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RLE ~~ENSHAW, "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Raceand Sex:A Blacl<

Fe~~; Cn~qu~of An~discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory, and Antiracist
PolitIcs, Umverslty of ChIcago Legal Forum (1989): 139-167. Reprinted bypermission.
Demarginalizing the Intersection o/Race
and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique
of Antidiscrimination Doctrine,
Feminist Theory, and Antiracist Politics
One of the very few Black women's studies books is entitled All the Women Are
White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave.
I havechosen this title asa
point of departure in my efforts to develop aBlack feminist criticismbecause it sets
forth aproblematic consequence of the tendency to treat race and gender asmutu-
allyexclusivecategories bf experience and analysis.
I want to examine how this
tendency is perpetuated by a single-axis framework that is dominant in anti-
discrimination lawand that isalsoreflectedinfeminist theory and antiracist politics.
I will center Blackwomen inthis analysis inorder to contrast themultidimension-
ality of Blackwomen's experience with the single-axis analysis that distorts these ex-
periences. Not only will this juxtaposition reveal how Blackwomen aretheoretically
erased, it will also illustrate how this framework imports its own theoreticallimita-
tions that undermine efforts tobroaden feminist and antiracist analyses. With Black
women asthe starting point, it becomes more apparent how dominant conceptions
of discrimination condition us to think about subordination asdisadvantage occur-
ring along a single categorical axis. I want to suggest further that this single-axis
framework erases Blackwomen inthe conceptualization, identification and remedi-
ation of race and sex discrimination by limiting inquiry to the experiences of
otherwise-privileged members of thegroup. Inother words, inraceindiscrimination
cases, discrimination tends to be viewed in terms of sex- or class-privileged Blacks;
in sex discrimination cases, thefocus ison race- and class-privileged women.
This focus on the most privileged group members marginalizes those who are
multiply-burdened and obscures claims that cannot beunderstood asresulting from
discrete sources of discrimination. I suggest further that this focus on otherwise-
privileged group members creates adistorted analysis of racismand sexismbecause
theoperative conceptions of raceand sexbecome grounded inexperiences that actu-
allyrepresent only asubset of amuch more complex phenomenon.
After examining the doctrinal manifestations of this single-axis framework, I will
discuss how it contributes to themarginalization of Blackwomen in feminist theory
and in antiracist politics. I argue that Black women are sometimes excluded from
feminist theory and antiracist policy discourse becauseboth arepredicated on adis-
crete set of experiences that often does not accurately reflect the interaction of race
and gender. Theseproblems of exclusion cannot besolvedsimply byincluding Black
women within an already established analytical structure. Becausethe intersectional
experience isgreater than the sumof racism and sexism, any analysis that does not
takeintersectionality into account cannot sufficiently address theparticular manner
in which Black women are subordinated. Thus, for feminist theory and antiracist
policy discourse toembrace theexperiences and concerns of Blackwomen, theentire
framework that hasbeen used asabasis for translating "women's experience" or "the
Blackexperience" into concrete policy demands must be rethought and recast.
Asexamples of theoretical and political developments that miss the mark with re-
spect to Black women because of their failure to consider intersectionality, I will
briefly discuss the feminist critique of rape and separate spheres ideology....
women's experience and, consequently, acursory review of casesinvolving Black fe-
male plaintiffs is quite revealing. To illustrate the difficulties inherent in judicial
treatment of intersectionality, I will consider three Title VIe cases: DeGraffenreid v
General Motors,
Moore v Hughes Helicopters' and Payne v Travenol.
~.De~raffenreid v General Motors. In DeGraffenreid, fiveBlackwomen brought
SUItagamst General Motors, alleging that the employer's seniority systemperpetu-
ated the effects of past discrimination against Black women. Evidence adduced at
trial revealed that General Motors simply did not hire Black women prior to 1964
and that all of the Blackwomen hired after 1970 lost their jobs in aseniority-based
layoff during asubsequent recession. The district court granted summary judgment
for the defendant, rejecting the plaintiff's attempt to bring a suit not on behalf of
Blacksor women, but specificallyon behalf of Blackwomen. The court stated:
[P]laintiffs have failed to cite any decisions which have stated that Black women are a
special classto beprotected fromdiscrimination. The Court's own research has failed to
d~scl~se.such ade~ision. The plaintiffs are clearly entitled to aremedy if they havebeen
discnmmated against. However, they should not be allowed to combine statutory reme-
dies to create anew 'super-remedy' which would givethem relief beyond what the draft-
ers of the relevant statutes intended. Thus, this lawsuit must be examined to see if it
states acause of action for race discrimination, sex discrimination, or alternatively ei-
ther, but not acombination of both.
Although General Motors didnot hireBlackwomen prior to 1964, thecourt noted
that "General Motors has hired ... female employees for anumber of years prior to
the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964:'8 Because General Motors did hire
women-albeit white women--during the period that no Blackwomen werehired,
there was, in the court's view, no sexdiscrimination that the seniority systemcould
conceivably haveperpetuated.
