Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw is a professor at UCLA School of Law and Columbia Law School, specializing on race and gender issues. She is an American civil rights advocate and a leading scholar of critical race theory. She introduced the idea of intersectionality to feminism.
Crenshaw was born in Canton, OH in 1959. She received a bachelor’s degree in government and African Studies from Cornell University in 1981. She got a JD from Harvard Law School in 1984 and masters in law from University of Wisconsin Law School in 1985. She joined the faculty at UCLA in 1986 where she founded the field of critical race theory, and became a regular lecturer on civil rights, critical race studies, and constitutional law.
In 1991, she assisted on Anita Hill’s legal team against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
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.”
Crenshaw is known for the introduction and development of intersectional theory, the study of how overlapping or intersecting social identities, particularly minority identities, relate to systems and structures of oppression, domination, or discrimination. Her scholarship was also essential in the development of intersectional feminism as a subcategory of intersectional theory: it examines the overlapping systems of oppression and discrimination to which women are subject due to their ethnicity, sexuality, and economic background.
In a speech at HBO, to illustrate the concept of intersectionality, Crenshaw suggested thinking of a traffic intersection. “Narratives are created,” she explained, “and we’re all used to navigating a space, but intersectionality is when these pathways cross each other. What happens when an accident happens and the people who support each path can’t determine where the problem comes from?”
“The stories we tell, the images we lift up, the ways we think of social justice issues have everything to do with where we are in this country.” – Kimberlé Crenshaw
Crenshaw authored the background paper on race and gender discrimination for the United Nation’s World Conference on Racism, served as the rapporteur for the conference’s expert group on gender and race discrimination, and coordinated NGO efforts to ensure the inclusion of gender in the WCAR Conference Declaration. She is a leading voice in calling for a gender-inclusive approach to racial justice interventions, having spearheaded the “Why We Can’t Wait” campaign and co-authored Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected, and Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women.
Watch her TED Talk: