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Journal ArticleDOI

Intersectionality, Identity Politics and Violence Against Women of Color

23 Jun 2006-Iss: 23
TL;DR: This article explored the various ways in which race and gender intersect in shaping structural and political aspects of violence against women of color and found that the interests and experiences of women of colour are frequently marginalized within both feminist and antiracist discourses.
Abstract: Identity-based politics has been a source of strength for people of color, gays and lesbians, among others. The problem with identity politics is that it often conflates intra group differences. Exploring the various ways in which race and gender intersect in shaping structural and political aspects of violence against these women, it appears the interests and experiences of women of color are frequently marginalized within both feminist and antiracist discourses. Both discourses have failed to consider the intersections of racism and patriarchy. However, the location of women of color at the intersection of race and gender makes our actual experience of domestic violence, rape, and remedial reform quite different from that of white women. Similarly, both feminist and antiracist politics have functioned in tandem to marginalize the issue of violence against women of color. The effort to politicize violence against women will do little to address the experiences of nonwhite women until the ramifications of racial stratification among women are acknowledged. At the same time, the anti-racist agenda will not be furthered by suppressing the reality of intra-racial violence against women of color. The effect of both these marginalizations is that women of color have no ready means to link their experiences with those of other women.

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Over the last two decades,
women have organized against the almost
routine violence that shapes their lives.
Drawing from the strength of shared expe-
rience, women have recognized that the
political demands of millions speak more
powerfully than the pleas of a few isolated
voices. This process of recognizing as social
and systemic what was formerly perceived
as isolated and individual has also charac-
terized the identity politics of people of
color and gays and lesbians, among others.
For all these groups, identity-based politics
has been a source of strength, community,
and intellectual development.
The embrace of identity politics, howev-
er, has been in tension with dominant con-
ceptions of social justice. Race, gender, and
other identity categories are most often
treated in mainstream liberal discourse as
vestiges of bias or domination that is, as
intrinsically negative frameworks in which
social power works to exclude or marginal-
ize those who are different.
7
Mapping the margins
Intersectionality, Identity Politics and
Violence Against Women of Color
AF KIMBERLÉ WILLIAMS CRENSHAW
Intersectionality offers a way of me-
diating the tension between asserti-
ons of multiple identities and the
ongoing necessity of group politics.
While the descriptive project of post-
modernism of questioning the ways
in which meaning is socially con-
structed is generally sound, this cri-
tique sometimes misreads the mea-
ning of social construction and di-
storts its political relevance. To say
that a category such as race or gen-
der is socially constructed is not to
say that that category has no signifi-
cance in our world, on the contrary.

