Biography of Kimberle Crenshaw

Kimberlé Crenshaw is a founding figure of critical race theory, which considers how race, law, and power interact in a society. What makes it “critical” is its critique of legal institutions within society, revealing how the law and governmental actors work together to maintain and reproduce racism. The school of thought emerged toward the end of the 1980s, and Crenshaw’s writing was central to its development.

Crenshaw was born in in 1959 in Ohio. She attended college at Cornell, where her degrees included a focus in Black studies, and she graduated from Harvard Law School in 1984. She worked for a Wisconsin Supreme Court judge after graduation, developing expertise in constitutional law. In 1986, she became a professor at the University of California, Los Angeles Law School. She has remained at UCLA to the present, although she has also taken up additional appointments at Columbia Law School. In 2011, she founded the Center for Intersectionality & Social Policy Studies at Columbia, drawing upon her research and her theories of intersectionality that were advanced in her germinal essay, “Mapping the Margins.”

In addition to being a legal scholar and academic, Crenshaw has also contributed to the development of policy in the United States and abroad. In the 1990s, she was on the legal team of Anita Hill, a Black attorney and academic who accused Clarence Thomas, a nominee for the Supreme Court, of sexual harassment. Crenshaw’s work on that case drew from her writing on the intersections of race and gender and the ways in which antiracist work can sometimes overlook gender or aggravate problems faced by women of color. Along these lines, Crenshaw also co-founded the African American Policy Forum in 1996. The AAPF is a public think tank that focuses on social justice at the intersection of gender and race. She has also served on the National Science Foundation Committee to Research Violence Against Women and the National Research Council’s panel on Violence Against Women. Beyond the United States, Crenshaw has been involved in the United Nations World Conference on Racism and other international forums addressing about racial and gender equality.

Study Guides on Works by Kimberle Crenshaw