdote illustrates this point. A group of female law professors gathered to dis-

cuss “Isms in the Classroom.” One exercise led by Pat Cain involved each participant listing
the three primary factors that described herself. Almost without exception, white women in
the room listed their gender either primarily or secondarily; none listed their race. All of the
women of color listed their race first, and then their gender. This seems to suggest that
identity descriptions seem to begin with the primary source of opposition with whatever the
dominant norm is. See Pat Cain, Feminist Jurisprudence: Grounding the Theories 19-20
(unpublished manuscript on file with author) (explaining the exercise and noting that “no



one accepts that the social experience of race creates both a pri-
mary group identity as well as a shared sense of being under collec-
tive assault, some of the reasons that Black feminist theory and
politics have not figured prominently in the Black political agenda
may be better understood.6

The point is not that African Americans are simply involved
in a more important struggle. Although some efforts to oppose
Black feminism are based on this assumption, a fuller appreciation
of the problems of the Black community will reveal that gender
subordination does contribute significantly to the destitute condi-
tions of so many African Americans and that it must therefore be
addressed. Moreover, the foregoing critique of the single-issue
framework renders problematic the claim that the struggle against
racism is distinguishable from, much less prioritized over, the
struggle against sexism. Yet it is also true that the politics of racial
otherness that Black women experience along with Black men pre-
vent Black feminist consciousness from patterning the develop-
ment of white feminism. For white women, the creation of a con-
sciousness that was distinct from and in opposition to that of white
men figured prominently in the development of white feminist
politics. Black women, like Black men, live in a community that
has been defined and subordinated by color and culture.”‘ Al-
though patriarchy clearly operates within the Black community,
presenting yet another source of domination to which Black
women are vulnerable, the racial context in which Black women
find themselves makes the creation of a political consciousness that
is oppositional to Black men difficult.

Yet while it is true that the distinct experience of racial other-
ness militates against the development of an oppositional feminist
consciousness, the assertion of racial community sometimes sup-
ports defensive priorities that marginalize Black women. Black

white woman ever mentions race, whereas every woman of color does” and that, similarly,
“straight women do not include ‘heterosexual’ … whereas lesbians who are open always
include ‘lesbian’ “).

“0 For a comparative discussion of Third World feminism paralleling this observation,
see Kumari Jayawardena, Feminism and Nationalism in the Third World 1-24 (Zed Books
Ltd, 1986). Jayawardena states that feminism in the Third World has been “accepted” only
within the central struggle against international domination. Women’s social and political
status has improved most when advancement is necessary to the broader struggle against

“1 For a discussion of how racial ideology creates a polarizing dynamic which subordi-
nates Blacks and privileges whites, see Kimberle Crenshaw, Race, Reform and Retrench-
ment: Transformation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law, 101 Harv L Rev 1331,
1371-76 (1988).



women’s particular interests are thus relegated to the periphery in
public policy discussions about the presumed needs of the Black
community. The controversy over the movie The Color Purple is
illustrative. The animating fear behind much of the publicized pro-
test was that by portraying domestic abuse in a Black family, the
movie confirmed the negative stereotypes of Black men.2 The de-
bate over the propriety of presenting such an image on the screen
overshadowed the issue of sexism and patriarchy in the Black com-
munity. Even though it was sometimes acknowledged that the
Black community was not immune from domestic violence and
other manifestations of gender subordination, some nevertheless
felt that in the absence of positive Black male images in the media,
portraying such images merely reinforced racial stereotypes. 3 The
struggle against racism seemed to compel the subordination of cer-
tain aspects of the Black female experience in order to ensure the
security of the larger Black community.

