Kimberle Williams Crenshaw on Thirty Years of Intersectionality

“If the underlying assumption behind the category ‘women’ or ‘feminist’ is that we are a coalition then there have to be coalitional practices and some form of accountability.” . . .

Crenshaw talks about a sort of “collective forgetting” – the fact that black women were not spared from lynching themselves, and the way that racist sexism played out for black women involved sexual violence that was never prosecuted. Rosa Parks, she says, “was a rape crisis advocate before she sat down on that Montgomery bus. The very fact that there are a range of experiences around sexualised racism that’s not remembered – and we only remember one experience – is what then replayed itself in the 1990s.”

Interview by Bim Adewunmi

Very often, in my classes or personal life, I find that, as a “White” person (a White woman), race comes into play in how my students look at me or how other people around me look at me.

Also, I hear narratives or claims of racism against White people on a broader level here on Guåhan.  The recent lawsuit by White man Arnold Davis, appropriating civil rights era-legislation to claim discrimination, is one example.  The claims of the pro-buildup group Para Hita Todu involved some accusations that their opponents were bigoted against white people.

First, we have to distinguish between systematic, historical (and continuing) structures of oppression on the one hand, which we see extensively practiced against Indigenous Pacific Islander people and perpetrated in various ways by the Spanish, the Japanese, and the U.S. military and its associates (most of whom were White, of course), and then on the other hand, individual and more or less isolated, unorganized, nonsystematic occasional pockets of resentment regarding historical oppression.

Then, second, we must recognize that resistance to oppression on a structural level (as with the governor’s Commission on Decolonization or the Decolonization Registry or any local Chamorro nationalist activism) is very different from either of the above.

Do these small pockets of resentment sometimes, on an individual, nonsystematic, unorganized level, person-to-person, perhaps take the form of some harmful or even cruel statements or actions?  Yes, definitely.  Is that unfortunate and does that perhaps alienate potential allies?  Yes, of course.  Is that to be expected on a person-to-person level, given the various foibles and failings of humanity?  Yes: some people will, generally, act unfairly or unkindly, or primarily out of fear or anger, toward others, regardless of the situation or the racial/ethnic difference.  Petty gossip, inferiority complexes, and personal resentments will probably always be with us.  Such behavior is ugly, even brutish, and it isolates and alienates people unnecessarily.  But that type of unworthy personal behavior is very different from systematic racism.  It is, in fact, exactly the kind of behavior you would expect from a person who was otherwise powerless in the situation.

Would I say that there exists in some people a profound hesitance toward or discomfort with befriending a White (not Indigenous) person?  Definitely; I’ve personally encountered this, as I’ve  — sometimes — been treated as though I didn’t exist or as though I should be presumed to be malicious.  Or a resentment of people with structural White privilege, such as blue eyes, light-colored skin, etc.?  Yes.  That, too — some — people have told me to my face that they resent.  But these are a handful of people, certainly not all or most, and these attitudes are certainly not (I believe) structurally enshrined in society at a broad, formal level.

So, is that racism, simple or otherwise?


It’s the result of centuries of colonization, the result often of an only partial consciousness regarding human rights, and, of course, it’s also sometimes attributable to personal grudges or unkindness.

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“If the underlying assumption behind the category ‘women’ or ‘feminist’ is that we are a coalition then there have to be coalitional practices and some form of accountability.”

How do we practice forming a coalition across differences among women?  I have had some wonderful experiences with women (and men) who are different ethnically or racially than myself.  So much of that is attributable to their kindness.  But we who are White people also have to be conscious on a moment-by-moment basis of our privilege and others’ racial oppression, and we must form strategies and be accountable for dealing with intersectional oppression, domination, and privilege.

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