Kimberle Crenshaw on AA and “women and people of color”


**This clip is from a debate about ending AA; her reference to the “radical agenda” is to ending it.**

I love what she does to the metaphor of an even race track.


Many of us try, at least since Bell Hooks pointed out its flaws many years ago, to avoid the phrase “women and people of color.”  Indeed, Crenshaw has been cited on this blog as showing how important it is to use less troublesome alternatives.  Nonetheless, she actually also uses the phrase in the opening of her talk here. 

I’m sure there are a number of lessons to be learned from that, one of which is that one should be careful about criticizing other people and other blogs.  Perhaps you can suggest some others.

7 thoughts on “Kimberle Crenshaw on AA and “women and people of color”

  1. Can you explain, or refer to a place which explains, why “women and people of color” is troublesome? Is it the conjunction of the two? Is it certain contexts? I’m afraid it isn’t immediately obvious to me.

  2. M, thanks. I can’t think why I didn’t try to give some indication. I think, if I am remembering correctly, bell hooks pointed out that she and other women of color were something like caught between the categories. She obviously should go into the woman category, but then she is a person of color. So put her in that category and then she’s not a woman?

    The more important point that I think Crenshaw has articulated (and that hooks may well have had in mind) is that the particular problems of women of color are lost. The notion of intersectionality tries to catch this. E.g., as women, women of color have had to fight to get into universities, with a double disadvantage of not being white. However, among people of color, women have often been seen as better candidates for higher education. In addition to this mixed ranking comes a plethora of problems with each broader group.

    Mind you, this is pretty much off the top of my head, and not meant to be a good analysis.

  3. So, the problem with the term “women and people of color” is supposed to be that it suggests that one couldn’t belong to both categories? I’m sorry, that just strikes me as incredibly weak.

  4. Agon, one has to think in terms of the context in which the expression is used. Very often it is used to refer to groups who are disadvantaged in some ways. But if we think in terms of the disadvantages distinctive of each group, we may well leave out the problems at the intersection. That might be less bad if their problems were simply the conjunction of the problems of the two. But they are not,and so we frame a discussion in a way that itself disadvantages some.

  5. Thanks, jj, this makes sense in terms of framing. (I think the utterance itself could be okay in many contexts.) Another example is “LGBT” in which these are understood as discrete categories on the same spectrum, which ignore the fact that transgender persons also have sexual orientations which may sometimes be gay, lesbian or bisexual.

  6. Legally speaking, it has been difficult to show that belonging to both categories actually matters. See, for example, Crenshaw’s analysis of De Graffenreid vs. GM, in which black women workers sued GM after they were laid off. White women and black men were both retained, which the Court interpreted as meaning that neither sex nor race were relevant factors in the lay-offs.

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