Intersectionality and police brutality against black women

Kimberle Crenshaw at the “Women Of The World” Festival discussing Intersectionality and police brutality against black women.

Kimberle Crenshaw is professor of law at UCLA and Colombia University and one of the leading figures of critical race theory, black feminism and civil rights theory.  She is famously known for coining the term ‘intersectionality’. Currently she is leading campaigns such as #WhyWeCantWait and #SayHerName which is raising awareness of police brutality against black women.

Intersectionality 101

When Crenshaw coined this term she was hoping to address multiply failures in law,  feminism and anti-racism campaigns. Intersectionality was meant to raise awareness of how black women were / and are segregated from their rights such as employment by both factors of race and gender. Crenshaw pointed out that in the 1980’s when she started to realise the need for intersectionality, black jobs were only give to black men, and jobs for women were only available to white women. Intersectional discrimination is a combination of racial policy and gender policy.

Intersectionality draws attention to black women’s experience of both race and sex discrimination. Not only to how racism and sexism overlapped to create burdens for women who experience both types of the discriminations.

The meaning of the term Intersectionality might be mistaken for a description of a person with multiplying identities. However, that’s not Crenshaw’s definition; to her the term means how structures discriminate only against certain identities and not others.

Political Intersectionality

What happens when politics are not intersectional? When our feminism and fight against patriarchy is excluding people who need them the most.  Feminism has historically used a hierarchy of race, which is visible in movements such as the Suffragettes.  Similarly in contemporary politics /arguments of anti-racism sometimes fail to realise the important links between both racism and the patriarchy and their damage to the struggles to women of colour (WoC).

Are these social and political failures the reasons why structures such as racism and sexism still oppress black women?

Intersectionality and Art University

Of the UK’s 18,510 university professors, how many are of black female professors of the art & design?

In my opinion in the same way that our mainstream politics are excluding women of colour our university curriculums are. Many art and design courses suffer from the lack of intersectionality.  This is particulary conserning given the increase in the marginalised communities accessing higher education.  This change in paradym suggests the  need for intersection and cultural competancies to be developed by both staff and students.

By excluding people of colour from lists of artists studies isn’t the university also erasing their political problems? When we don’t studies the arts of women of colour who suffered from both racism and sexism (who may have created art about their struggles), aren’t we blinding students to the existence of those issues?

Why are art students being taught that creative women of colour do not exist?  

Recently I campaigned for the role of Women’s Officer in the student unions elections. This gave me the opportunity to discuss diversity within UAL with the students as a part of my policy, to my surprise many female students had not considered the lack of diversity within their course curriculum. If university fails to educate us on injustice then when is the next opportunity we would learn about it? To many students this may be the only place to discuss such issues in a space where they have freedom of speech, the expectation to transend knowledge and develop critical thinking both within and beyond ones own frame.

Intersectional Erasure

Why are girls and women not seen as subject of racial abuse?

Why are girls and women not seen as subject of racial abuse?

Crenshaw went onto explain in her presentation at this conference how when conversations about racism are brought up they exclude women. She referred to a campaign lead by President Obama named “My Brother’s Keeper” which looked at ways in which black men are discriminated against and are less unfortunate than other, but “less unfortunate than who”? Crenshaw asked? Why are black girls being excluded from conversations concerning lack of opportunity?


My Brother’s Keeper

Girls are excluded from conversations about discipline and push-out but they are also excluded from the discourse about educational opportunities and sexism.

badge to rape

#BlackGirlsMatter is a report Crenshaw’s team created to raise awareness of how black girls are treated in public schools. The report shows that black boys are three times more likely to be sexually abused than white boys however black girls are 6 times more likely to be sexually abused than white female students.

The report also looks at suspensions from schools in New York showing the ratio at only 1 out of 53 suspensions are white female students. Crenshaw believes the reason why we have not been talking about these racial barriers is that we have been thinking of racism primarily considering men.

More examples of police brutality

More examples of police brutality


Similarly to these suspensions it is important for us to realise what are the racial barriers in London universities. The “Prevent” program is created to protect universities from students being drawn to extremism. However it is taking away student’s freedom of expression and making them a suspect primarily based on their background and skin colour.  

SUARTS has boycott this program


Towards the end of her talk Crenshaw pointed out how we need to bring up a conversation about what racism looks like for people who are usually excluded from the conversation. We need to gain better knowledge of what misogyny, homophobia, racism and transphobia look like for those dealing with all of those issues at the same time.

Feminist and anti-racist policy is only intersectional when it does not let issues of such minorities fall between the cracks. The more we ignore these issues we are helping abuse against them. Crenshaw’s campaigns are working to raise awareness of intersectional failures.