Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

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Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
Kimberlé Crenshaw (40901215153).jpg
Crenshaw in 2019
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

1959 (age 61–62)
Canton, Ohio, U.S.
Alma materCornell University (BA)
Harvard University (JD)
University of Wisconsin (LLM)
OccupationAcademic, lawyer
Known forIntersectionality
Critical race theory

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw (/ˈkɪmbərli/; born 1959) is an American lawyer, civil rights advocate, philosopher, and a leading scholar of critical race theory who developed the theory of intersectionality. She is a full-time professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, where she specializes in race and gender issues.[1] Crenshaw is also the founder of Columbia Law School's Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies (CISPS) and the African American Policy Forum (AAPF), as well as the president of the Berlin-based Center for Intersectional Justice (CIJ).[2] Crenshaw is known for the introduction and development of intersectionality, the theory of how overlapping or intersecting social identities, particularly minority identities, relate to systems and structures of oppression, domination, or discrimination.[3] Her scholarship was also essential in the development of intersectional feminism which examines the overlapping systems of oppression and discrimination to which women are subject due to their ethnicity, sexuality and economic background.[4]

Early life and education[edit]

She was born in 1959 in Canton, Ohio,[5] to African American[6] parents, Marian and Walter Clarence Crenshaw, Jr, both teachers.[7] Her parents had a history in the desegregation movement, including her mother who helped desegregate a paddling pool.[7] She attended Canton McKinley High School as well as a Christian fundamentalist school where she experienced racism.[7] She represented her school in debating and spelling competitions and aspired to be a lawyer from a young age.[7]

In 1981, Crenshaw received a bachelor's degree in government and Africana studies from Cornell University[8] where she was a member of the Quill and Dagger senior honor society.[9] She received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1984,[10] and the next year, an LL.M. from the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she was a William H. Hastie Fellow, and law clerk to Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge Shirley Abrahamson.[11][12]


Crenshaw is one of the founders of the field of critical race theory. While at Harvard Law School, she was one of the founding organizers of the Critical Race Theory Workshop which originated the term.[13]

Following completion of her LL.M., Crenshaw joined the faculty of the UCLA School of Law in 1986, where she lectured on critical race theory, civil rights, and constitutional law.[8] At UCLA she currently teaches four classes with no requisites; her courses are Advanced Critical Race Theory; Civil Rights; Intersectional Perspectives on Race, Gender and the Criminalization of Women & Girls; and Race, Law and Representation.[14] In 1991 and 1994, she was elected professor of the year by matriculating students.[15] In 1995, Crenshaw was appointed as full professor at Columbia Law School, where she is the founder and director of the Center for Intersectionality & Social Policy Studies, established in 2011.[11][15][16] At Columbia, Crenshaw's courses include an Intersectionalities Workshop and an Intersectionalities Workshop centered around Civil Rights.[17]

In 1996, she co-founded, and is the executive director of, the nonprofit think tank and information clearinghouse, the African American Policy Forum, which focuses on "dismantling structural inequality" and "advancing and expanding racial justice, gender equality, and the indivisibility of all human rights, both in the U.S. and internationally."[18][19] Its mission is to build bridges between scholarly research and public discourse in addressing inequality and discrimination. Crenshaw has been awarded the Fulbright Chair for Latin America in Brazil, and in 2008, she was awarded an in-residence fellowship at the Center of Advanced Behavioral Studies at Stanford University.

In 1991, she assisted the legal team representing Anita Hill at the U.S. Senate confirmation hearings for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.[20]

In 2001, she wrote the background paper on Race and Gender Discrimination for the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (WCAR), helped to facilitate the addition of gender in its Conference Declaration, and served as a member of the National Science Foundation's Committee to Research Violence Against Women and the National Research Council panel on Research on Violence Against Women. Crenshaw was a member of the Domestic Strategy Group at the Aspen Institute from 1992 to 1995,[21] the Women's Media Initiative,[22] and was a regular commentator on NPR's The Tavis Smiley Show.[23]


Her work has been cited as influential in the drafting of the equality clause in the Constitution of South Africa.[19]

In 2017, Crenshaw gave an hour-long lecture to a maximum-capacity crowd of attendees at Rapaporte Treasure Hall. She explained the role intersectionality plays in modern-day society.[24] After a three-day celebration of her work, Brandeis University President Ron Liebowitz presented Crenshaw with the Toby Gittler award at a ceremony following a lecture in December.[25]