The problem with identity politics is not
that it fails to transcend difference, as some
critics charge, but rather the opposite – that
it frequently conflates or ignores intra
group differences. In the context of vio-
lence against women, this elision of differ-
ence is problematic, fundamentally because
the violence that many women experience
is often shaped by other dimensions of
their identities, such as race and class.
Moreover, ignoring differences within
groups frequently contributes to tension
among groups, another problem of identity
politics that frustrates efforts to politicize
violence against women. Feminist efforts to
politicize experiences of women and an-
tiracist efforts to politicize experiences of
people of color’ have frequently proceeded
as though the issues and experiences they
each detail occur on mutually exclusive ter-
rains. Although racism and sexism readily
intersect in the lives of real people, they sel-
dom do in feminist and antiracist practices.
And so, when the practices expound identi-
ty as ‘woman’ or ‘person of color’ as an ei-
ther/or proposition, they relegate the iden-
tity of women of color to a location that re-
sists telling.
My objective here is to advance the
telling of that location by exploring the
race and gender dimensions of violence
against women of color. Contemporary
feminist and antiracist discourses have failed
to consider the intersections of racism and
patriarchy. Focusing on two dimensions of
male violence against women battering
and rape I consider how the experiences
of women of color are frequently the pro-
duct of intersecting patterns of racism and
sexism, and how these experiences tend not
to be represented within the discourse of
either feminism or antiracism. Because of
their intersectional identity as both women
and people of color within discourses that
are shaped to respond to one or the other,
the interests and experiences of women of
color are frequently marginalized within
both.
In an earlier article, I used the concept
of intersectionality to denote the various
ways in which race and gender interact to
shape the multiple dimensions of Black
1
women’s employment experiences (Cren-
shaw 1989, 139). My objective there was
to illustrate that many of the experiences
Black women face are not subsumed within
the traditional boundaries of race or gender
discrimination as these boundaries are cur-
rently understood, and that the intersection
of racism and sexism factors into Black
women’s lives in ways that cannot be cap-
tured wholly by looking at the women, race
or gender dimensions of those experiences
separately. I build on those observations
here by exploring the various ways in which
race and gender intersect in shaping struc-
tural and political aspects of violence
against women of color.
2
I should say at the outset that intersec-
tionality is not being offered here as some
new, totalizing theory of identity. My focus
on the intersections of race and gender on-
ly highlights the need to account for multi-
ple grounds of identity when considering
how the social world is constructed. I have
divided the issues presented in this chapter
into two categories. In the first part, I dis-
cuss structural intersectionality, the ways in
which the location of women of color at
the intersection of race and gender makes
our actual experience of domestic violence,
rape, and remedial reform qualitatively dif-
ferent from that of white women. I shift
the focus in the second part to political in-
tersectionality, where I analyze how both
feminist and antiracist politics have func-
tioned in tandem to marginalize the issue
of violence against women of color. Finally,
I address the implications of the intersec-
tional approach within the broader scope of
contemporary identity politics.
STRUCTURAL INTERSECTIONALITY
Structural Intersectionality and Battering
I observed the dynamics of structural inter-
K
VINDER, KØN & FORSKNING NR. 2-3 2006
8

sectionality during a brief field study of bat-
tered women’s shelters located in minority
communities in Los Angeles.
3
In most cas-
es, the physical assault that leads women to
these shelters is merely the most immediate
manifestation of the subordination they ex-
perience. Many women who seek protec-
tion are unemployed or underemployed,
and a good number of them are poor. Shel-
ters serving these women cannot afford to
address only the violence inflicted by the
batterer; they must also confront the other
multilayered and routinized forms of domi-
nation that often converge in these
women’s lives, hindering their ability to
create alternatives to the abusive relation-
ships that brought them to shelters in the
first place. Women of color are burdened as
well by the disproportionately high unem-
ployment among people of color that make
battered women of color less able to de-
pend on the support of friends and relatives
for temporary shelter.
These observations reveal how intersec-
tionality shapes the experiences of many
women of color. Economic considerations
access to employment, housing, and
wealth confirm that class structures play
an important part in defining the experi-
ence of women of color vis-à-vis battering.
But it would be a mistake to conclude from
these observations that it is simply the fact
of poverty that is at issue here. Rather, their
experiences reveal how diverse structures
intersect, since even the class dimension is
not independent from race and gender.
These converging systems structure the
experiences of battered women of color in
ways that require intervention strategies to
be responsive to these intersections. Strate-
gies based solely on the experiences of
women who do not share the same class or
race backgrounds will be of limited utility
for those whose lives are shaped by a differ-
ent set of obstacles. For example, shelter
policies are often shaped by an image that
locates women’s subordination primarily in
the psychological effects of male domina-
tion, and thus overlooks the socioeconomic
factors that often disempower women of
color.
4
Because the disempowerment of
many battered women of color is arguably
less a function of what is in their minds and
more a reflection of the obstacles that exist
in their lives, these interventions are likely
to reproduce rather than effectively chal-
lenge their domination.
While the intersection of race, gender,
and class constitute the primary structural
elements of the experience of many Black
and Latina women in battering shelters, it
is important to understand that there are
other sites where structures of power inter-
sect. For immigrant women, for example,
their status as immigrants can render them
vulnerable in ways that are similarly coer-
cive, yet not easily reducible to economic
class. For example, take the Marriage
Fraud Amendments to the 1986 Immigra-
tion Act. Under the marriage fraud provi-
sions of the Act, a person who immigrated
to the United States to marry a United
States citizen or permanent resident had to
remain ‘properly’ married for two years be-
fore applying for permanent resident sta-
tus, at which time applications for the im-
migrant’s permanent status were required
by both spouses.
5
Predictably, under these
circumstances, many immigrant women
were reluctant to leave even the most abu-
sive of partners for fear of being deported.
When faced with the choice between pro-
tection from their batterers and protection
against deportation, many immigrant
women chose the latter (Walt 1990, 8).
Reports of the tragic consequences of this
double subordination put pressure on
Congress to include in the Immigration
Act of 1990 a Provision amending the
marriage fraud rules to allow for an explicit
waiver for hardship caused by domestic vi-
olence.
Yet many immigrant women, particularly
women of color, have remained vulnerable
to battering because they are unable to
meet the conditions established for a waiv-
M
APPING THE MARGINS

