Intersectionality in Activism

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw opens her essay, “Mapping Margins:  Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color”, by explaining intersectionality through the faults of identity politics.  In the context of violence against women, identity politics have tied women together from shared experiences and a shared sense of identity, providing a “source of strength, community, and intellectual development”.  As Crenshaw notes, the main “problem with identity politics is that it fails to transcend difference…that it frequently conflates or ignores intra group differences” (Crenshaw 93).  Not using identity politics to look at violence against women for this reason, Crenshaw takes race and gender into consideration through the engagement of intersectionality.

Intersectionality considers social justice issues from multiple dimensions with the foundation that the origins of oppression are interconnected, and thus each origin cannot be accurately assessed individually.  In terms of violence against women, this violence doesn’t occur on its own island or “exclusive terrain”, but is rather greatly intertwined with forms of oppression such as race and gender.  Crenshaw’s piece follows this exact notion:  “Because of their intersectionality identity as both women and people of color within discourses that are shaped to respond to one or the other, the interests and experiences of women of color are frequently marginalized within both” (Crenshaw 94).

The importance of intersectionality in Crenshaw’s piece lies in the fact that non-white women do not benefit in the identical manner from the same support services as white women.  Battered women’s shelters, established to protect and help battered women deal with the effects of violence, “cannot afford to address only the violence inflicted by the batterer;  they must also confront the other multilayered and routinized forms of domination that often converge in these women’s lives”, as in the given example of poverty, child-care responsibilities, and the lack of job skills for women of color (Crenshaw 95).  Additionally, language barriers, distressing many immigrant women, present an obstacle when these battered women try to utilize support services that are focused on English-speaking women, like in the case that Diana Campos, Director of Human Serves for PODER describes (Crenshaw 107).  These “institutional expectations based on inappropriate non-intersectional contexts” are a result of the conflicting political intersections of racism and patriarchy, and a “failure of antiracist and feminist discourses to address the intersections” of the two (Crenshaw 7).  Without means for non-white women to link their violence experiences to both race and gender oppression, isolation for these battered women will remain, permitting the “deadly silence surrounding these issues to continue” (Crenshaw 110).

Intersectionality is present in many of the community accountability guidelines set by Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA).  In the first guideline, CARA highlights the need to recognize the humanity of everyone involved, “recognizing the complexity of each person”.  This is important for the people in marginalized communities, where being titled a “monster” can be “generalized to everyone in the community” because of “internalized oppression” (CARA 251).  Taking those aspects of oppression into consideration is one example of intersectionality in CARA’s approach to anti-rape activism.  Another guideline that is significant to note is the fourth guideline, which explains the need to anticipate all of the potential outcomes of the strategy being taken.  This guideline takes the repercussions of multi-facetted oppression into consideration, warning activists that “there may be a split in your community” or of the “chances of the media spinning the story in a way that is not supportive to your values” (CARA 252).  Both of these “potential consequences” are routinely the result of race, gender, and class oppression.  CARA, seeing the weight of these consequences, ties such considerations directly into their guidelines, integrating intersectionality into the backbone of their work.

Another demonstration of intersectionality is found in NO! The Rape Documentary, directed by Aishah Shahidah Simmons.  The documentary, addressing the role of race and gender in rape through the viewpoints of African American women, presents a timeline of rape detailed throughout history at the beginning of the film.  During the period of black enslavement, the audience is shown how white men (typically slave owners) would control black women’s sexuality by raping them.  Although there was never any punishment for that, black men were lynched for accusations of raping white women.  Demonstrating the extent of racism during that time period, the film specifically states that black men were never lynched for raping black women.  This interconnection of white/black and men/women continued into present day, where black women speakers in the film explain how they kept quiet about being raped by black men to protect their race and their people in the “battle versus the white man” (NO! The Rape Documentary).  The main take-away from the film in terms of intersectionality is that when considering the topic of rape of black women, there are other issues at hand that play a huge role in the injustice of rape itself.

One final example of an intersectional approach outside of the examples covered in class is the New York City Anti-Violence Project (AVP).  The mission statement of AVP is:  “AVP empowers lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected communities and allies to end all forms of violence through organizing and education…” (AVP).  One of their main goals is to play a central role in addressing violence against and within LGBTQH communities.  This project is a clear example of intersectionality, examining the interconnection of domestic violence with the oppressive institutions of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia.  AVP was recently in the news for their “work to keep LGBTQ people safe when hooking up online” after the February 2013 murders of three middle-aged gay men in separate incidents (AVP).  (The link to the article:  http://gaycitynews.com/three-gay-murders-highlight-online-hook-up-risks/)

Works Cited

Communities Against Rape and Abuse (CARA). Taking Risks: Implementing Grassroots Community Accountability Strategies. Color of Violence: The INCITE! Cambridge: South End, 2006. 250-66. Print. Women of Color Against Violence.

“Mission, Vision, & Goals.” AVP: The Anti-Violence Project. The New York City Anti-Violence Project, n.d. Web. 30 Mar. 2013. <http://www.avp.org/about-avp/mission-vision-a-goals&gt;.

NO! The Rape Documentary. Dir. Aishah S. Simmons. 2006. (In-class film)

Schindler, Paul. “Three Gay Murders Highlight Online Hook-Up Risks.” Gay City News. N.p., 13 Feb. 2013. Web. 01 Apr. 2013. <http://gaycitynews.com/three-gay-murders-highlight-online-hook-up-risks/&gt;.

Williams, Kimberlé Crenshaw. “Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color”. In: Martha Albertson Fineman, Rixanne Mykitiuk, Eds. The Public Nature of Private Violence. (New York: Routledge, 1994), p. 93-118.

3 thoughts on “Intersectionality in Activism

  1. salafiy1

    This Crenshaw article shed light on the true reality of intersectionality and how it affects a society. I like how you showed that Intersectionality was identified through the engagement of race and gender. Also through how women of color are being exposed to abuse through their experiences. I was in tuned with the style that you used to explain the importance of intersectionality and who is affected or benefits more. It was very sad to see that there were community based organizations that were supposed to help women from abuse but did not have the proper resources to provide the appropriate help. Intersectionality was displayed in these community based organizations and how the state responded to the perpetrator for women of color. This topic covered so many angles of how intersectionality is present here in our society along with how our society responds to it…

  2. cro15

    I like how you open by explaining Crenshaw’s critique of identity politics- that’s definitely a key component of her argument about the role of intersectionality in social justice work, even as she also recognizes how “strategic essentialism” (to use Judith Butler’s phrase) or finding strength in identity categories can also be empowering and useful in activist work. You also picked effective quotes from article to illustrate how Crenshaw defines intersectionality. I also think it’s important how you explained the historical roots of sexual violence against black women, from the NO! documentary. This history is always a powerful and heinous reminder of the ways in which women of color historically have been victimized based on various aspects of their identity, something that continues today as well. The example of your own that you give to illustrate intersectionality at work in social justice organizing is really fantastic and adds to what we learned in class! I expect to see sexuality and gender identity to be increasingly included in intersectional causes. What a scary string of incidents!

  3. thejinmyname

    You do a wonderful job of succinctly and clearly expressing the arguments of the Crenshaw article and the piece about CARA. I appreciate how you tied the NO! The Rape Documentary into your post as well.

    One quote from your post that struck me was “The importance of intersectionality in Crenshaw’s piece lies in the fact that non-white women do not benefit in the identical manner from the same support services as white women.” You do a great job of exploring how language barriers are one example. It would be interesting to explore what other barriers prevent marginalized people from seeking help. I think of male rape victims in prison. Overall great analysis!

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