She was invited to moderate a Sexual Harassment Panel hosted by Women in Animation and The Animation Guild, Local 839. Crenshaw discussed the history of harassment in the workplace and transitioned the discussion to how it plays a role in today's work environments. The other panelists with Crenshaw agreed there have been many protective measures placed to combat sexual harassment in the workplace but many issues remain to be resolved for a complete settlement of the problem at hand.[26]

She contributed the piece "Traffic at the Crossroads: Multiple Oppressions" to the 2003 anthology Sisterhood Is Forever: The Women's Anthology for a New Millennium, edited by Robin Morgan.[27]

Crenshaw relates intersectionality to a traffic intersection, with traffic flowing in all four directions, so when an accident occurs it could have been a result of cars coming from any one direction, or all of them. She later wrote that reconstructing an accident is difficult and it is unclear who caused the skid marks or which driver was at fault. Which leads to no one held responsible and all parties go back to living their lives.[28]

She attended the Women of the World festival that took place from 8–13 March 2016 at the Southbank Centre in London, England.[29] She delivered a keynote speech on the unique challenges facing women of colour when it comes to the struggle for gender equality, racial justice and well-being. A key challenge is police brutality against black women, she highlighted the #SayHerName campaign which is aimed at uplifting the stories of black women killed by the police.[30]


External video
video icon Kimberlé Crenshaw – On Intersectionality – keynote – WOW 2016: Southbank Centre[31]

Crenshaw introduced the theory of intersectionality in 1989 in her paper written for the University of Chicago Legal Forum, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics".[3][32][33][34] The main argument of this black feminist paper is that 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.[35]

The paper attempted to mitigate the widespread misconception that the intersectional experience is solely due to the sum of racism and sexism. According to Crenshaw, the concept of intersectionality predates her work, citing "antecedents" as old as 19th century American black feminists Anna Julia Cooper and Maria Stewart, followed by Angela Davis and Deborah King in the 20th century: "In every generation and in every intellectual sphere and in every political moment, there have been African American women who have articulated the need to think and talk about race through a lens that looks at gender, or think and talk about feminism through a lens that looks at race. So this is in continuity with that."[3] Her inspiration for the theory started during her college studies, when she realized that the gender aspect of race was extremely underdeveloped, although the school she was attending offered many classes that addressed both race and gender issues. In particular, women were only discussed in literature and poetry classes while men were also discussed in serious politics and economics.

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.[3]

Crenshaw realized the idea of racialized sexism and sexualized racism. She broke down intersectional analysis into three forms, 1. Structural, which addresses racism and patriarchy in association with violence against women. 2. Political, which addresses the intersection of anti-race organizing  and feminist organizing. And 3. Representational, which addresses the intersection of racial and gender stereotypes. Crenshaw's participation in paradigms of identity which are mutually exclusive is one of rethinking identity politics from within, in general through systemic legal exclusions.[36]

Crenshaw often refers to the case DeGraffenreid v. General Motors as an inspiration in writing, interviews, and lectures. In DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, Emma Degraffenreid and four other African-American women argued they were receiving compound discrimination excluding them from employment opportunities. They contended that although women were eligible for office and secretarial jobs, in practice such positions only were offered to white women, barring African-American women from seeking employment in the company. The courts weighed the allegations of race and gender discrimination separately, finding that the employment of African-American male factory workers disproved racial discrimination, and the employment of white female office workers disproved gender discrimination. The court declined to consider compound discrimination, and dismissed the case.[3]

Crenshaw also discusses intersectionality in connection to her experience as part of the 1991 legal team for Anita Hill, the woman who accused then-US Supreme Court Nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment.[37] The case drew two crowds expressing contrasting views: white feminists in support of Hill and the opposing members of the African-American community that supported Clarence Thomas. The two lines of argument focused on the rights of women and Hill's experience of being violated as a woman, on the one hand, and on the other the appeal to forgive Thomas or turn a blind eye to his conduct due to his opportunity to become only the second African American to serve on the United States Supreme Court.