er. The evidence required to support a
waiver “can include, but is not limited to,
reports and affidavits from police, medical
personnel, psychologists, school officials,
and social service agencies.” For many im-
migrant women, limited access to these re-
sources can make it difficult for them to
obtain the evidence needed for a waiver.
Often cultural barriers further discourage
immigrant women from reporting or escap-
ing battering situations. Tina Shum, a fami-
ly counselor at a social service agency,
points out that
“[t]his law sounds so easy to apply, but there
are cultural complications in the Asian com-
munity that make even these requirements
difficult .... just to find the opportunity and
courage to call us is an accomplishment for
many.” (Hodgin 1991, p. E1)
The typical immigrant spouse, she suggests,
may live
[i]n an extended family where several gene-
rations live together, there may be no privacy
on the telephone, no opportunity to leave
the house and no understanding of public
phones.” As a consequence, many immigrant
women may be wholly dependent on their
husbands as their link to the world outside
their homes.
6
Immigrant women may also be vulnerable
to spousal violence because many of them
depend on their husbands for information
regarding their legal status. More than like-
ly, many women who are now permanent
residents continue to suffer abuse under
threats of deportation by their husbands.
Even if the threats are unfounded, women
who have no independent access to infor-
mation will still be intimidated by such
threats. And even though the domestic vio-
lence waiver focuses on immigrant women
whose husbands are United States citizens
or permanent residents, there are countless
women married to undocumented workers
(or who are themselves undocumented)
who suffer in silence for fear that the secu-
rity of their entire families will be jeopar-
dized should they seek help or otherwise
call attention to themselves.
These examples illustrate how patterns of
subordination intersect in women’s experi-
ence of domestic violence. Intersectional
subordination need not be intentionally
produced; in fact, it is frequently the conse-
quence of the imposition of one burden
that interacts with preexisting vulnerabili-
ties to create yet another dimension of dis-
empowerment. In the case of the marriage
fraud provisions of the Immigration and
Nationality Act, the imposition of a policy
specifically designed to burden one class
immigrant spouses seeking permanent Resi-
dent status exacerbated the disempower-
ment of those already subordinated by oth-
er structures of domination. By failing to
take into account the vulnerability of immi-
grant spouses to domestic violence, Con-
gress positioned these women to absorb
the simultaneous impact of its anti-immi-
gration policy and their spouses’ abuse.
The enactment of the domestic violence
waiver of the marriage fraud provisions
similarly illustrates how modest attempts to
respond to certain problems can be ineffec-
tive when the intersectional location of
women of color is not considered in fash-
ioning the remedy. Cultural identity and
class affect the likelihood that a battered
spouse could take advantage of the waiver.
Immigrant women who are socially, cultur-
ally, or economically privileged are more
likely to be able to marshall the resources
needed to satisfy the waiver requirements.
Structural Intersectionality and Rape
Women of color are differently situated in
the economic, social, and political worlds.
When reform efforts undertaken on behalf
of women neglect this fact, women of color
are less likely to have their needs met than
women who are racially privileged. For ex-
ample, counselors who provide rape crisis
K
VINDER, KØN & FORSKNING NR. 2-3 2006
10