The nature of this debate should sound familiar to anyone
who recalls Daniel Moynihan’s diagnosis of the ills of Black
America.64 Moynihan’s report depicted a deteriorating Black fam-
ily, foretold the destruction of the Black male householder and la-
mented the creation of the Black matriarch. His conclusions
prompted a massive critique from liberal sociologists6 and from
civil rights leaders.” Surprisingly, while many critics characterized
the report as racist for its blind use of white cultural norms as the
standard for evaluating Black families, few pointed out the sexism
apparent in Moynihan’s labeling Black women as pathological for
their “failure” to live up to a white female standard of
motherhood. 7

‘ Jack Matthews, Three Color Purple Actresses Talk About Its Impact, LA Times § 6

at 1 (Jan 31, 1986); Jack Matthews, Some Blacks Critical of Spielberg’s Purple, LA Times
§ 6 at 1 (Dec 20, 1985). But see Gene Siskel, Does Purple Hate Men?, Chicago Tribune § 13
at 16 (Jan 5, 1986); Clarence Page, Toward a New Black Cinema, Chicago Tribune § 5 at 3
(Jan 12, 1986).

13 A consistent problem with any negative portrayal of African Americans is that they
are seldom balanced by positive images. On the other hand, most critics overlooked the
positive transformation of the primary male character in The Color Purple.

“4 Daniel P. Moynihan, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (Office of
Policy Planning and Research, United States Department of Labor, 1965).

“‘ See Lee Rainwater and William L. Yancey, The Moynihan Report and the Politics
of Controversy 427-29 (MIT Press, 1967) (containing criticisms of the Moynihan Report by,
among others, Charles E. Silberman, Christopher Jencks, William Ryan, Laura Carper,
Frank Riessman and Herbert Gans).

66 Id at 395-97 (critics included Martin Luther King, Jr., Benjamin Payton, James
Farmer, Whitney Young, Jr. and Bayard Rustin).

61 One of the notable exceptions is Jacquelyne Johnson Jackson, Black Women in a


The latest versions of a Moynihanesque analysis can be found
in the Moyers televised special, The Vanishing Black Family,68

and, to a lesser extent, in William Julius Wilson’s The Truly Dis-
advantaged.9 In The Vanishing Black Family, Moyers presented
the problem of female-headed households as a problem of irre-
sponsible sexuality, induced in part by government policies that
encouraged family breakdown. 7° The theme of the report was that
the welfare state reinforced the deterioration of the Black family
by rendering the Black male’s role obsolete. As the argument goes,
because Black men know that someone will take care of their fami-
lies, they are free to make babies and leave them. A corollary to
the Moyers view is that welfare is also dysfunctional because it al-
lows poor women to leave men upon whom they would otherwise
be dependent.

Most commentators criticizing the program failed to pose
challenges that might have revealed the patriarchal assumptions
underlying much of the Moyers report. They instead focused on
the dimension of the problem that was clearly recognizable as ra-
cist.71 White feminists were equally culpable. There was little, if
any, published response to the Moyers report from the white femi-
nist community. Perhaps feminists were under the mistaken as-
sumption that since the report focused on the Black community,

Racist Society, in Racism and Mental Health 185-86 (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973).
” The Vanishing Black Family (PBS Television Broadcast, January 1986).
6 William Julius Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, The Underclass

and Public Policy (The University of Chicago Press, 1987).
“0 Columnist Mary McGrory, applauding the show, reported that Moyers found that

sex was as common in the Black ghetto as a cup of coffee. McGrory, Moynihan was Right 21
Years Ago, The Washington Post B1 and B4 (Jan 26, 1986). George Will argued that over-
sexed Black men were more of a menace than Bull Conner, the Birmingham Police Chief
who in 1968 achieved international notoriety by turning fire hoses on protesting school chil-
dren. George Will, Voting Rights Won’t Fix It, The Washington Post A23 (Jan 23, 1986).

My guess is that the program has influenced the debate about the so-called underclass
by providing graphic support to pre-existing tendencies to attribute poverty to individual
immorality. During a recent and memorable discussion on the public policy implications of
poverty in the Black community, one student remarked that nothing can be done about
Black poverty until Black men stop acting like “roving penises,” Black women stop having
babies “at the drop of a hat,” and they all learn middle-class morality. The student cited
the Moyers report as her source.

