A motif is a concept or image that recurs throughout a work. Each time it repeats, it becomes more complicated, picking up minor differences along the way. In “Mapping the Margins,” the dominant motif is the image of intersection. Crenshaw talks about how different identity categories, like race and gender, intersect. Women of color have experiences that are an intersection of their race and gender and cannot be understood as racial or gendered in isolation.
The way this motif operates in the essay is by being analyzed from different perspectives. Thus, Crenshaw has three parts to her essay: “structural intersectionality,” “political intersectionality,” and “representational intersectionality.” These three parts roughly translate to an analysis of social institutions, an analysis of social movements, and an analysis of culture and cultural discussions. The common thread throughout is intersectionality. By having this motif carry us through the three sections, Crenshaw in turn shows how institutions, politics, and culture reinforce each other in their typical blindness to intersecting identities.
Central Park Jogger (Allegory)
A case that appears more than once in “Mapping the Margins” is the case of the Central Park jogger, a white woman who was raped in April 1989 in New York City. The case received sensational media coverage throughout the country, in large part because the rape was exceptionally violent and seemed to have been perpetrated by a group of men. For Crenshaw, the case is also an allegory that reveals the ways in which Americans tend to think about rape. The fact that the media was obsessed with this case when there were other equally violent rapes in New York that night suggests that this case resonates with how Americans think about rape. In particular, the image of a white woman victimized by people of color provides a racial allegory in which rape is about racial conflict in addition to sexual conflict. In this case, racial and sexual tensions are condensed. But in this condensation, many experiences are left out, and by extension, they are also excluded from national conversation. For instance, the sexual assault of women of color does not receive the same media attention, because women of color are not the allegorical victims that white women are in the American imagination.
Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color Questions and Answers
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Study Guide for Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color
Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color study guide contains a biography of Kimberle Crenshaw, literature essays, quiz questions, major themes, characters, and a full summary and analysis.