The Harms of Ignoring Intersectionality.

In Kimberlié Crenshaw’s Mapping the Margins, she explores the flaws inherent in the systems of modern feminism and antiracist politics and how they often fail to recognize the unique areas in which they intersect. That is because these movements are based on the experiences of black men and middle-class white women which excludes large swathes of lower-class women of color and their struggles. She applauds the work that these movements have accomplished while also critiquing the exclusion of these marginalized women from the overall narrative by making it an either/or scenario for many of them. Crenshaw stresses the necessity of recognizing those who experience both racism and sexism and what can be changed to address those unique needs.

Crenshaw illustrates that by ignoring the intersection between the movements they ultimately end up hurting one another. She does this through her many examples of domestic violence and rape. In the instance of the latina woman who could not find shelter from her abusive husband Crenshaw shows the harms caused by the lack of preparedness or willingness of these women’s shelters to accept someone that they deemed outside of their norms for victims. Another instance of the banality of the movements is the refusal of the LAPD and other antiracist advocacy groups to release the domestic violence statistics for the very real fear that they would be used to demonize the people they represent.She argues that because of these failure of feminism to recognize race and the antiracist movements to address the oppression of the patriarchy, many women of color are left unspoken for when it comes to the issues that concern them the most.

Crenshaw frames all of her examples through not only a societal view but also a political and a cultural one as well, and in all scenarios, the voices of women of color are eclipsed by those who are either white or male. By ignoring the areas in which movements intersect those fighting for them are inadvertently harming their own causes and those of others fighting for representation, and by flooding conversations concerning race and gender with a narrow idea of what each means it creates a destructive dichotomy for those caught in the crossfire.

Discussion Questions for 4/7: Crenshaw, “Mapping the Margins”

This is our final non-literary reading for this course, and originally my intent was to have it serve as a bridge between To Kill a Mockingbird and a Toni Morrison novel – in other words, between a novel that deals with racism against Black men on the one hand and (the possibility of) sexual violence against white women on the other – and a novel in which oppression and violence against Black women are placed front and center. I am still firm in my conviction that cutting material was the best decision for our class, given the circumstances, but I mourn not being able to end with a literary text that might illuminate and complicate Crenshaw’s ideas. If reading through Crenshaw’s essay prompts you to draw connections to literary works you’re familiar with that aren’t on the syllabus, I invite you to discuss them on the blog.

That said, I’m excited to hear your thoughts on reading this essay on the heels of Mockingbird. How might Crenshaw inform our reading of this novel’s comment on race, gender, class, and the law? Are there passages in Crenshaw’s essay that strike you as especially resonant with Lee’s novel? Are there moments in the novel that spring to mind for you as you read this essay?

Crenshaw and Harris’s essays both appear in the same anthology on Critical Race Theory. I invite you to think about points of comparison and contrast between these two pieces.