“Mapping the Margins” is Kimberlé Crenshaw’s classic article explaining and applying her concept of “intersectionality.” The article was an important articulation of Black feminist thought, showing how antiracist and feminist activism failed women of color if they considered race or gender in isolation. Instead, activists needed to consider how different axes of oppression like race and gender “intersect.” Crenshaw challenged dominant paradigms of feminism and civil rights work by inviting them to talk with each other in order to better meet the needs of women of color.
In the original article, Crenshaw develops her theory by focusing on violence against women of color. This includes how the domestic abuse and sexual assault of Black women has failed to receive appropriate attention from Black activists, who focus on the liberation of Black men, and feminists, who focus on the liberation of white women. In the past 25 years since the article was published, Crenshaw’s analysis has been extended to analyze other incidents beyond violence against women. The concept has also been elaborated to describe how different axes of identity intersect in addition to race and gender. For instance, class, age, disability status, citizenship status, and sexual orientation can all be seen to intersect, producing different kinds of injustice or access to opportunity.
The article, originally published in the Stanford Law Review, was intended for an audience of legal scholars. However, the article also offered analyses of American culture at large and social activist movements within it, and the concept of “intersectionality” has had a wide impact beyond the legal academy. Cultural theorists, literary scholars, activists, and political pundits have all learned from Crenshaw’s writing. As of 2017, Google Scholar counts over 11,000 essays and books that have cited the original article. Today, the word “intersectional” is also often invoked in everyday conversation. This attests to the vitality and influence of Crenshaw’s work.