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

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

Feminism vs. Intersectionality

Feminism is an example of identity politics: a movement organized by and for a particular identity. In this case, the central identity is the category of women, and feminism works for the economic and sexual freedom of women. In Crenshaw’s account, however, feminism in America has tended to focus on white women. When feminists talk about “women,” they are, without knowing it, referring only to women of one race. As a result, the kinds of programs and analysis they develop unintentionally overlook the experience of women who are not white, for instance Black and Latina women. In contrast, an intersectional approach would consider how race and gender compound the kinds of disadvantage Black and Latina women experience.

Antiracism vs. Intersectionality

Like feminism, antiracism is a form of identity politics, but it organizes around race. For instance, the Black community may organize to fight for policies and programs that end racism and empower Black people. Crenshaw argues that most antiracist work, however, overlooks gender. When fighting for the “Black community,” they really mean “Black men.” That’s because when people don’t mention gender, the default gender in people’s minds is male. Consequently, antiracism, like feminism, fails to provide an intersectional approach that can center women of color. It treats race in isolation instead of considering what race means to women in particular.

Identity Politics vs. Women of Color

Both feminism and antiracism are forms of identity politics. Both fail to be intersectional, because they look at one form of discrimination or inequality at a time: gender inequality or racial inequality. And because the default race of feminism is white and the default gender of antiracism is male, neither form of identity politics directly helps women of color. Feminism ignores the color of women of color. Antiracism ignores the womanhood of women of color. Crenshaw tracks how this happens in social institutions, in political movements, and in cultural representations. In all cases, women of color, because they have multiple intersecting identities, are not served by an analysis that looks at one identity at a time. A new form of social analysis, called intersectionality, is necessary in order to understand and accommodate their needs.

Marginalization vs. Centering

Marginalization refers to putting something on the outside. Writing in the margins of a paper, for instance, is writing in the white space outside the text. In contrast, centering means putting it in the middle, in the heart of something, so that it gets special attention. In politics, marginalization means putting the voices of a group of people to the side, so that they are not a part of decision-making, whereas centering refers to putting those voices in the leadership. Feminism marginalizes women of color, because it centers white women; antiracism marginalizes women of color, because it centers men of color. In “mapping the margins,” Crenshaw wants to remedy the situation by centering the voices of women of color. Mapping the margins means paying attention to, listening to, and describing the experiences and needs of those who are pushed furthest from the middle of society.