After refusing to consider the plaintiffs' sex discrimination claim, the court dis-
missed the race discrimination complaint and recominended its consolidation with
another casealleging racediscrimination against the same employer.
The plaintiffs
responded that such consolidation would defeat thepurpose of their suit sincetheirs
was not purely a race claim, but an action brought specifically on behalf of Black
women alleging race and sexdiscrimination. '"
T h e A n t i d i s c r i m i n a t i o n F r a m e w o r k
A. The Experience of Intersectionality and the Doctrinal Response
One way to approach the problem of intersectionality is to examine how courts
frame and interpret the stories of Black women plaintiffs. While I cannot claimto
know the circumstances underlying the cases that I will discuss, I nevertheless be-
lievethat thewaycourts interpret claims madeby Blackwomen isitself part of Black
2. Moore v Hughes Helicopters, Inc. Moore v Hughes Helicopters, 1nc.
presents a
different wayinwhich courts fail to understand or recognize Blackwomen's claims.
Moore istypical of anumber of casesinwhich courts refused to certify Blackfemales
~sclassrepresentatives in raceand sexdiscrimination actions.
In Moore, the plain-
uff allegedthat the employer, Hughes Helicopter, practiced raceand sexdiscrimina-
tion inpromotions toupper-level craft positions and to supervisory jobs. Moore in-
troduced statistical evidence establishing a significant disparity between men and
women, and somewhat lessof adisparity between Black and white men in supervi-
sory jobs.
Affirming thedistrict court's refusal to certify Mooreastheclassrepresentative in
thesexdiscrimination complaint on behalf of all women at Hughes, the Ninth Ci~-
cuit noted approvingly: '
... Moore had never claimed before theEEOC that shewasdiscriminated against asafe-
male, but only asaBlackfemale.... [T]his raised serious doubts asto Moore's ability to
adequately represent white femaleemployees. 13
Thecurious logicin Moore revealsnot only thenarrow scopeof antidiscrimination
doctrine and its failureto embrace intersectionality, but alsothe centrality of white
femaleexperiences intheconceptualization of gender discrimination. Oneinference
that couldbedrawn fromthecourt's statement that Moore'scomplaint didnot entail
aclaimof discrimination "against females" isthat discrimination against Black fe-
males issomething lessthan discrimination against females. More than likely,how-
ever, the court meant to imply that Moore did not claimthat all femalesweredis-
criminated against but only Blackfemales. But eventhus recast, thecourt's rationale
isproblematic for Blackwomen. The court rejected Moore's bid to represent all fe-
males apparently because her attempt to specifyher racewasseen asbeing at odds
with the standard allegation that the employer simply discriminated "against fe-
The court failedto seethat the absence of a racial referent does not necessarily
mean that the claimbeing made is amore inclusiveone. Awhite woman claiming
discrimination against femalesmay be in no better position to represent all women
than aBlackwoman who claims discrimination asaBlackfemaleand wants to rep-
resent all females. Thecourt's preferred articulation of "against females" isnot nec-
essarily more inclusive-it just appears to be so because the racial contours of the
claimarenot specified.
The court's preference for "against females" rather than "against Blackfemales"
revealstheimplicit grounding of whitefemaleexperiencesinthedoctrinal conceptu-
alization of sex discrimination. For white women, claiming sex discrimination is
simply astatement that but for gender, they would not havebeen disadvantaged. For
them there isno need to specify discrimination as white femalesbecause their race
does not contribute tothedisadvantage for whichthey seekredress. Theviewof dis-
crimination that isderived fromthis grounding takesraceprivilegeasagiven.
Discrimination against a white female is thus the standard sex discrimination
claim; claimsthat divergefromthis standard appear to present some sort of hybrid
claim. More significantly, because Black females' claims are seen as hybrid, they
sometimes cannot represent those who may have"pure" claims of sexdiscrimina-
tion. Theeffectof this approach isthat eventhough achallengedpolicy or practice
may clearly discriminate against all females, the fact that it has particularly harsh
consequences for Blackfemalesplaces Blackfemaleplaintiffs at odds with white fe-
3- Payne v 'fravenoL Black femaleplaintiffs have also encountered difficulty in
their efforts to win certification asclassrepresentatives in some racediscriminati,on
actions. This problemtypicallyarisesincaseswherestatistics suggestsignificant dis-
parities between Blackandwhiteworkers and further disparities betweenBlackmen
and Blackwomen. Courts in some cases
'havedenied certification based on logic
that mirrors therationale inMoore: Thesexdisparities between Blackmenand Black
women created such conflicting interests that Blackwomen could not possibly rep-
resent Blackmen adequately. In one such case, Payne 11Tralleno~ 15 two Blackfemale
plaintiffs alleging race discrimination brought a class action suit on behalf of all
Blackemployees at apharmaceutical plant.
