Why you should care
Because this may be what the post-postracial moment is missing.
More than 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement comes Black Lives Matter, a stark reminder that the work of racial equality is far from finished. The movement, which began after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin, has gained traction alongside reports of police abuse of Black citizens. By now, even casual observers probably know the names of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown and Eric Garner.
But can you name any Black female victims of police brutality?
Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw would like to know. Some time ago, the superstar law professor — at both UCLA and Columbia — pioneered the concept of “intersectionality,” used to describe how different types of discrimination can overlap and create synergies that many activists neglect. Just as mainstream feminism has not been terrific about acknowledging the concerns of women of color, or working-class women, the Black Lives Matter movement virtually ignored Black women victims of police brutality. So argues Crenshaw, who began the Say Her Name movement as a response. We checked in with Crenshaw to talk about the status of civil rights, women’s role in the movement and why the present moment makes her think about the dentist’s office. And by the way, here are some names: Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Bettie Jones and Natasha McKenna.
OZY: Are we in the midst of a new civil rights movement?
Kimberlé Crenshaw: It’s definitely a moment of new social unrest over racial inequality and the vestiges of only partially dismantled vessels of white supremacy. Whether it’s framed as a separate civil rights movement or something else remains to be seen. I call it the post-postracial moment. It’s a little bit like the novocaine wearing off. And I think there’s going to be greater inflammation of the nerves as we move further.
OZY: Tell us about Say Her Name.
K.C.: Clearly, the movement against police violence is something that we welcomed and were a part of. And in doing that, and in being in the marches, it became painfully clear that many people — thousands and thousands, if not millions of people — know the names of the men who have lost their lives to racialized police violence, but not the women. These are the names of the women who have been killed in the same season, same month, sometimes same week as the men whose names and stories we know. We simply started saying the names of women who were killed by the police in the marches and rallies and other spaces where the names evoked a problem.
OZY: What kind of traction is this movement gaining? And what reactions?
K.C.: Black Lives Matter has been tremendously influential in creating visibility. Say Her Name has also been similarly productive in that way, within the conversation about police violence. Two years ago, most folks wouldn’t think twice of having a list of exclusively male names. Now, at least a few women will be mentioned. Visibility has been one of the significant losses that Black women’s families have dealt with. Not only are they losing somebody, but nobody is aware of it.
OZY: What do you mean by “intersectionality”?
K.C.: Racism, patriarchy, heterosexism and homophobia — these often are risk factors that are experienced in tandem with each other rather than as fully separate forms of discrimination. A lot of my work in the past has focused on an industry that is both race- and gender-segregated. When you are a woman of color trying to get a job, are you subjected to racism and sexism separately? Or are you particularly targeted as a woman of color for certain types of treatment that neither Black men or white women have to worry about? Intersectionality draws attention to the places where racism and sexism overlap.
The second part of intersectionality has been on the failures of law and antidiscrimination advocacy, of justice-based movements, to deal with what happens to those who are experiencing intersectional harm. It’s a two-pronged problem: The first thing, stuff happens to you. The second thing, the people who claim to represent you don’t seem to notice this happens to you. Or they say you can wait to be served. Our work over the last two years has been to say trickle-down Reaganomics doesn’t work, and trickle-down racial justice won’t work.