Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color Imagery

Image of Black Women

In her discussion of political intersectionality, Crenshaw discusses the images circulating in American culture about African Americans and Black women in particular:

“Sexualized images of African Americans go all the way back to Europeans’ first engagement with Africans. Blacks have long been portrayed as more sexual, more earthy, more gratification-oriented. These sexualized images of race intersect with norms of women’s sexuality, norms that are used to distinguish good women from bad, the madonnas from the whores. Thus Black women are essentially prepackaged as bad women within cultural narratives about good women who can be raped and bad women who cannot.” (1271)

In this sentence, “madonna” refers to the virgin Mary, mother of Jesus in Christianity. Crenshaw’s argument is that in a Christian culture like America, women are viewed of as either virgins or prostitutes, and because images of Black women sexualize them so that they cannot be perceived as virgins, society thinks of them as sexually debased. The sexual imagery of Black culture in turn prevents others in American society from believing Black women when they accuse men of rape.

Will’s Image of Rapists

In his attack on 2 Live Crew for their misogynistic lyrics, as Crenshaw discusses in Part 3 on “representational intersectionality,” George Will provides imagery connecting the rappers to the rapists in the Central Park jogger case. Crenshaw describes the connection:

“While the connection between the threat of 2 Live Crew and the image of the Black male rapist was suggested subtly in the public debate, it is blatant throughout Will's discussion. Indeed, it bids to be the central theme of the essay. ‘Fact: Some members of a particular age and societal cohort—the one making 2 Live Crew rich—stomped and raped the jogger to the razor edge of death, for the fun of it.’ Will directly indicts 2 Live Crew in the Central Park jogger rape through a fictional dialogue between himself and the defendants.” (1290)

The Central Park case was one of the most sensational and publicized news stories of the early 1990s, featuring a white woman raped by what seemed to be a group of teenagers of color. Through Will’s imagery, 2 Live Crew is imagined as this group of rapists simply because of the similarity in their race and age. This kind of imagistic crossover is one example of what Crenshaw diagnoses as a racist tendency in certain feminist discourses. Here, Will claims to want to protect women, but he is equally interested in attacking Black men.

Gates’s Defense of 2 Live Crew

In contrast to Will, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. came to the defense of 2 Live Crew. He argued the overly sexual imagery in their rap was actually a joke. Crenshaw explains:

“Gates’s political defense argues that 2 Live Crew advances the antiracist agenda by exaggerating stereotypes of Black male sexuality ‘to show how ridiculous they are.’ The defense contends that by highlighting to the extreme the sexism, misogyny, and violence stereotypically associated with Black male sexuality, 2 Live Crew represents a postmodern effort to ‘liberate’ us from the racism that perpetuates these stereotypes.” (1292)

In Gates’s mind, the misogynistic imagery of the rap songs is meant to resist the sexualization of Black people, rather than promote violence against women. But, as Crenshaw argues, this asks a lot from Black women, to swallow the disrespect and violent imagery of the lyrics in order to advance the cause of Black men.