The court refused, however, to allow
theplaintiffs to represent Blackmalesand granted thedefendant's request tonarrow
the classto Black women only. Ultimately, the district court found that there had
been extensiveracial discrimination at the plant and awarded back pay and con-
structive seniority to the classof Blackfemaleemployees. But, despiteitsfinding of
general racediscrimination, thecourt refusedtoextendtheremedy toBlackmen for
fear that their conflicting interests would not beadequately addressed.17
In sum, several courts haveproved unable to deal with intersectionality, although
for contrasting reasons. InDeGraffenreid, thecourt refusedtorecognizethepossibil-
ity of compound discrimination against Blackwomen and analyzedtheir claimus-
ing the employment of white women as the historical base. As aconsequence, the
employment experiences of whitewomen obscured thedistinct discrimination that
Blackwomen experienced.
Conversely,in Moore, the court held that aBlackwoman could not usestatistics
reflectingtheoverall sexdisparity in supervisory and upper-level labor jobs because
shehad not claimed discrimination asawomen, but "only" asaBlackwoman. The
court would not entertain the notion that discrimination experienced by Black
women is indeed sexdiscrimination-provable through disparate impact statistics
Finally, courts, such as the one in Tralleno~ haveheld that Blackwomen cannot
represent an entire classof Blacksduetopresumed classconflicts in caseswhere sex
additionally disadvantaged Blackwomen. Asaresult, in the fewcaseswhere Black
women are allowed to use overall statistics indicating racially disparate treatment
Blackmen may not beableto shareintheremedy.
Perhaps it appears tosomethat I haveofferedinconsistent criticisms of howBlack
women aretreated in antidiscrimination law: I seemto be sayingthat in one case,
Black women's claims were rejected and their experiences obscured because the
court refused to acknowledgethat the employment experience of Blackwomen can
be distinct from that of white women, while in other cases, the interests of Black
women areharmed because Blackwomen's claims wereviewed asso distinct from
the claims of either white women or Black men that the court denied to Black fe-
malesrepresentation of thelarger class.It seemsthat I haveto saythat Blackwomen
arethesameand harmed bybeing treated differently, or that they aredifferent and
harmed bybeing treated thesame. But I cannot sayboth.
This apparent contradiction isbut another manifestation of the conceptuallimi-
tations of thesingle-issueanalysesthat intersectionality challenges. Thepoint isthat
Black women can experience discrimination in any number of ways and that the
contradiction arises from our assumptions that their claims of exclusion must be
unidirectional. Consider an analogy to traffic in an intersection, coming and going
in all four directions. Discrimination, liketraffic through an intersection, may flow
in one direction, and it may flowin another. If an accident happens in an intersec-
tion, it can be caused by cars traveling from any number of directions and, some-
times, fromall of them. Similarly,if aBlackwomen isharmed because sheisin the
intersection, her injury could result fromsexdiscrimination or racediscrimination.
B. The Significance of Doctrinal Treatment of Intersectionality
DeGraffenreid, Moore and Travenol aredoctrinal manifestations of acommon politi-
cal and theoretical approach to discrimination which operates to marginalize Black
women. Unable to grasp the importance of Black women's intersectional experi-
ences, not only courts, but feminist and civil rights thinkers as well have treated
Blackwomen inwaysthat denyboth theunique compoundedness of their situation
and the centrality of their experiences to the larger classes of women and Blacks.
Blackwomen areregarded either astoo much likewomen or Blacksand the com-
pounded nature of their experienceisabsorbed into thecollectiveexperiences of ei-
ther group or astoo different, inwhich caseBlackwomen's Blacknessor femaleness
sometimes hasplacedtheir needs and perspectives at themargin of thefeminist and
Blackliberationist agendas.
Whileit couldbeargued that this failurerepresents an absenceof political will to
include Blackwomen, I believethat it reflects an uncritical and disturbing accep-
tance of dominant waysof thinking about discrimination. Consider first the defini-
tion of discrimination that seemstobeoperative inantidiscrimination law: Discrim-
ination which is wrongful proceeds from the identification of a specific class or
category; either adiscriminator intentionally identifies this category, or aprocess is
adopted whichsomehow disadvantages all members of this category.18According to
the dominant view, a discriminator treats all people within a race or sex category
similarly. Anysignificant experiential or statistical variation within this group sug-
gestseither that thegroup isnot being discriminated against or that conflicting in-
terests existwhichdefeat anyattempts to bring acommon claim. Consequently, one
generally cannot combine thesecategories. Raceand sex, moreover, become signifi-
cant onlywhen they operate to explicitlydisadvantage thevictims; becausetheprivi-
leging of whiteness or maleness isimplicit, it isgenerally not perceivedat all.