71 Although the nearly exclusive focus on the racist aspects of the program poses both
theoretical and political problems, it was entirely understandable given the racial nature of
the subsequent comments that were sympathetic to the Moyers view. As is typical in discus-
sions involving race, the dialogue regarding the Moyers program covered more than just the
issue of Black families; some commentators took the opportunity to indict not only the
Black underclass, but the Black civil rights leadership, the war on poverty, affirmative ac-
tion and other race-based remedies. See, for example, Will, Voting Rights Won’t Fix It at
A23 (cited in note 70).


the problems highlighted were racial, not gender based. Whatever
the reason, the result was that the ensuing debates over the future
direction of welfare and family policy proceeded without signifi-
cant feminist input. The absence of a strong feminist critique of
the Moynihan/Moyers model not only impeded the interests of
Black women, but it also compromised the interests of growing
numbers of white women heads of household who find it difficult
to make ends meet. 2

William Julius Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged modified
much of the moralistic tone of this debate by reframing the issue
in terms of a lack of marriageable Black mens.7 According to Wil-
son, the decline in Black marriages is not attributable to poor mo-
tivation, bad work habits or irresponsibility but instead is caused
by structural economics which have forced Black unskilled labor
out of the work force. Wilson’s approach represents a significant
move away from that of Moynihan/Moyers in that he rejects their
attempt to center the analysis on the morals of the Black commu-
nity. Yet, he too considers the proliferation of female-headed
households as dysfunctional per se and fails to explain fully why
such households are so much in peril. Because he incorporates no
analysis of the way the structure of the economy and the workforce
subordinates the interests of women, especially childbearing Black
women, Wilson’s suggested reform begins with finding ways to put
Black men back in the family.7 4 In Wilson’s view, we must change
the economic structure with an eye toward providing more Black
jobs for Black men. Because he offers no critique of sexism, Wilson
fails to consider economic or social reorganization that directly em-
powers and supports these single Black mothers.7 5

72 Their difficulties can also be linked to the prevalence of an economic system and

family policy that treat the nuclear family as the norm and other family units as aberrant
and unworthy of societal accommodation.

71 Wilson, The Truly Disadvantaged at 96 (cited in note 69).
7′ Id at 154 (suggestions include macroeconomic policies which promote balanced eco-

nomic growth, a nationally-oriented labor market strategy, a child support assurance pro-
gram, a child care strategy, and a family allowances program which would be both means
tested and race specific).

7′ Nor does Wilson include an analysis of the impact of gender on changes in family
patterns. Consequently, little attention is paid to the conflict that may result when gender-
based expectations are frustrated by economic and demographic factors. This focus on de-
mographic and structural explanations represent an effort to regain the high ground from
the Moyers/Moynihan approach which is more psycho-social. Perhaps because psycho-social
explanations have come dangerously close to victim-blaming, their prevalence is thought to
threaten efforts to win policy directives that might effectively address deteriorating condi-
tions within the working class and poor Black communities. See Kimberle Crenshaw, A
Comment on Gender, Difference, and Victim Ideology in the Study of the Black Family, in



My criticism is not that providing Black men with jobs is un-
desirable; indeed, this is necessary not only for the Black men
themselves, but for an entire community, depressed and subject to
a host of sociological and economic ills that accompany massive
rates of unemployment. But as long as we assume that the massive
social reorganization Wilson calls for is possible, why not think
about it in ways that maximize the choices of Black women?76 A
more complete theoretical and political agenda for the Black un-
derclass must take into account the specific and particular con-
cerns of Black women; their families occupy the bottom rung of
the economic ladder, and it is only through placing them at the
center of the analysis that their needs and the needs of their fami-
lies will be directly addressed.”


If any real efforts are to be made to free Black people of the
constraints and conditions that characterize racial subordination,
then theories and strategies purporting to reflect the Black com-
munity’s needs must include an analysis of sexism and patriarchy.
Similarly, feminism must include an analysis of race if it hopes to
express the aspirations of non-white women. Neither Black libera-
tionist politics nor feminist theory can ignore the intersectional ex-
periences of those whom the movements claim as their respective
constituents. In order to include Black women, both movements
must distance themselves from earlier approaches in which exper-
iences are relevant only when they are related to certain clearly
identifiable causes (for example, the oppression of Blacks is signifi-
cant when based on race, of women when based on gender). The
praxis of both should be centered on the life chances and life situa-
tions of people who should be cared about without regard to the
source of their difficulties.

