On the Corner: Postscript to a Beginning

Taking nothing away from the importance of the post on the birth of intersectionality, it was both a bit long, and it was focussed more on what Kimberlé Crenshaw thought than my thinking about her thoughts. There are some nuggets that I think are important, things that we will need to remember as we continue to explore Intersectionality. But I think they are best placed in this separate PostScript:

  • First: from the very beginning, Crenshaw is using the metaphor of the intersection as a metaphor about car traffic. This isn’t an intersection of footpaths, nor are pedestrians interacting with the cars save (possibly, the text isn’t clear whether the Black woman is a pedestrian or another driver) getting injured by them in an accident. The metaphor is used to discuss when Black women “deserve” help and when drivers “deserve” to be held accountable. It is not used to discuss, for instance, how a Black woman who must navigate both race and gender discriminations might wait longer at a light in a non-violent complication at the intersection of Race Road and Gender Way.
  • Second: note that even though Crenshaw examines multiple points of the ongoing story of the Black woman in the metaphor, she examines them as points, and particularly as (judicial) decisions. The question to call the ambulance or not reduces to a point in time, something done promptly or not done promptly. It is certainly informative: other victims are worthy of immediate attention because they are humans in need. Black women must provide a justification first, only receiving the attention if and when the Black woman who has been run over satisfies our systemic suspicion. But informative or not, whether the consequences persist or not, the attention of Intersectionality is paid to moments, not lifetimes.
  • Third: white men are not much discussed in the body of the article. This does not mean, however, that Crenshaw thinks only in terms of disadvantage and not in terms of privilege. She quite explicitly states the opposite here:

Race and sex, moreover, become significant [to the court] only when they operate to explicitly disadvantage the victims; because the privileging of whiteness or maleness is implicit, it is generally not perceived at all. [emphasis in the original]

  • And, finally: while Crenshaw clearly comes to Intersectionality as a legal theorist, tackling later sections of her introductory work on Intersectionality we will see that from the beginning she intended the metaphor to have more than legal significance:

Contemporary white feminists inherit not the legacy of [Sojourner] Truth’s challenge to patriarchy but, instead, Truth’s challenge to their forbearers. Even today, the difficulty that white women have traditionally experienced in sacrificing racial privilege to strengthen feminism renders them susceptible to Truth’s critical question. When feminist theory and politics that claim to reflect women’s experience and women’s aspirations do not include or speak to Black women, Black women must ask: “Ain’t We Women?” If this is so, how can the claims that “women are,” “women believe” and “women need” be made when such claims are inapplicable or unresponsive to the needs, interests and experiences of Black women?

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