Underlying this conception of discrimination is a view that the wrong which
antidiscrimination lawaddresses istheuseof raceor gender factors tointerfere with
decisions that would otherwise be fair or neutral. This process-based definition is
not grounded in abottom-up commitment to improve the substantive conditions
for thosewho arevictimizedbytheinterplay of numerous factors. Instead, thedomi-
nant messageof antidiscrimination lawisthat it will regulateonly thelimited extent
towhich raceor sexinterferes with theprocess of determining outcomes. This nar-
row objective is facilitated by the top-down strategy of using a singular "but for"
analysis to ascertain the effects of race or sex. Because the scope of antidis-
crimination lawissolimited, sexand racediscrimination havecometobedefined in
terms of the experiences of those who are privileged but for their racial or sexual
characteristics. Put differently, theparadigm of sexdiscrimination tends tobebased
on the experiences of white women; the model of race discrimination tends to be
based on theexperiences of themost privileged Blacks.Notions of what constitutes
raceandsexdiscrimination are, asaresult, narrowly tailored toembraceonly asmall
set of circumstances, none of which include discrimination against Blackwomen.
Totheextent that this general description isaccurate, thefollowinganalogy canbe
useful in describing how Black women are marginalized in the interface between
antidiscrimination lawand raceand gender hierarchies: Imagine abasement which
contains all peoplewho aredisadvantaged on thebasisof race, sex,class,sexual pref-
erence, age and/or physical ability. These people are stacked-feet standing on
shoulders-with those on thebottom being disadvantaged by the full array of fac-
tors, uptothevery top, wheretheheads of all thosedisadvantaged byasingular fac-
tor brush up against theceiling. Their ceilingisactually thefloor abovewhich only
thosewho arenot disadvantaged inanywayreside. Ineffortsto correct someaspects
of domination, those abovetheceilingadmit fromthebasement onlythosewho can
saythat "but for" theceiling, they toowouldbeintheupper room. Ahatch isdevel-
opedthrough whichthoseplacedimmediately belowcancrawl. Yetthishatch isgen-
erallyavailableonly to thosewho-due to thesingularity of their burden and their
otherwise privileged position relativeto those below-are in the position to crawl
through. Thosewho aremultiply-burdened aregenerally left belowunless they can
somehow pull themselves into thegroups that arepermitted to squeezethrough the
Asthis analogy translates for Blackwomen, the problem isthat they can receive
protection only to theextent that their experiences arerecognizably similar to those
whose experiences tend to be reflected in antidiscrimination doctrine. If Black
women cannot conclusivelysay that "but for" their race or "but for" their gender
theywouldbetreated differently,they arenot invitedto climbthrough thehatch but
told to wait intheunprotected margin until they canbeabsorbed into thebroader,
protected categories of raceand sex.
Tobring thisback to anon-metaphorical level,I amsuggestingthat Blackwomen
can experience discrimination in ways that areboth similar to and different from
thoseexperiencedbywhitewomen and Blackmen. Blackwomen sometimes experi-
encediscrimination inwayssimilar to white women's experiences; sometimes they
share very similar experiences with Black men. Yetoften they experience double-
discrimination-the combined effects of practices which discriminate on the basis
of race, and on thebasis of sex. And sometimes, they experience discrimination as
Blackwomen-not thesumof raceand sexdiscrimination, but asBlackwomen.
may makethe mistake of assuming that sincetheroleof Blackwomen inthe family
and inother Blackinstitutions doesnot alwaysresemble thefamiliar manifestations
o~patriarchy in thewhite community, Blackwomen aresomehow exempt frompa- norms. For example, Blackwomen havetraditionally worked outside the
home in numbers far exceedingthelabor participation rate of whitewomen 21An
analysisof patriarchy that highlights thehistory of whitewomen's exclusionfro~the
w~rkpla~emight permit theinferencethat Blackwomen havenot beenburdened by
thISpartIcular gender-based expectation. Yetthe very fact that Blackwomen must
~ork conflicts ,:ith ~orms that women should not, often creating personal, emo-
tIOnal and relatIOnshIp problems in Black women's lives. Thus, Blackwomen are
bur~e.nednot only because they often haveto take on responsibilities that are not
traditlonally femalebut, moreover, their assumption of theseroles issometimes in-
terpreted within the Blackcommunity as either Blackwomen's failureto liveup to
suchnorms or asanother manifestation of racism'sscourgeupon theBlackcommu-
nity.22Thisisoneof themany aspectsof intersectionality that cannot beunderstood
through ananalysis of patriarchy rooted inwhiteexperience.
Another example of how theory emanating from a white context obscures the
multidime?~ion~lity of Blackwomen's livesisfound infeminist discourseonrape. A
central poli~Icalissueonthefeminist agendahasbeen thepervasiveproblemof rape.