services to women of color report that a
significant proportion of the resources allo-
cated to them must be spent handling
problems other than rape itself. Meeting
these needs often places these counselors at
odds with their funding agencies, which al-
locate funds according to standards of need
that are largely white and middle-class.
7
These uniform standards of support ignore
the fact that different needs often demand
different priorities in terms of resource allo-
cation, and consequently, these standards
hinder the ability of counselors to address
the needs of nonwhite and poor women.
The fact that minority women suffer
from the effects of multiple subordination,
coupled with institutional expectations
based on inappropriate non-intersectional
contexts, shapes and ultimately limits the
opportunities for meaningful intervention
on their behalf. Understanding the inter-
sectional dynamics of crisis intervention
may go far toward explaining the high lev-
els of frustration and burnout experienced
by counselors who attempt to meet the
needs of minority women victims.
POLITICAL INTERSECTIONALITY
The concept of political intersectionality
highlights the fact that women of color are
situated within at least two subordinated
groups that frequently pursue conflicting
political agendas. The need to split one’s
political energies between two sometimes
opposing political agendas is a dimension
of intersectional disempowerment that men
of color and white women seldom con-
front. Indeed, their specific raced and gen-
dered experiences, although intersectional,
often define as well as confine the interests
of the entire group. The problem is not
simply that both discourses fail women of
color by not acknowledging the ‘addition-
al’ burden of patriarchy or of racism, but
that the discourses are often inadequate
even to the discrete tasks of articulating the
full dimensions of racism and sexism. Be-
cause women of color experience racism in
ways not always the same as those experi-
enced by men of color, and sexism in ways
not always parallel to experiences of white
women, dominant conceptions of an-
tiracism and feminism are limited, even on
their own terms.
The failure of feminism to interrogate
race means that the resistance strategies of
feminism will often replicate and reinforce
the subordination of people of color, and
the failure of antiracism to interrogate pa-
triarchy means that antiracism will fre-
quently reproduce the subordination of
women. These mutual elisions present a
particularly difficult political dilemma for
women of color. Adopting either analysis
constitutes a denial of a fundamental di-
mension of our subordination and works to
precludes the development of a political
discourse that more fully empowers women
of color.
The Politicization of Domestic Violence
That the political interests of women of
color are obscured and sometimes jeopar-
dized by political strategies that ignore or
suppress intersectional issues is illustrated
by my experiences in gathering information
for this essay. I attempted to review Los
Angeles Police Department statistics re-
flecting the rate of domestic violence inter-
ventions by district, because such statistics
can provide a rough picture of arrests by
racial group, given the degree of racial seg-
regation in Los Angeles.
8
The L.A.P.D.,
however, would not release the informa-
tion. A representative explained that one
reason the information was not released
was that domestic violence activists, both
within and outside the department, feared
that statistics reflecting the extent of do-
mestic violence in minority communities
might be selectively interpreted and publi-
cized so as to undermine long-term efforts
to force the department to address domes-
tic violence as a serious problem. Apparent-
ly activists were worried that the statistics
11
M
APPING THE MARGINS

