Kimberlé Crenshaw

American legal scholar

Kimberlé Crenshaw (born 1959) is an American civil rights advocate and a leading scholar of critical race theory. She is a full-time professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, where she specializes in race and gender issues.

Kimberlé Crenshaw in 2018


  • Trump is an unreflective beneficiary of every sort of white privilege on offer, from his inherited fortune to his mass-media celebrity to his ability to lie with utter impunity about his career, his finances, and his easily documented record of public statements. If Barack Obama had committed but one of the transgressions Trump reveled in during his 2016 presidential run—deriding John McCain's war record, to take a comparatively minor instance—he would have suffered a torrent of righteous white moralizing that would have been unprecedented even in a country renowned for its righteous white moralizing. And if he'd been caught on tape bragging about a celebrity-enabled history of sexual assault—well, suffice it to say that it would have been a high-tech lynching on a scale that Clarence Thomas could scarcely begin to imagine.

Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex (1989)


Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics (1989), Issue 1, Article 8, University of Chicago Legal Forum.

  • After examining the doctrinal manifestations of this single-axis framework, I will discuss how it contributes to the marginalization of Black women in feminist theory and in antiracist politics. I argue that Black women are sometimes excluded from feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse because both are predicated on a discrete set of experiences that often does not accurately 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 intersectional experience is greater than the sum of racism and sexism, 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.
  • The refusal to allow a multiply-disadvantaged class to represent others who may be singularly-disadvantaged defeats efforts to restructure the distribution of opportunity and limits remedial relief to minor adjustments within an established hierarchy. Consequently, “bottom-up” approaches, those which combine all discriminatees in order to challenge 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 permitted, 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 disadvantaged employees will be limited. Relatively privileged employ- ees probably are better off guarding their advantage while jockeying 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 isolated and often required to fend for themselves.
  • Black women can experience discrimination in any number of ways and that the contradiction arises from our assumptions that their claims of exclusion must be unidirectional. ... I am suggesting that Black women can experience discrimination in ways that are both similar to and different from those experienced by white women and Black men. Black women sometimes experience discrimination in ways similar to white women’s experiences; sometimes 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 continued insistence that Black women’s demands and needs be filtered.
  • 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 compoundedness of their situation and the centrality of their experiences to the larger classes of women and Blacks. Black women are regarded either as too much like women or Blacks and the compounded 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 liberationist agendas. While it could be argued that this failure represents an absence of political will to include Black women, I believe that it reflects an uncritical and disturbing acceptance of dominant ways of thinking about discrimination. Consider first the definition of discrimination 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 disadvantages all members of this category.
  • 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 community’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 liberationist politics nor feminist theory can ignore the intersectional experiences 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 experiences are relevant only when they are related to certain clearly identifiable causes (for example, the oppression of Blacks is significant when based on race, of women when based on gender). The praxis of both should be centered on the life chances and life situations of people who should be cared about without regard to the source of their difficulties.
  • 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 challenge 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.”

Quotes about Kimberlé Crenshaw

  • Critical legal studies scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term "intersectionality" in 1989 to describe how different power structures interact in the lives of minorities, especially black women, causing "compound and overlapping" discrimination. For Crenshaw, a key idea was that each group needed to go beyond critique to consistently explain its own experiences and create its own theories, "so it's incorporated within feminism and within anti-racism." The term immediately gained a toehold in the field of feminist and critical studies, but for the most part, Jewish women's position was excluded from consideration in relation to the interlocking issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality that framed this discourse.
    • Joyce Antler Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement (2020)
  • As Kimberlé Crenshaw has emphasized, women need to "tell their stories, to document, explain, and theorize about the interlocking themes, meanings, and oppressions of their lives, restoring what has been invisible and erased so as to articulate "what difference the difference makes."
    • Joyce Antler Jewish Radical Feminism: Voices from the Women’s Liberation Movement (2020)
  • Aymar Jean Christian of Northwestern University historically contextualizes and updates the notion of intersectional storytelling in his recent book Race and Media: Critical Approaches. “Most creators are ‘intersectional,’ meaning they identify with multiple communities marginalized by their race, class, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, disability, or citizenship status,” he writes. He argues that the framework of intersectionality was developed throughout the 20th century by women writers of color like Sojourner Truth, Audre Lorde, and Kimberlé Crenshaw. Those early intersectional writers sought to describe “the interlocking nature of oppression and the specificity of being both Black and woman (and often queer).”
  • Kim Crenshaw's work has helped us to center on the burdens placed on people based on their social locations, which create new suffering.
  • When it comes to climate action, it's abundantly clear that we will not build the power necessary to win unless we embed justice-particularly racial but also gender and economic justice-at the center of our low-carbon policies. Intersectionality, the term coined by black feminist legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, is the only path forward. We cannot play "my crisis is more urgent than your crisis"-war trumps climate; climate trumps class; class trumps gender; gender trumps race.
    • Naomi Klein On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal (2019)
  • The shift that's occurred this time around "wasn't by happenstance," Brittany Packnett Cunningham, an activist and a writer, told me, nor is it only the product of video evidence. "It has been the work of generations of Black activists, Black thinkers, and Black scholars"-people like Angela Davis, Kimberlé Crenshaw, Michelle Alexander, and others-"that has gotten us here. Six years ago, people were not using the phrase 'systemic racism' beyond activist circles and academic circles. And now we are in a place where it is readily on people's lips, where folks from CEOs to grandmothers up the street are talking about it, reading about it, researching on it, listening to conversations about it."
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