Part of theintellectual and political effort to mobilize around this issuehas involved
thedevelopment of a~istorical ~ritiqueof therolethat lawhas playedinestablishing
thebounds of normatlve sexualItyand inregulating femalesexual behavior.23Early
carnal knowledge statutes and rape lawsareunderstood within this discourse to il-
lustrate that the o~je~ti~eof rape statutes traditionally has not been to protect
~omen fromco.erciveintImacy but to protect and maintain aproperty-like interest
in female.chastIty.24Although feminists quite rightly criticize these objectives, to
charactenze rap~la,,: as reflecting male control over female sexuality is for Black
women anoversImplIfiedaccount and anultimately inadequate account.
Rapestat~tes gener~llydonot reflect male control overfemale sexuality,but white
~al~re~ulatIonof whtte femalesexuality.25Historically, therehasbeenabsolutely no
instltutIonal effort to regulate Black femalechastity.26Courts in some states had
goneso far as to instruct juries that, unlikewhite women, Black women werenot
Also,whileit wastrue that theattempt to regulatethesexu-
alItyof whItewo~en placedunchastewomen outside thelaw'sprotection, racismre-
stored afallenwhitewoman's chastity wheretheallegedassailant wasaBlackman.28
No suchrestoration wasavailableto Blackwomen.
Thesing~lar focus onrape asamanifestation of malepower over femalesexuality
tends to eclipsethe useof rape as aweapon of racial terror.29When Blackwomen
wereraped by wh~temales, they werebeing raped not as women generally, but as
Blackwomen speCIfically:Their femalenessmade themsexuallyvulnerableto racist
domination, whiletheir Blacknesseffectivelydenied themany protection. This white
malepower wasreinforced byajudicial systeminwhich thesuccessful conviction of
awhiteman for raping aBlackwoman wasvirtually unthinkable.
In1851,Sojourner Truth declared "Ain'tI aWoman?" and challengedthesexistim-
agery used by male critics to justify the disenfranchisement of women. The scene
was aWomen's Rights Conference in Akron, Ohio; white male hecklers, invoking
stereotypical images of "womanhood," argued that women weretoo frail and deli-
catetotakeontheresponsibilities of political activity.When Sojourner Truth roseto
speak, many white women urged that shebe silenced, fearing that shewould divert
attention fromwomen's suffrageto emancipation. Truth, once permitted to speak,
recounted thehorrors of slavery,and itsparticular impact on Blackwomen:
Look at my arms! Ihave ploughed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man
could head me-and ain't Iawoman? Iwould work asmuch and eat asmuch asaman-
when Icould get it-and bear thelashaswell!And ain't Iawoman? Ihaveborn thirteen
children, and seenmost of 'emsoldinto slavery,and when Icried out with my mother's
grief, none but J esusheard me-and ain't Iawoman?I9
Byusingher ownlifeto reveal thecontradiction between theideological myths of
womanhood andthereality of Blackwomen's experience, Truth's oratory provided a
powerful rebuttal to the claimthat women werecategorically weaker than men. Yet
Truth's personal challengeto thecoherence of the cult of true womanhood wasuse-
ful only to theextent that whitewomen werewillingto reject theracist attempts to
rationalize the contradiction-that because Blackwomen weresomething lessthan
real women, their experiences had no bearing on true womanhood. Thus, this
19th-century Blackfeminist challenged not only patriarchy, but shealso challenged
white feminists wishing to embrace Black women's history to relinquish their
vestedness inwhiteness.
The value of feminist theory to Black women is diminished because it evolves
from awhite racial context that is seldom acknowledged. Not only are women of
color in fact overlooked, but their exclusion isreinforced when white women speak
for andaswomen. Theauthoritative universal voice-usually whitemalesubjectivity
masquerading as non-racial, non-gendered objectivity-is merely transferred to
those who, but for gender, share many of the same cultural, economic and social
characteristics. When feminist theory attempts to describe women's experiences
through analyzing patriarchy, sexuality, or separate spheres ideology, it often over-
lookstheroleof race. Femirliststhus ignorehowtheir ownracefunctions tomitigate
some aspects of sexismand, moreover, how it often privileges them over and con-
tributes tothedomination of other women.
Consequently, feminist theory remains
white, and its potential to broaden and deepen its analysis by addressing non-
privilegedwomen remains unrealized.
Becauseideological and descriptive definitions of patriarchy areusually premised
upon whitefemaleexperiences, feminists and others informed by feminist literature
In sum, sexistexpectations of chastity and racist assumptions of sexual promiscu-
ity combined tl) createadistinct set of issues confronting Blackwomen.