I have stated earlier that the failure to embrace the complexi-
ties of compoundedness is not simply a matter of political will, but

The Decline of Marriage Among African Americans: Causes, Consequences and Policy Im-
plications (forthcoming 1989).

” For instance, Wilson only mentions in passing the need for day care and job training
for single mothers. Wilson at 153 (cited in note 69). No mention at all is made of other
practices and policies that are racist and sexist, and that contribute to the poor conditions
under which nearly half of all Black women must live.

” Pauli Murray observes that the operation of sexism is at least the partial cause of
social problems affecting Black women. See Murray, The Liberation of Black Women, in Jo
Freeman, ed, Women: A Feminist Perspective 351-62 (Mayfield Publishing Co, 1975).



is also due to the influence of a way of thinking about discrimina-
tion which structures politics so that struggles are categorized as
singular issues. Moreover, this structure imports a descriptive and
normative view of society that reinforces the status quo.

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 compartmental-
ize experiences and undermine potential collective action.

It is not necessary to believe that a political consensus to focus
on the lives of the most disadvantaged will happen tomorrow in
order to recenter discrimination discourse at the intersection. It is
enough, for now, that such an effort would encourage us to look
beneath the prevailing conceptions of discrimination and to chal-
lenge the complacency that accompanies belief in the effectiveness
of this framework. By so doing, we may develop language which is
critical of the dominant view and which provides some basis for
unifying activity. The goal of this activity should be to facilitate
the inclusion of marginalized groups for whom it can be said:
“When they enter, we all enter.”


  • University of Chicago Legal Forum
  • Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics
    • Kimberle Crenshaw
      • Recommended Citation
  • Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics

Beyond the Binary-Intersectionality


Key terms


Intersecting oppressions

Matrix of Domination

Construct of dichotomous oppositional difference

Women, Disasters and Conflict



Intersectionality is the concept that all oppression is linked

Intersectionality is “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, sexual orientation regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage

Intersectionality is the acknowledgement that everyone has their own unique experiences of discrimination and oppression and we must consider everything and anything that can marginalize people

Women, Disasters and Conflict


What is intersectionality?

Intersectionality is an analytical framework for understanding how aspects of a person’s social and political identities combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege

Intersectionality identifies multiple factors of advantage and disadvantage such as gender, caste, sex, race, class, sexuality, religion, disability, physical appearance and height

These intersecting oppressions and overlapping social identities may be both empowering and oppressing

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Origins of intersectionality

Legal scholar Kimberle Crenshaw introduced the theory of in 1989

Paper “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics”

The main argument-the experience of being a black woman cannot be understood in terms of being black and of being a woman considered independently, but must include the interactions between the two, which frequently reinforce each other.

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Case-Degraffenreid v. General Motors

Emma Degraffenreid and four other African American women argued received “compound discrimination”

They contended that although women were eligible for office and secretarial jobs, only white women in these jobs

The courts dismissed the case, finding that the employment of African-American male factory workers disproved racial discrimination, and the employment of white female office workers disproved gender discrimination

Women, Disasters and Conflict/Fall


Origins of Intersectionality (continued)

Crenshaw’s focus on intersectionality is on how the law responds to issues that include gender and race discrimination

The particular challenge in law is that antidiscrimination laws look at gender and race separately and consequently African-American women and other women of color experience overlapping forms of discrimination and the law, unaware of how to combine the two, leaves these women with no justice

Crenshaw realized the idea of racialized sexism and sexualized racism

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Origins of Intersectionality (continued)

Crenshaw’s early work centered on heterosexual immigrant women of color

Intersectional theory is now applied to understanding how we all carry multiple, albeit constructed and provisional, identities

The salience of such identities-based not only on race, normative gender, class, and nation but also on sexuality, nonnormative gender, physical (dis)ability, religion, and age-varies in different times and contexts, conferring either disadvantages or privileges on each of us, again in relation to time and context

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Crenshaw’s analysis
Three forms

Structural, which addresses racism and patriarchy in association with violence against women

Political, which addresses the intersection of anti-race organizing  and feminist organizing

Representational, which addresses the intersection of racial and gender stereotypes