Crenshaw argued that with these two groups rising up against one another during this case, Anita Hill lost her voice as a black woman. She had been unintentionally chosen to support the women's side of things, silencing her racial contribution to the issue. "It was like one of these moments where you literally feel that you have been kicked out of your community, all because you are trying to introduce and talk about the way that African American women have experienced sexual harassment and violence. It was a defining moment." "Many women who talk about the Anita Hill thing," Crenshaw adds, "they celebrate what's happened with women in general…. So sexual harassment is now recognized; what's not doing as well is the recognition of black women's unique experiences with discrimination."

Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality has been adopted fairly quickly worldwide, both as a concept and a research approach. In Gender & Society, published in 2012 by Christine E. Bose, she expands on how Crenshaw's theory of intersectionality has and still is being applied on a global level. According to Bose, "U.S. scholars should not be surprised that an Intersectional approach is useful to European, Asian or African scholars studying inequalities in nations with diverse native populations or polarized class structures, or with increasing numbers of migrants and contract workers from other countries" (Bose 68). In the United States, intersectionality is rarely thought of as a policy issue, however, "feminists in European Union (EU) countries, where gender mainstreaming is common and where cross-national equality policies are being developed, view intersectionality as directly useful for such policies and considerably better than approaches that tend to foster a sense of competing oppressions" (Kantola and Nousiainen 2009). The problem now, according to Choo and Ferree, is how an intersectional analysis should be carried out. In 2010, they identified "three different understandings of intersectionality that have been used in sociological research, with each producing distinct methodological approaches to analyze inequalities. Their typology of group-centered, process-centered, and system-centered practices provides a useful framework for examining the global usage of intersectionality, and a way of thinking intersectionally about variations in political approaches to gender". Since then, studies surrounding Crenshaw's original theory of intersectionality, combined with the frameworks outlined by Choo and Ferree, have continued to develop on a global level.[38]

My Brother's Keeper[edit]

A nationwide initiative to open up a ladder of opportunities to youth males and males of color.[39] Crenshaw and the other participants of the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) have expressed the opinion in various media that although the initiative may have good intentions, it works in a way that excludes girls and in particular young girls of color. To address this problem, the AAPF started the campaign #WHYWECANTWAIT for the inclusion in the "My Brother's Keeper" initiative of all youth, including girls and boys of color. This campaign has received a lot of support from all over letters signed by men of color, letters signed by women of color and letters signed by allies that believe in the cause.

In an interview on the Laura Flanders Show Crenshaw explained that the program was introduced as response to the widespread grief from the African-American community after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the case of his shooting and killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American teenage boy. She describes the program as "feel-good", and fatherly initiative but does not believe that it is a significant or structural program that will help fight the rollback of civil rights; the initiative will not provide the kinds of things that will really make a difference. She believes that because women and girls of color are a part of the same communities and disadvantages as the under-privileged males that are focused in the initiative, that in order to make it an effective program for the communities it needs to include all members of the community girls and boys alike.

  • #Why we can't wait: Women of Color Urging Inclusion in "My Brother's Keeper"
  • June 17, 2014 – a letter from more than 1000 girls and women of color

The letter is signed by women of all ages and a variety of backgrounds including high-school teens, professional actors, civil rights activists, and university professors commending President Obama on the efforts of the White House, private philanthropy, and social justice organizations to urge the inclusion of young women and girls. The realignment would be important to reflect the values of inclusion, equal opportunity and shared fate that have propelled our historic struggle for racial justice moving forward.

  • May 30, 2014 – a letter of 200 Concerned Black Men and Other Men of Color calling for the Inclusion of Women and Girls in "My Brothers Keeper"[40]

The letter is signed by a multitude of diverse men with different lifestyles to include scholars, recently incarcerated, taxi drivers, pastors, college students, fathers of sons, fathers of daughters and more. All the men believing that the girls within the communities that these men share homes, schools, recreational areas share a fate with one another and believe that the initiative is lacking in focus if that focus does not include both genders.

In 2014, after Barack Obama was elected as president, he signed to approve a program called "My Brother's Keeper". This program cost around $200 million and was a five-year program to support boys and young men of color, mostly African-American and Hispanic, by providing them with the opportunity for mentorships, internships, summer jobs and more. In a White House Summit address concerning working families, President Obama announced "new commitment to the program" with the support of corporations, schools and assorted nonprofits.[41] In his speech he mentioned "all the heroic single moms out there." He also stated, "ANYTHING that makes life harder for women makes life harder for families and makes life harder for children," but the program lacked to address this. In response to this, Kimberlé Crenshaw wrote a New York Times article titled "The Girls Obama Forgot".[42] In her article, she elaborates on how "My Brother's Keeper" is "the most significant contradiction of his efforts to remain a friend to women while navigating the tricky terrain of race." The program lacked the representation of women of color who were a source of his main supporters during his campaign for presidency. In Obama's speech he noted how "boys who grew up are more likely to be poor." In Crenshaw's article, she felt that there needed to be more representation of these boy's sisters and mothers. "He noted that boys who grew up without a father were more likely to be poor. More likely than whom? Certainly not their sisters, who are growing up in the same households, attending the same underfunded schools and living in the same neighborhoods." She noted how the White House had this false belief that black men were better off than black women; an idea in which Crenshaw strongly shut down.[43]

Equality Amendment[edit]

In December 2019 Crenshaw and legal scholar Catherine MacKinnon introduced a new version of the Equal Rights Amendment.[44] This new version is known as the Equality Amendment and is discussed at length in their essay, "Reconstituting the Future: The Equality Amendment."[44]

Awards and honors[edit]

Selected works[edit]

Crenshaw has published works on civil rights, black feminist legal theory, race, racism, and the law.

  • Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings That Formed the Movement (editor), 1995. ISBN 1565842715, OCLC 489927296.
  • "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence against Women of Color," in The Feminist Philosophy Reader, Alison Bailey and Chris Cuomo (eds.). New York: McGraw-Hill, 2008. 279–309.
  • Reaffirming Racism: The faulty logic of Colorblindness, Remedy and Diversity, 2013 ISBN 9781595588838, OCLC 807025281.
  • Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, African American Policy Forum, 2016.[52]
  • The Race Track: Understanding and Challenging Structural Racism, 2017. ISBN 9781595588821, OCLC 1063635935.
  • On Intersectionality: Essential Writings of Kimberlé Crenshaw, 2017. ISBN 9781620972700, OCLC 1015981627.
  • Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness across the Disciplines, 2019. ISBN 9780520300996, OCLC 1050455449


