Kimberlé Crenshaw and Intersectionality 

By Inikki Mitchell

The term intersectionality is widely used in disciplines that deal with social identities. It is even catching on in everyday language. But the person who coined the term is not as well known as the word. Kimberlé Crenshaw was born and raised in Canton, Ohio. She was born in 1959 to Marion and Clarence Crenshaw. After graduating from Canton McKinley High School, she attended Cornell University.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in government and Africana studies. It was at Cornell that she began to form the basis for her feminist theory. She observed that race and gender were taught as two entirely different subjects rather than intersecting identities. As a black woman she faced compounded oppression. Both subjects ignored the overlap and interactions between the two identities. Though the term intersectionality was being used in the late 70’s it wasn't until 1989,when Crenshaw introduced it to feminist theory, that the term was officially recognized. In her work she uses the term intersectionality to refer to  the unique kinds of discrimination black women experience at the crosshairs of racist and sexist institutional practices. Intersectionality is vital to understanding how to dismantle oppression. The feminist movement needs to understand that certain women within their ranks need to fight multiple oppressions not just sexism. If the feminist movement is able to fight racism, transphobia, xenophobia and other oppressions then all women can be made free.


After graduating from Cornell, she went Harvard University Law School and received a J.D. in 1984.  She then went on to complete the University of Wisconsin master of law program. In 1986 she became a professor at UCLA where she lectured on civil rights, constitutional law, and critical race studies. While she was a professor at UCLA she founded the field of critical race theory. Her theory was eagerly embraced by the academic community and she has lectured all over the world. In 2000, she wrote the background paper on Race and Gender Discrimination for the United Nations’ World Conference on Racism. But she was more than an academic, she was also an activist.  In 2014 she speared the campaign that pushed President Obama's In 2014, racial justice initiative, My Brother’s Keeper, to be inclusive of girls and women of color. In 2015, Crenshaw assembled a team of activists and researchers to advocate on behalf black women and girls. Thanks to the tirelessly work of this team the White House launched an unprecedented and groundbreaking initiative called the Advancing Equity for Women and Girls of Color. This initiative brought together together philanthropists and academics to research and fund concerns related women and  girls of color.


She also launched the #SayHerName initiative to draw attention to the violence inflicted upon black women and girls. She launched the campaign on the nonprofit think tank, African American Policy Forum. She co founded the forum in 1996 and was the director of it when she launched her initiative. The forum was devoted to "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."(Insert citation). It sought to advance its goals by  building a bridge between scholarly research and public discourse in addressing inequality and discrimination.


Crenshaw’s work is vital to the feminist movement if we are to truly free all women worldwide.