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References
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Journal ArticleDOI
TL;DR: This paper explored the race and gender dimensions of violence against women of color and found that the experiences of women of colour are often the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism, and how these experiences tend not to be represented within the discourse of either feminism or antiracism.
Abstract: Over the last two decades, women have organized against the almost routine violence that shapes their lives. Drawing from the strength of shared experience, women have recognized that the political demands of millions speak more powerfully than the pleas of a few isolated voices. This politicization in turn has transformed the way we understand violence against women. For example, battering and rape, once seen as private (family matters) and aberrational (errant sexual aggression), are now largely recognized as part of a broad-scale system of domination that affects women as a class. This process of recognizing as social and systemic what was formerly perceived as isolated and individual has also characterized the identity politics of people of color and gays and lesbians, among others. For all these groups, identity-based politics has been a source of strength, community, and intellectual development. The embrace of identity politics, however, has been in tension with dominant conceptions of social justice. Race, gender, and other identity categories are most often treated in mainstream liberal discourse as vestiges of bias or domination-that is, as intrinsically negative frameworks in which social power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different. According to this understanding, our liberatory objective should be to empty such categories of any social significance. Yet implicit in certain strands of feminist and racial liberation movements, for example, is the view that the social power in delineating difference need not be the power of domination; it can instead be the source of political empowerment and social reconstruction. The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend difference, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite- that it frequently conflates or ignores intra group differences. In the context of violence against women, this elision of difference is problematic, fundamentally because the violence that many women experience is often shaped by other dimensions of their identities, such as race and class. Moreover, ignoring differences within groups frequently contributes to tension among groups, another problem of identity politics that frustrates efforts to politicize violence against women. Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and antiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color' have frequently proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on mutually exclusive terrains. Al-though racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices. And so, when the practices expound identity as "woman" or "person of color" as an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resists telling. My objective here is to advance the telling of that location by exploring the race and gender dimensions of violence against women of color. Contemporary feminist and antiracist discourses have failed to consider the intersections of racism and patriarchy. Focusing on two dimensions of male violence against women-battering and rape-I consider how the experiences of women of color are frequently the product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism, and how these experiences tend not to be represented within the discourse of either feminism or antiracism... Language: en

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01 Jan 2005
TL;DR: The authors discusses structural intersectionality, the ways in which the location of women of color at the intersection of race and gender makes their real experience of domestic violence, rape, and remedial reform qualitatively different from that of white women.
Abstract: Contemporary feminist and antiracist discourses have failed to consider the intersections of racism and patriarchy. To overcome this difficulty, an original approach is suggested here: that of intersectionality. In the first part, the paper discusses structural intersectionality, the ways in which the location of women of color at the intersection of race and gender makes their real experience of domestic violence, rape, and remedial reform qualitatively different from that of white women. The focus is shifted in the second part to political intersectionality, with the analysis of how both feminist and antiracist politics have functioned in tandem to marginalize the issue of violence against women of color. Finally, the implications of the intersectional approach are addressed within the broader scope of contemporary identity politics.

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Abstract: In spite of the double burden of racial and gender discrimination, African-American women have developed a rich intellectual tradition that is not widely known. In Black Feminist Thought, Patricia Hill Collins explores the words and ideas of Black feminist intellectuals as well as those African-American women outside academe. She provides an interpretive framework for the work of such prominent Black feminist thinkers as Angela Davis, bell hooks, Alice Walker, and Audre Lorde. The result is a superbly crafted book that provides the first synthetic overview of Black feminist thought.

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TL;DR: In this article, the authors explore the relationship between spousal abuse and child abuse as well as abuse between siblings, violence by children against their parents, and the causes and effects of verbal abuse.
Abstract: The marriage license as a hitting license, child abuse, sibling war is the powerful message of "Behind Closed Doors". The book is grounded in the unprecedented national survey of the extent, patterns, and causes of violence in the American family. Based on a seven-year study of over 2,000 families, the authors provide landmark insights into this phenomenon of violence and what causes Americans to inflict it on their family members. The authors explore the relationship between spousal abuse and child abuse as well as abuse between siblings, violence by children against their parents, and the causes and effects of verbal abuse. Taken together, their analysis provides a vivid picture of how violence is woven into the fabric of family life and why the hallmark of family life is both love and violence. This is a comprehensive, highly readable account of interest to both the professional and the lay-person on an important topic, which concerns the social well-being of us all.

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