  1. ^ "Reunion Renews Commitment to William H. Hastie Fellowship Legacy | University of Wisconsin Law School". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  2. ^ "Who we are". Retrieved July 12, 2018.
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  4. ^ Miller, Hayley (August 11, 2017). "Kimberlé Crenshaw Explains The Power Of Intersectional Feminism In 1 Minute". Huffington Post. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  5. ^ "Marian Williams Crenshaw's Obituary on The Repository". The Repository. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  6. ^ Crenshaw, Kimberle (1989). "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics". University of Chicago Legal Forum.
  7. ^ a b c d "Kimberlé Crenshaw: the woman who revolutionised feminism – and landed at the heart of the culture wars". The Guardian. Retrieved May 9, 2021.
  8. ^ a b "Race, gender scholar Crenshaw on campus Oct. 16–21 | Cornell Chronicle". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  9. ^ "The Cornell Daily Sun 31 October 1980 — The Cornell Daily Sun". Retrieved June 10, 2020.
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  12. ^ "William H. Hastie Fellowship Program | University of Wisconsin Law School". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  13. ^ Peller, Garry (1995). Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. The New Press. ISBN 9781565842717.
  14. ^ "Courses Page". Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  15. ^ a b "Columbia University Record". (2 ed.). September 15, 1995. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  16. ^ Foundation, American Bar. "UCLA and Columbia Law Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to Receive 2016 Fellows Outstanding Scholar Award – American Bar Foundation". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  17. ^ "Kimberle W. Crenshaw". Columbia Law School. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  18. ^ "Our mission". African American Policy Forum. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  19. ^ a b Poole, Shirley L. (November–December 2000). The Crisis. NAACP/The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  20. ^ Harris-Perry, Melissa (April 18, 2016). "Where Are All the Black Feminists in Confirmation?". ELLE. Retrieved April 22, 2016.
  21. ^ Knubel, Fred (September 16, 1995). "Kimberle Crenshaw Named Professor at Columbia Law". New York, NY: Columbia University, Office of Public Information. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  22. ^ "Kimberle Crenshaw biography". The African American Policy Forum. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  23. ^ "About the Tavis Smiley Show". The Tavis Smiley Show. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  24. ^ "The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize Lecture". October 25, 2017. Retrieved October 7, 2018.
  25. ^ Gould, Jocelyn (October 31, 2017). "Kimberlé Crenshaw accepts Gittler Prize for career works". The Justice. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  26. ^ Wolfe, Jennifer (December 7, 2017). "Sexual Harassment Panel Offers Definitions, Strategies". Animation World Network. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  27. ^ Library Resource Finder: Table of Contents for: Sisterhood is forever : the women's anth. 2003. ISBN 9780743466271. Retrieved October 15, 2015.
  28. ^ Puar, Jasbir K. (2017). "I Would Rather Be a CyborgThan a Goddess": Becoming Intersectional in Assemblage Theory. New York: Routledge. p. 602. ISBN 978-1-13893021-6.
  29. ^ "WOW – Women of the World | Southbank Centre". Retrieved March 23, 2017.
  30. ^ "#SayHerName". AAPF. Retrieved March 23, 2017.
  31. ^ "Kimberlé Crenshaw – On Intersectionality – keynote – WOW 2016: Southbank Centre". Southbank Centre at YouTube. Retrieved May 31, 2016.
  32. ^ Crenshaw, Kimberlé (1989). "Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: a Black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics". University of Chicago Legal Forum. University of Chicago Law School. 1989: 139–168.
  33. ^ Crenshaw, Kimberlé (September 24, 2015). "Why intersectionality can't wait". The Washington Post. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  34. ^ "Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later". Columbia Law School. June 8, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  35. ^ Thomas, Sheila; Crenshaw, Kimberlé (Spring 2004). "Intersectionality: the double bind of race and gender" (PDF). Perspectives Magazine. American Bar Association. p. 2.
  36. ^ Puar, Jasbir K. (2017). "I Would Rater Be a Cyborg Than a Goddess": Becoming Intersectional In Assemblage Theory. New York: Routledge. p. 596. ISBN 978-1-138-93021-6.
  37. ^ "Black Women Still in Defense of Ourselves". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  38. ^ BOSE, CHRISTINE E. (2012). "Intersectionality and Global Gender Inequality". Gender and Society. 26 (1): 67–72. doi:10.1177/0891243211426722. ISSN 0891-2432. JSTOR 23212241. S2CID 145233506.
  39. ^ "My Brother's Keeper". Retrieved March 10, 2016 – via National Archives.
  40. ^ "Why We Can't Wait: Women of Color Urge Inclusion in "My Brother's Keeper"". AAPF. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  41. ^ "Remarks by President Obama at the White House Summit on Working Families". June 23, 2014. Retrieved November 8, 2020 – via National Archives.
  42. ^ Kimberle Williams Crenshaw (July 29, 2014). "The Girls Obama Forgot". The New York Times. Retrieved November 8, 2020.
  43. ^ Crenshaw, Kimberle Williams (July 29, 2014). "Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw: My Brother's Keeper Ignores Young Black Women". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  44. ^ a b "Reconstituting the Future: The Equality Amendment" (PDF). Yale Law Journal. December 2019.
  45. ^ a b "Canton native wins fellowships to study race". The Repository. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  46. ^ report, staff. "Kimberlé Crenshaw named to Ebony Magazine's 'Power 100'". The Repository. Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  47. ^ Foundation, American Bar. "UCLA and Columbia Law Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to Receive 2016 Fellows Outstanding Scholar Award – American Bar Foundation". Retrieved March 10, 2016.
  48. ^ Bencks, Jarret (October 27, 2017). "Kimberlé Crenshaw honored with Gittler Prize". BrandeisNOW. Retrieved December 16, 2017.
  49. ^ "Honorary doctorate Kimberlé Crenshaw". KU Leuven. February 3, 2020. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  50. ^ "Laudatio - Motivatio Kimberlé Crenshaw". KU Leuven. February 3, 2020. Retrieved June 7, 2020.
  51. ^ "New Members". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved April 24, 2021.
  52. ^ "Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected". AAPF. December 30, 2014. Retrieved February 8, 2019.


External links[edit]