Sex & Gender

hidden figures: kimberlé crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality”, helped change activism forever

February 15, 2017

Hopefully, you’ve heard of intersectionality by now. A term coined by Civil Rights advocate civil rights advocate and critical race theory scholar Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, intersectionality is the black feminist theory that specifically addresses the areas in which oppression intersects, or the “interconnected nature” of societal categories, like race, gender, religion, orientation, etc. A clear example of an intersectional issue can be observed when we look at the wage gap between men and women. Not only are women paid less for the same work a white man does, but women of color are paid even less than their white, female counterparts, too. Crenshaw’s intersectionality acknowledges and studies how multiple forms of discrimination co-exist.

Crenshaw grew up in Ohio and later studied Africana Studies at Cornell University before earning her JD at Harvard University in 1984, and an LL.M from the University of Wisconsin Law School the following year. Crenshaw introduced intersectionality to mainstream feminism during this time, the direct result of her observations and experiences attending PWI. Later on, this would be applied to Crenshaw’s study of law and the ways in which it handles issues about race and gender. Perhaps most memorably in Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony against then- Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, in which Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment. During the case, Thomas played the “race card”, describing the accusations as a “modern day lynching”. On the other side, white feminists who supported Hill’s claims stripped Hill of her blackness, reducing the issue to be about misogyny, ignoring the more complex, intersectional issues at play. “Many women who talk about the Anita Hill thing, they celebrate what’s happened with women in general: the fact that we have more elected officials now because they were outraged when they saw what the men were doing, Emily’s List came in and really helped women get elected, and so on. So sexual harassment is now recognised; what’s not doing as well is the recognition of black women’s unique experiences with discrimination,” says Crenshaw.

Today, intersectionality is crucial to unpacking discrimination and oppression and continues to be a tool for progress and black resistance.

By Erin White*, AFROPUNK contributor

*Erin White is an Atlanta-based writer and AFROPUNK’s editorial and social media assistant. You can follow her on Tumblr or friend her on Facebook. Have a pitch or an inquiry? Shoot her an email at