Black History Month extravaganza continues with feminist icon and fierce activist Kimberlé Crenshaw
Hundreds crowded the Trabant Multipurpose Room in excitement over the guest of honor on Thursday. Students and professors from all facets of the university gathered to hear Kimberlé Crenshaw’s lecture. Crenshaw is a civil rights advocate, scholar and professor at the UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School and founder of the African American Policy Forum. She is also credited with coining the term “intersectionality” and developing intersectional theory.
Beginning with a commanding performance by the dance group “Women of Consequence,” the night contributed to the events celebrating Black History Month, run by the Center of Black Culture.
“Students get excited over celebrities, and in my scholarly world, Kimberlé Crenshaw is a celebrity,” Professor Emerald Christopher-Byrd says, “Students can read the work, I can break it down for them, but they still might receive it differently coming from the person who actually wrote the material”
And receive it differently they did. Crenshaw’s entire talk prompted audience response, whether it came in the form of nods of approval or rounds of applause. The lecture focused on racial and gender bias, as well as current prominent social issues and how they relate primarily to Black women and girls.
She spent the majority of her talk mimicking a fictional interview in which activist Barbara Arnwine conversed with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During the discussion, Arnwine tells King the story of the current political landscape, while critiquing past civil rights movements and their “intersectional failures.”
“Her contribution to the field is very very important,” Christopher-Byrd says. “When she coined the term intersectionality, it was a pivotal moment in the women’s movement, and if you want to call it identity politics, this is how we can conceptualize this and use it, as I would call, an analytic tool.”
Channeling herself through Arnwine’s voice, Crenshaw speaks about the triumphant win of Former President Barack Obama, an achievement viewed as the ultimate win for a “post-racist,” country. But even “President Obama could not outrun racism,” Crenshaw says, “what he uncovered was a new way of doing something new while black.”
Crenshaw also touched upon different eras of Black American history, with a particular focus on the contributions of African-American women. She spoke about Harriet Tubman’s inability to get a pension as anything other than a wife, despite her efforts as a leader among all leaders.
“We need an intersectional approach, Dr. King, one that helps us to move in a way that doesn’t rely on our baselines like patriarchy or heteronormativity, to advance our demands for justice,” Crenshaw recalls Arnwine saying. “All families deserve a fair opportunity regardless of who is heading them. We all suffer when our movements are not intersectional.”
Crenshaw conducted an experiment with the audience asking audience members to raise their hands and lower them when they heard a name that they did not recognize. She began with names like Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Eric Garner, all Black men killed by police brutality.
Some hands lowered, but the majority remained up. Crenshaw paused, and then continued: Mya Hall, Tanisha Anderson and India Kager. With the mention of these Black women who had lost their lives at the hands of police, hands slowly lowered. By the end, only a couple of hands remained.
“To understand the social problem, we have to confront all aspects of it, including the fact that Black women and girls have been killed in every conceivable way,” Crenshaw says.
Crenshaw closes by waking up from her dream, and talking about someone else’s. She quotes Vicky McAdory, the “auntie-mama” to India Beaty, a 25 year old Black women killed by police violence.
“Vicky dreamed of a world where not only justice was served for everybody, but where black women and girls no longer felt prey to police violence,” Crenshaw says, now quoting Vicky herself before her death, “My fear would be realizing that I did not put my all into something that is right, something we were born with the right of having, and how could I not. How could I not?” Crenshaw looks up, and leaves us with her final remark, “How can we not?”