Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw spoke about the 2020 presidential election and social justice issues facing people of color during GW’s 6th Annual Diversity Summit Thursday.
Crenshaw, a professor of law at the University of California, Los Angeles who coined the term intersectionality, discussed the social justice fight that lies ahead for people of color in the United States, how she helped found a social movement to combat police brutality against Black female victims and what society can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic. Dayna Bowen Matthew, the dean of GW Law, moderated the discussion.
Here are some highlights from the event:
The 2020 election
Crenshaw said on election night, she found herself waiting anxiously for media outlets to project former Vice President Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election. But when the race was called for Biden, Crenshaw said she found the moment bittersweet.
She said the media often framed election issues as a balanced, fair argument between two sides, but one side was clearly in the right, leaving her distraught.
“The moment of the victory was dissipating in front of my eyes, and so I felt the need to say ‘let’s stop this process of bothsidesism,’” Crenshaw said. “It’s about the fact that we are moving away from the values of mutuality, the values of ‘we all count,’ the values of community.”
Crenshaw said the American public must recognize that despite President Donald Trump’s loss, nearly half of the country still voted for him.
“We cannot have an unearned reintegration without articulating what broke, and we can’t begin to articulate what broke when millions of people think that nothing was broken,” Crenshaw said.
She said she was not concerned by an increase in votes for Trump from Black Americans, noting that they’re still “dramatically” less likely to have voted for Trump than any other racial group.
Crenshaw said there is a gap between media coverage of violence against Black men and coverage of violence against Black women. She said the current situation for Black women facing discrimination and violence is “a space of no space” when it comes to encounters with the police.
“It is largely a reflection of the fact that there is not a frame to hold a problem,” she said. “The media won’t report it. We won’t have data to help us think about it. We don’t have conceptualization.”
Crenshaw said stories about Black women suffering from police brutality are often not reported, which led her to start the movement of Say Her Name, which seeks to bring awareness to Black women and girls who have been the victims of police brutality. She said America should demand “the truth,” “the knowledge” and “the stories that include all of us.”
She said in the education system, Black girls are six times more likely to get suspended or expelled compared to White girls, demonstrating systematic oppression toward young Black women in the system.
“Black girls do matter,” she said. “If you think they do matter, you got to figure out how to revise those programs to capture the way Black girls are diverted from success.”
Crenshaw said there has been a disproportionate effect of COVID-19 among people of color, particularly the Black population. She described this effect as “abundantly clear” because people of color faced greater financial and health repercussions from the pandemic.
“When something that is a risk to all people ends up being disproportionately borne by some, it is telling you it already came from a matrix that produces the vulnerability,” Crenshaw said. “It is a mirror to our society.”
Crenshaw added there are “structural factors” that determine who are able to shelter in place, who have access to better-equipped hospitals and who can stay safer.
“It also told us about whose lives matter when it came to incarcerated populations,” she said. “The majority of people who turn out dying from COVID while they were incarcerated were not there for violent crime. It is largely poverty-based criminalization.”