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Threaded Discussion

California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Latest update: December 6, 1999
E-Mail Curran or Takata.

Intersectionality and Identity

Thread initiated by Thyneshia Harris, CSUDH, Fall 1999
Copyright by Thyneshia Harris, December 1999
Curran and Takata, Part of Teaching Series
Copyright: September 1999. "Fair Use" encouraged.

On December 9, Thy wrote:

"jeanne, I have just finished reading Kimberly Crenshaw's review fom "A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination" in Kairy's Law and Politics. I have a lot of unanwsered questions and a different way of looking at intersectionality, ciritical race therory, information control, privilege, identity, sexism, and race discrimination . I learned some of these from the reading and others I interpreted from the reading. I would very much like to discuss them during or after class."

jeanne's comments:

"Thy, I rather thought you would be excited by the Crenshaw black feminist critique. It shows some of the structural violence of language in our legal system. Whole class is invited to share in this discussion, and that includes UWP."

Thy continued:

For example, intersectionality seems unfair if it confuses the privilege of white women (often taken for granted) with black women's experience. It is usually white womens privilege which is the center of sexist claims. Black men are privileged in regards to racist claims or ideology, in the sense that it is their situation as breadwinners, and as heads of family that are often of most concern. Black women are not privieleged in this sense either as blacks or as women. They seem to have the worst of bing black and women.

jeanne's comments:

Yes, Thy. It seems to me that's what Kimberly Crenshaw is saying. In the case she cites, black women were refused the right to sue on the grounds that they represent neither women (since they cannot speak for white women) nor blacks (since they cannot speack for black men). They represent only a part of each group. Further the justices refused to extend non-discrimination to "black women" a dual class because that would multiply the protections offered by our laws and result in a flood of legislation. It is illegal to discriminate against blacks, and against women, but that protection does not extend to the intersectional group of black women. Crenshaw then goes on to point out that in the Bakke decision, protection against discrimination was extended to white males.

The logic of the extension to white males is that "white male" is not a term that implies intersectionality. Yet "white" is indicative of race, and "male" of gender. This is an example of structural violence in our language, for the justices are habituated to their own language in which a "white male" is not the product of race and gender. But in their professional language "black female" had no such connotation, and they saw "black female" as representing the intersection of race and gender. Those are pretty powerful unstated assumptions that affect the interpretation we give to our laws, including whether or not some of us have the standing to sue.