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Criticism of Intersectionality

The framework’s tendency to reduce individuals to specific demographic factors

Critics have characterized the framework as ambiguous and lacking defined goals

Critics say the focus on subjective experiences can lead to contradictions and the inability to identify common causes of oppression

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Matrix of Domination

Sociologist Patricia Hill Collins refers to the various intersections of social inequality as the matrix of domination

This terms refer to how differences among people (sexual orientation, class, race, age, etc.) serve as oppressive measures towards women and change the experience of living as a woman in society

Collins points towards this thinking as an influence on this oppression and as further intensifying these differences

Specifically, Collins refers to this as the construct of dichotomous oppositional difference. This construct is characterized by its focus on differences rather than similarities

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality and Women’s Rights

Without an intersectional lens, our efforts to tackle inequalities and injustice towards women are likely to just end up perpetuating systems of inequalities

“Intersectionality is such a vital framework for understanding systems of power, because ‘woman’ is not a catchall category that alone defines all our relationships to power” (Zoe Samudzi)

A black woman may experience misogyny and racism, but she will experience misogyny differently from a white woman and racism differently from a black man

The work towards women’s rights must be intersectional-any feminism that purely represents the experiences of white, middle class, able-bodied, heterosexual etc. women will fail to achieve equality for all

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality and
Violence Against Women

To eliminate violence against all women and girls we have to address how violence differs between groups of women

44% of lesbian women experience intimate partner violence compared compared to 35% of heterosexual women

Women and girls with disabilities are 2 to 4 times more likely to experience domestic violence than women without disabilities

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality in Practice

Intersectionality may seem theoretical

But it is meant to be utilized

No matter how or when you have become involved with equity work, it is always possible to more fully integrate intersectionality into your view of these issues

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality in Practice-Recognize Difference

Recognize that all unique experiences of identity, and particularly ones that involve multiple overlapping oppressions, are valid

Recognize that people experience the world differently based on their overlapping identity markers

One way of doing so is when you attend rallies, take a look at the signs that others hold-how do they assert their identity and how does this inform the issues they care most about?

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality in Practice-Check Your Privilege

Look beyond just skin color

Middle class?

University level education?



All your social identities play into your “privilege” even if you didn’t ask for it. Reflect on these and consider how this impacts the discriminations you do and don’t experience

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality in Practice-Listen and Learn

Intersectionality is about learning and understanding views from others

Listen to, include and meaningfully collaborate with diverse groups

Hear and honor their words. But remember it’s not the responsibility of marginalized groups to educate people on their experiences

This often takes up lots of emotional labor and should never be taken for granted so be prepared to help undertake some of the labor by doing your own research

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality in Practice-Make Space

Ask yourself if you’re the right person to take up space or speak on certain issues

Center stories and actions on those with the lived experiences

Don’t speak for them, don’t speak over them

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectional in Practice-Watch Your Language

So many of the words we use every day are ableist, exclusionary and downright offensive to marginalized communities

When was the last time you said “ah, that’s so lame!” when you were annoyed about something? Consider how someone with a physical impairment might hear this

Recognize and correct your use of such terms. Accept criticism and call others out. As we become more intersectional and better at understanding differences, our language evolve to simply reflecting experiences from people of a singular identity

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality in Practice-Analyze the Space You Occupy

Becoming comfortable recognizing difference also involves recognizing when that difference is not represented in the spaces you occupy

Diversity of all kinds matter in your workplace, your activism, your community spaces, and more

If you are meeting with a local LGBTQ+ organization, is there representation of LGBTQ+ people of color? You may feel that your workplace is racially and ethnically diverse, but is it accessible to people with disabilities? Take note of the welcoming or distancing practices of the spaces you frequent

Women, Disasters and Conflict


Intersectionality in Practice-Show Up

Do not expect people who face different systems of oppression than you to rally for causes you care about if you do not rally for theirs

As you hear about issues others face, learn about the work that is currently being done around these topics

Listen and defer to those who live with these intersectional identities each day. As you do, you will likely deepen your understanding of your own identity and the subjects you care about most

Women, Disasters and Conflict




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