WHEN IT comes to discrimination and oppression, not all experiences are alike.
Gender, race, class, sexuality and ability all inform the ways a person encounters inequity in society, and the injustices overlap and compound with each factor.
That’s the crux of intersectionality, a term charging current conversations about social justice and the fight for equality. Since January’s Women’s March on Washington, the word seems to be everywhere, from glossy magazines to celebrity Twitter feeds.
Civil rights and legal scholar Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw minted the concept in 1989 to address how feminist theory and anti-racist platforms failed to include the particular way African American women experience sexism and racial discrimination, positing that it is impossible to separate them.
Dr. Crenshaw’s work has since extended to all people of color as well as the LGBT and trans communities to elevate the different ways oppression shows up, and the voices of the Black feminist movement continue to lead the way.
The scholarly activists of the Crunk Feminist Collective began posting poignant essays about hip hop culture, smashing the patriarchy, political theory and personal experiences in 2010.
The website now attracts more than a million readers a year of all stripes for its thought-provoking pieces that include “Ben Carson’s Shame,” “Misogyny and Infamy: The Erasure of Dark Skinned Black Women as Love Interests in Straight Outta Compton,” and “Fish Dreams,” which explores the conflicting messages black women receive about pregnancy and motherhood. The crew will be in Savannah to discuss their new book, The Crunk Feminist Collection, at Armstrong State University’s Ogeechee Theater on March 30.
By presenting academic feminism through an African American lens, CFC founders Brittney C. Cooper, Susana M. Morris, Robin M. Boylorn—Ph.Ds all—have opened the conversation to the intersection of gender and race beyond the mostly white mainstream.
“Feminism isn’t accessible because it’s an academic term, and the people who use it have been historically territorial,” explains Dr. Boylorn, an associate professor of Interpersonal and Intercultural Communication at the University of Alabama.
“But what we learned from our communities, what we learned from our mothers, our grandmothers, that resilience and independence we were taught, is feminism. Our goal is to be able to talk about these ideas in the college classroom as well as the beauty shop.”
The mission of Crunk Feminism is to hold space for the experience of “hip hop generation feminists of color, queer and straight, in the academy and without” outside of traditional theory while owning the history and genealogy of black feminism, specifically.
“Some people ask ‘Why can’t we all just be feminists? Why do we have to categorize?’ But we can’t erase our differences,” continues Dr. Boylorn.
“I think it goes back to identity politics—the primary issues of white women have never been the issues of women of color. In the second wave feminism of the '60s, you have women fighting to work, but black women were already working, often for those white women! That has to be acknowledged.”
That isn’t to say that other types of feminists aren’t welcome to the party; they just don’t get to design the context.
“We see our primary audience as women of color, but that does not exclude white women who want to be better allies. People who engage our work understand that we appreciate the necessity of white allies in this movement, but the way allyship works, it’s not about you,” she says.
“Crunk Feminist Collective is about black feminists, and many of the white women who engage us want to learn what they can do better.”
Thursday’s event is sponsored by Armstrong’s Gender Studies program, Department of Languages, Literature and Philosophy and Office of Multicultural Affairs and will be moderated by African American Literature professor Dr. Regina Bradley, who recently received national attention for her popular class “OutKast and the Rise of the Hip-Hop South.”
Dr. Bradley began reading Crunk Feminist Collective in graduate school and, because of the relatively small number of Southern African American feminists in academia, developed a friendship with the group. She often brings questions about gender, race and class to the classroom, citing the CFC platform as a source of information and inspiration.
“The current moment is about women, and where do black women fit into the conversation?” asks Dr. Bradley, who spent part of 2016 at Harvard University as a Nasir Jones Hip-Hop Fellow.
“When we talk about social justice and popular culture, we are reclaiming the idea that black women are warriors. We have Harriet Tubman, we have Angela Davis, but what do today’s warriors look like? That’s one of the things the collective brings.”
She credits intersectionality with providing a framework for diverse articulations of womanhood that go beyond ethnicity.
“You can’t have conversation about race and gender without talking about class, and how those run into each other,” she says, adding that sexuality and gender identity also inform her work.
“Being able to recognize and honor trans women of color, there didn’t used to be language for that. I feel honored to push forward the conversation and make room for those who are marginalized to be able to speak themselves.”
She encourages all people invested in social change to come listen to the Collective, including men, and is offering extra credit to all of her students who attend.
While Dr. Boylorn agrees that heightened awareness of trans celebrities like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock has helped highlight the different expressions of what it means to be a woman of color, this new narrative must not exclude the dangers.
“With visibility comes responsibility, and there still needs to be conversations about sex workers, about single mothers, about women in poverty,” she admonishes, reminding of murdered Philidelphia trans woman Maya Young.
“Discrimination happens around silence. We can literally forget that people exist that are not like us.”
While intersectionality and the Crunk Feminist Collective bring attention to the important fact that not all feminists come from the same background or hold up the same issues, Dr. Boylorn reminds that they all share the same goal of equality, freedom and access to opportunities.
The focus of third wave feminism on inclusivity and diversity has shifted society towards that goal, but Dr. Boylorn thinks it’s too soon for the academy to call the beginning of a fourth wave.
“I don’t think we’re ready,” she says thoughtfully. “We’re all anxious to move on the next thing, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”