These is-
sues have seldom been explored in feminist literature nor are they prominent in
antiracist politics. Thelynchingof Blackmales, theinstitutional practice that wasle-
gitimized by the regulation of whitewomen's sexuality, has hitorically and contem-
poraneously occupied the Black agenda on sexuality and violence. Consequently,
Blackwomen arecaught between aBlackcommunity that, perhaps understandably,
viewswith suspicion attempts to litigatequestions of sexual violence, and afeminist
community that reinforces those suspicions by focusing on whitefemalesexuality.31
The suspicion is compounded by the historical fact that the protection of white fe-
malesexualitywasoftenthepretext for terrorizing theBlackcommunity. Eventoday
some fear that antirape agendas may undermine antiracist objectives. This is the
paradigmatic political and theoretical dilemma created by the intersection of race
and gender: Blackwomen arecaught between ideological and political currents that
combine first to createand then tobury Blackwomen's experiences.
wayto resist efforts to compartmentalize experiences and undermine potential col-
It isnot necessary to believethat apolitical consensus to focus on thelivesof the
most disadvantaged will happen tomorrow in order to recenter the discrimination
discourseat theintersection. It isenough, for now, that suchaneffort wouldencour-
ageustolook beneath theprevailing conceptions of discrimination andto challenge
the c~mplacency that accompanies belief in the effectivenessof this framework. By
sodomg, wemay developlanguagewhichiscritical of thedominant viewandwhich
provides somebasis for unifying activity.Thegoal of thisactivity shouldbeto facili-
tatetheinclusion of marginalized groups for whomit canbesaid: "When they enter
weall enter." ,
E x p a n d i n g F e m i n i s t T h e o r y a n d A n t i r a c i s t P o l i t i c s
b y E m b r a c i n g t h e I n t e r s e c t i o n
If anyreal effortsaretobemadetofreeBlackpeopleof theconstraints andconditions
that characterize racial subordination, then theories and strategies purporting to re-
flecttheBlackcommunity's needs must include ananalysisof sexismandpatriarchy.
.Similarly,feminismmust includeananalysisof raceif it hopes to expresstheaspira-
tions of non-white women. Neither Blackliberationist politics nor feminist theory
can ignore the intersectional experiences of those whom the movements claimas
their respective constituents. In order to include Black women, both movements
must distance themselves fromearlier approaches inwhich experiences arerelevant
onlywhen they arerelatedto certain clearlyidentifiable causes (for example, theop-
pression of Blacksissignificant when based on race, of women when based on gen-
der). Thepraxis of both should becentered on thelifechances and lifesituations of
peoplewho should be caredabout without regard to thesource of their difficulties.
I have stated earlier that the failure to embrace the complexities of com-
poundedness isnot simply amatter of political will, but isalsodueto theinfluence
of awayof thinking about discrimination which structures politics sothat struggles
arecategorized assingular issues. Moreover, this structure imports adescriptiveand
normative viewof societythat reinforces thestatus quo.
It issomewhat ironic that those concerned with alleviating the illsof racismand
sexismshould adopt suchatop-down approach to discrimination. If their efforts in-
steadbegan with addressing the needs and problems of those who aremost disad-
vantaged and with restructuring and remaking the world where necessary, then
others who are singularly disadvantaged would also benefit. In addition, it seems
that placing thosewho currently aremarginalized inthe center isthemost effective
N o t e s
1.GloriaT. Hull, et aI, eds (The Feminist Press, 1982).
2. The m?st common linguistic manifestation of this analytical dilemma isrepresented in
the conventlOna! usageof the term "Blacksand women." Although it may betrue that some
peopl~mean to mclude Blackwomen ineither "Blacks" or "women;' thecontext inwhich the
te~mISused actually suggests th.atoften Blackwomen arenot considered. See, for example,
Ehzabeth Spelman, The InessentIal Woman 114-15(Beacon Press, 1988) (discussing an article
on Blacksand women inthe military where "theracial identity of those identified as'women'
does not become explicit until reference is made to Blackwomen, at which point it also be-
comesclear that thecategory of women excludesBlackwomen"). Itseemsthat if Blackwomen
were explicitly included, the preferred term would be either "Blacks and white women" or
"Blackmen and all women."
3 Civil RightsAct of 1964,42USC &2000e, et seqasamended (1982).
4 413F Supp 142(ED Mo 1976).
5 708F2d475(9th Cir 1983).
6. 673F2d798(5th Cir 1982).
7 De Graffenreid, 413F Supp at 143.
8. Idat 144.
9 Idat 145I~M~sle;: v .Gen.eral Motors, 497F Supp 583(E D Mo 1980),plaintiffs, alleging
broad~bas.edraCial d~scnmmatlo~a~General Motors' St. Louis facility, prevailed in aportion
of th.elrTlt~eVII claim. The semonty systemchallenged in DeGraffenreid, however, was not
11.SeealsoMoore v Natio~alAssociation o/Securities Dealers, 27EPD (CCH) ~32,238(DDC
1981);but seeEdmondson v SImon, 86FRD375(NDIII 1980)(wherethecourt wasunwilling to
hold as11 matter oflaw that no Blackfemalecould represent without conflict theinterests of
both Blacksand females).
