By Savannah Daniels
At a time when tensions are high over police violence against African Americans and sexual violence against women, hundreds of UC Santa Barbara students lined up to hear race theory and civil rights activist Kimberlé Crenshaw advise marginalized groups to go beyond marching under one banner.
“People are so convinced we are moving forward, they don’t realize we are passing the same terrain we’ve seen before,” Crenshaw said at Campbell Hall in a talk hosted by the MultiCultural Center.
The event filled up so quickly that dozens of students were sent to the Phelps building for live-streaming of the lecture, titled “SayHerName: Why Intersectionality Can’t Wait,” part of an ongoing series called Living Lives of Love & Resilience in a Time of Hate. Other students stood outside Campbell Hall to listen to Crenshaw in an overflow area.
A law professor at both UCLA and Columbia University School of Law, Crenshaw began using the term “intersectionality” three decades ago to describe how social justice issues such as racism and sexism often overlap, creating multiple levels of social injustice.
“Without frames that allow us to see how social problems impact all the members of a targeted group, many will fall through the cracks of our movements, left to suffer in virtual isolation,” Crenshaw said.
She called out key movements in American history for failing to recognize all members. “The civil rights movements neglected black people who were women, and feminist rights movements undermine women who are black people,” she said.
Crenshaw also highlighted the mistaken illusion of a “post-racial” America after the inauguration of Barack Obama, saying it allowed many to dismiss cultural and social differences, which led to a popular desire to return to “a past that seems more true to a ‘universal’ American democracy.”
Excluding race from the national conversation furthers white supremacy, she said, because ignoring racial difference in favor of so-called ‘universalism’ presumes we all experience a similar reality, which undermines the struggles of people of color.
In 2014, the African American Policy Forum think tank began the “SayHerName” campaign to raise awareness about African American women who were victims to police brutality.
“Everywhere, the awareness of the levels of police violence that black women experience is exceedingly low….Why is it that their lost lives don’t generate the same amount of media attention and communal outcry as the lost lives of their fallen brothers,” Crenshaw asked. “Only one thing distinguishes the names that you know from the names that you don’t know – gender.”
With that, Crenshaw returned to her theme of intersectionality, saying it describes the collision of two or more overlapping dynamics of oppression, revealing the ways in which power attempts to justify itself time and time again –be it in terms of race, gender or class.
Leaving the audience the pondering the crucial question “So then, what do we do?” Crenshaw urged activists of all groups to keep up the struggle for human rights in all its distinct variations.
“There’s no one moment of overcoming. The journey to the promise land is just as important as our arrival,” Crenshaw said. “But we’ll know we’re headed in the right direction when we’re outraged about sexual abuse in prisons and behind cop cars just as much as we are outraged about sexual abuse in Hollywood and universities.”
Savannah Daniels is a Senior double majoring in Communications and History. She is a Web and Social Media Intern with the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.
Photography by Sasha Nasir, a Junior in Feminist Studies who is a Web and Social Media Intern with the Division of Humanities and Fine Arts.