Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw

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Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw
Kimberlé Crenshaw (40901215153).jpg
Crenshaw in 2019
Born1959 (age 59–60)
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 (born 1959) is an American lawyer, civil rights advocate 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]

Born in Canton, Ohio in 1959, to Marian and Walter Clarence Crenshaw, Jr.,[5] where she attended Canton McKinley High School. Crenshaw received a bachelor's degree in government and Africana studies from Cornell University[6] in 1981, where she was a member of the Quill and Dagger senior Honors' Society.[citation needed] She received a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1984,[7] 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.[8][9]


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.[10]

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.[6] 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.[11] In 1991 and 1994, she was elected professor of the year by matriculating students.[12] 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.[8][12][13] At Columbia, Crenshaw's courses include an Intersectionalities Workshop and an Intersectionalities Workshop centered around Civil Rights.[14]

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."[15][16] 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.[17]

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, 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 1992–1995,[18] the Women's Media Initiative,[19] and was a regular commentator on NPR's The Tavis Smiley Show.[20]


Her work has been cited as influential in the drafting of the equality clause in the Constitution of South Africa.[16]

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.[21] 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.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

She attended the Women of the World festival which took place from 8–13 March 2016 at the Southbank Centre in London, England.[25] 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.[26]


External video
Kimberlé Crenshaw – On Intersectionality – keynote – WOW 2016: Southbank Centre[27]

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][28][29][30] 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.[31]

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 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] Antidiscrimination laws and the justice system's attempt for a remedy to discrimination is limited and operates on a singular axis; when one flows into another a complete and understandable definition has not been written in law therefore when the issue of intersectionality is presented in the court of law if one form of discrimination cannot be proved without the other than there is no law broken. The law defines discrimination of singular cases where you can only be discriminated based one thing or the other so when enforcing the law they go solely by the definition and if discrimination cannot be proved based on the single definition of one discrimination or the other then there is no crime committed.

Crenshaw often refers to the case DeGraffenreid v. General Motors as an inspiration in writing, interviews, and lectures. In DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, a group of 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.[32] 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."

My Brother's Keeper[edit]

A nationwide initiative to open up a ladder of opportunities to youth males and males of color.[33] 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"[34]

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.

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, Over Policed and Under Protected, African American Policy Forum, 2016.[39]
  • 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.


  1. ^ "Reunion Renews Commitment to William H. Hastie Fellowship Legacy | University of Wisconsin Law School". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  2. ^ "Who we are". Retrieved 2018-07-12.
  3. ^ a b c d e Adewunmi, Bim (2 April 2014). "Kimberlé Crenshaw on intersectionality: "I wanted to come up with an everyday metaphor that anyone could use"". New Statesman. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  4. ^ Miller, Hayley (2017-08-11). "Kimberlé Crenshaw Explains The Power Of Intersectional Feminism In 1 Minute". Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  5. ^ "Marian Williams Crenshaw's Obituary on The Repository". The Repository. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  6. ^ a b "Race, gender scholar Crenshaw on campus Oct. 16–21 | Cornell Chronicle". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  7. ^ "Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw | Faculty | Columbia Law School". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  8. ^ a b c d "Canton native Kimberlé Crenshaw receives legal scholar award". The Repository. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  9. ^ "William H. Hastie Fellowship Program | University of Wisconsin Law School". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  10. ^ Peller, Garry (1995). Critical Race Theory: The Key Writings that Formed the Movement. The New Press. ISBN 9781565842717.
  11. ^ "Courses Page". Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  12. ^ a b "Columbia University Record" (2 ed.). September 15, 1995. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  13. ^ Foundation, American Bar. "UCLA and Columbia Law Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to Receive 2016 Fellows Outstanding Scholar Award – American Bar Foundation". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  14. ^ "Kimberle W. Crenshaw". Columbia Law School. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  15. ^ "Our mission". African American Policy Forum. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  16. ^ a b Poole, Shirley L. (November–December 2000). The Crisis. NAACP/The Crisis Publishing Company, Inc. Retrieved March 9, 2016.
  17. ^ "Where Are All the Black Feminists in Confirmation?". ELLE. 2016-04-18. Retrieved 2016-04-22.
  18. ^ 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.
  19. ^ "Kimberle Crenshaw biography". The African American Policy Forum. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  20. ^ "About the Tavis Smiley Show". The Tavis Smiley Show. Retrieved January 25, 2018.
  21. ^ The Joseph B. and Toby Gittler Prize Lecture, October 25, 2017, retrieved October 7, 2018
  22. ^ "Kimberlé Crenshaw accepts Gittler Prize for career works". The Justice. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  23. ^ "Sexual Harassment Panel Offers Definitions, Strategies". Animation World Network. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  24. ^ Library Resource Finder: Table of Contents for: Sisterhood is forever : the women's anth. 2003. ISBN 9780743466271. Retrieved 2015-10-15.
  25. ^ "WOW – Women of the World | Southbank Centre". Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  26. ^ "#SayHerName". AAPF. Retrieved 2017-03-23.
  27. ^ "Kimberlé Crenshaw – On Intersectionality – keynote – WOW 2016: Southbank Centre". Southbank Centre at YouTube. Retrieved 31 May 2016.
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ Crenshaw, Kimberlé (September 24, 2015). "Why intersectionality can't wait". The Washington Post. Retrieved 27 December 2018.
  30. ^ "Kimberlé Crenshaw on Intersectionality, More than Two Decades Later". Columbia Law School. June 8, 2017. Retrieved December 27, 2018.
  31. ^ Thomas, Sheila; Crenshaw, Kimberlé (Spring 2004). "Intersectionality: the double bind of race and gender" (PDF). Perspectives Magazine. American Bar Association. p. 2.
  32. ^ "Black Women Still in Defense of Ourselves". The Nation. ISSN 0027-8378. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  33. ^ "My Brother's Keeper". The White House. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  34. ^ "Why We Can't Wait: Women of Color Urge Inclusion in "My Brother's Keeper"". AAPF. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  35. ^ a b "Canton native wins fellowships to study race". The Repository. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  36. ^ report, staff. "Kimberlé Crenshaw named to Ebony Magazine's 'Power 100'". The Repository. Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  37. ^ Foundation, American Bar. "UCLA and Columbia Law Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw to Receive 2016 Fellows Outstanding Scholar Award – American Bar Foundation". Retrieved 2016-03-10.
  38. ^ "Kimberlé Crenshaw honored with Gittler Prize | BrandeisNOW". BrandeisNOW. Retrieved 2017-12-16.
  39. ^ "Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected". AAPF. Retrieved 2019-02-08.


External links[edit]