~2.708F2d at 479 Between J anuary 1976and J une 1979,the three years in which Moore
claimed that she.was pass~~over the promotion, the percentage of white males occupying
firs~-Ievelsupervisory pOSitIOnsranged from 70.3to 76.8%; Black males from 8.9to 10.9%;
~h~tewomen from1.8to 3.3%;and Blackfemalesfrom0to 2.2%. The overall male/female ra-
tlO.1llthetop fiveI~bor grad~sranged from100/0%in1976to 98/1.8%in1979.Thewhite/Black
ratio w~~5/J .3%III 1976and 7~.6/8%in1979.Theoverall ratio of men to women insupervi-
sory pOSitIOnswas98.2to 1.8%III 1976to 93.4to 6.6%in1979;the Blacktowhite ratio during
the sametimeperiod was78.6to 8.9%and 73.6to 13.1%.
For promotions to thetop fivelabor grades, the percentages wereworse. Between1976and
1979,the percentage of white males in thesepositions ranged from85.3to 77.9%; Blackmales
3.3to 8%; white females from 0 to 1.40/0,and Black females from 0 to 0%. Overall, in 1979,
98.2%of the highest level employees weremale; 1.8%werefemale.
13.708F2dat 480(emphasis added).
14. See Strong v Arkansas Blue Cross &Blue Shield, Inc., 87FRD 496 (E D Ark 1980);
Hammons v Folger Coffee Co., 87FRD600(WDMo1980);Edmondson v Simon, 86FRD375(N
D III 1980); Vuyanich v Republic National Bank of Dallas, 82FRD (N D Tex1979); Colston v
Maryland Cup Corp., 26FedRulesServ940 (D Md 1978).
15.416F Supp 248(ND Miss1976).
16.Thesuit commenced onMarch 2,1972,with thefilingof acomplaint bythree employees
seekingto represent aclassof persons allegedlysubjected to racial discrimination at thehands
of the defendants. Subsequently, theplaintiffs amended the complaint to add an allegation of
sexdiscrimination. Of the original named plaintiffs, onewasaBlackmaleand two wereBlack
females. In the course of the three-year period between the filingof the complaint and the
trial, the only named maleplaintiff received permission of thecourt to withdraw for religious
reasons. Idat 250.
17.Asthedissent in Travenol pointed out, there wasno reason to excludeBlackmales from
thescopeof theremedy after counsel had presented sufficient evidenceto support afinding of
discrinlination against Blackmen. If the rationale for excluding Blackmaleswasthe potential
conflict between Blackmales and Blackfemales, then "[i]n this case, to paraphrase an old ad-
age,theproof of plaintiffs' ability to represent theinterests of Blackmaleswasinthe represen-
tation thereof' 673F2dat 837-38.
18. In much of antidiscrimination doctrine, the presence of intent to discriminate
distinguishes unlawful fromlawful discrimination. SeeWashington v Davis, 426US229,239-
45 (1976) (proof of discriminatory purposes required to substantiate Equal Protection viola-
tion). Under TitleVII, however, the Court has held that statistical data showing adispropor-
tionate impact can sufficeto support afinding of discrimination. See Griggs, 401US at 432.
Whether the distinction between the two analyseswill surviveisanopen question. SeeWards
Cove Packing Co., Inc. v Atonia, 109SCt 2115,2122-23(1989) (plaintiffs must show more than
meredisparity to support aprima faciecaseof disparate impact). For adiscussion of thecom-
peting normative visions that underlie the intent and effects analyses, seeAlan David Free-
man, Legitimizing Racial Discrimination Through Antidiscrimination Law: A Critical Review of
Supreme Court Doctrine, 62Minn L Rev1049(1978).
19.Eleanor Flexner, Century of Struggle: The Women's Rights Movement in the United States
91(BelknapPressof Harvard University Press,1975).SeealsoBell Hooks, Ain't I a Woman 159-
60(South End Press, 1981).
20. For example, many white femaleswereableto gainentry into previously all white male
enclaves not through bringing about afundamental reordering of male versus female work,
but inlargepart by shifting their "female" responsibilities to poor and minority women.
21.Seegenerally J acquelineJ ones, Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women, Work, and
the Family from Slavery to the Present (Basic Books, 1985);Angela Davis, Women, Race and
Class (Random House, 1981).
22.AsEli2abethHigginbotham noted, "women, who often fail to conform to 'appropriate'
sexroles, havebeen pictured as, and made to feel, inadequate-even though aswomen, they
possess traits recognized aspositivewhen held bymen in thewider society. Suchwomen are
stigmatized because their lack of adherence to expected gender roles isseenasathreat to the
valuesystem." Elizabeth Higginbotham, Two Representative Issues in Contemporary Sociologi-
cal Work on Black Women, in Hull, et al, eds, But Some of Us AreBrave at 95(cited in note 1).
23.Seegenerally Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will (Simon and Schuster, 1975);Susan
Estrich, Real Rape (Harvard University Press, 1987).
24.SeeBrownmiller, Against Our Willat 17;seegenerally Estrich, Real Rape.
~~.One of 0e central theor~tical .dilemmasof feminism that islargelyobscured by univer-
saliZIngthewhitefemaleexpenence ISthat experiences that aredescribed asamanifestation of
male control over females canbeinstead amanifestation of dominant group control over all
subordinates: Thesignific~nceis~at other ~ondominant men maynot sharein, participate in
or connect WIththebehaVIOr,beliefsor actIOnsat issue, and maybevictimized themselves by
"male" power. In other contexts, however, "male authority" might include nonwhite men,
particularly inprivate sphere contexts. Efforts to think more clearlyabout when Blackwomen
aredominated aswomen and when they aredominated asBlack women aredirectly related to
the question of when power is male and when it is white male.
26. SeeNote, Rape, Racism and the Law, 6Harv Women's L J 103,117-23(1983)(discussing
the historical and contemporary evidence suggesting that Black women are generally not
thought tobechaste). SeealsoHooks, Ain't I a Woman at 54(cited innote19)(stating that ste-
reotypical imagesof Blackwomanhood during slaverywerebased on themyth that "all black
women ;,ere immoral and sexuallyloose"); BeverlySmith, Black Women's Health: Notes for a
Course, In Hull et al, eds, But Some of Us Are Brave at 110(cited in note 1) (noting that "...
white men for centuries havejustified their sexual abuse of Blackwomen by claiming that we
arelicentious, always'ready' for anysexual encounter").
27The followingstatement isprobably unusual only in itscandor: "What hasbeen saidby
someof our courts about anunchaste femalebeing acomparatively rareeJ (ceptionisno doubt
true wherethepopulation iscomposed largelyof the Caucasian race, but wewould blind our-
selvesto actual conditions if weadopted this rule where another racethat islargelyimmoral
constitutes anappreciable part of the population." Dallas v State, 76PIa358,79 So690(1918),
quoted in Note, 6Harv Women's L J at 121(cited in note 26).
Espousing precisely this view, one commentator stated in 1902:"I sometimes hear of avir-
tuous Negro woman but the idea is so absolutely inconceivable to me '" I cannot imagine
such acreature asavirtuous Negro woman." Id at 82.Suchimages persist in popular culture.
SeePaul Grein, Taking Stock of the Latest Pop Record Surprises, LATimes 6at 1(J uly7,1988)
(recallingthe controversy in the late70Sover aRolling Stones recording which included the
line"Black girlsjust wanna get fucked all night") ...
28.Becausethewaythe legal systemviewed chastity, Blackwomen could not bevictims of
forciblerape. Onecommentator hasnoted that "[a]ccording to governing [stereotypes], chas-
tity could not bepossessedbyBlackwomen. Thus, Blackwomen's rape chargeswereautomat-
icallydiscounted, and the issueof chastity was contested only in cases where the rape com-
plainant was awhite woman." Note, 6 Harv Women's L J at 126(cited in note 26). Black
wome~'s ~~a~s of rape ;,ere not taken seriously regar.dlessof t.heoffender's race. A judge in
1912Said: ThiScourt will never takethe word of amgger agamst the word of awhite man
[concerning rape]." Idat 120.On theother hand, lynchingwasconsidered aneffectiveremedy
for aBlackman's rape of awhitewoman. Sincerape of awhitewoman byaBlackman was "a
crime more horrible than death," the only way to assuage society's rage and to make the
woman whole againwasto brutally murder the Blackman. Idat 125.
29 SeeThe Rape of Black Women as a Weapon of Terror, inGerda Lerner, ed, Black Women
in White America 172-93(Pantheon Books, 1972).SeealsoBrownmiller, Against Our Will (cited
~note 23).Evenwhere Brownmiller acknowledges the useof rape asracial terrorism, shere-
SiStSmaking a "special case" for Blackwomen by offering evidence that white women were
raped by the Klan as well. Id at 139.Whether or not one considers the racist rape of Black
women a"special case," such experiences are probably different. In any case, Brownmiller's
treatment of theissueraisesserious questions about the ability to sustain ananalysisof patri-
archywithout understanding itsmultiple intersections with racism.
30. Paula Giddings notes the combined effect of sexual and racial stereotypes: "Black
women wereseenhaving anof theinferior qualities of white women without anyof their vir-
tues." Giddings, When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in
America 82(WilliamMorrow and Co, Inc, 1Sted 1984).
.Susan Brownmiller's treatment of the Emmett Till caseillustrates why antirape politici-
zation makes some African Americans uncomfortable. Despite Brownmiller's quite laudable
efforts to discuss elsewherethe rape of Blackwomen and the racisminvolved in much of the
hysteria over the Black male threat, her analysis of the Till caseplaces the sexuality of white
women, rather than racial terrorism, at center stage. Brownmiller states: "Rarelyhas onesingle
caseexposed soclearlyasTill'sthe underlying group-male antagonisms over accesstowomen,
for what began in Bryant's store should not be misconstrued as an innocent flirtation .... In
concrete terms, the aq:essibility of all white women wason review:' Brownmiller, Against Our
Will at 272 (cited in note 23) ...