Merging Dialogues

Kimberlé Crenshaw speaks at 34th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation

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Over 1,000 Santa Cruz residents wrapped around the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium to hear Kimberlé Crenshaw, the keynote speaker, at the 34th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation on Feb. 8.

Crenshaw, a UCLA law professor, specializes in race and gender issues and is an American civil rights and social justice advocate. She is known for coining and conducting revolutionary research on the term “intersectionality.”

Intersectionality refers to the interconnected nature of overlapping social categories such as gender, race and sexuality, that create a system of oppression. 

Crenshaw took a unique approach with her speech, alternating between speaking as if she were Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Barbara Arnwine, a modern defender of rights of people of color, women, the LGBTQIA+ community and immigrants. She acted out a theoretical discussion on intersectionality between the two prominent figures in the social justice movement.   

“The way she presented intersectionality through her speech, was kind of like having a conversation with Dr. King about how important it is to have intersectionality,” said UC Santa Cruz fourth-year and attendee Biah Almajid.

Crenshaw emphasized the importance of intersectionality in today’s social climate through a metaphor about cattle.

She showed a picture of cows grazing through a field in an open meadow. Arnwine told Dr. King that the cows were ill and asked who was responsible for the cows sickness. He responded that farmers were responsible, however, the frame of the picture widened and showed the farm was visibly polluted.

“Intersectionality is a frame, it helps us see what often falls between the cracks. When we broaden the frame, we change the analysis,” Crenshaw said to the crowd as if she were Arnwine. “If we consider the sick cows to be, say the social disease of inequality, then broadening the frame allows us to see more clearly how many societal issues are the product of taxes, exclusions built in the aftermath of segregation, of manifest destiny, of genocide.”

Crenshaw also discussed #SayHerName, a campaign developed to bring awareness and support to families of women who have been victimized by racist police violence. While movements such as #BlackLivesMatter emphasize the protection of Black male-bodied individuals, #SayHerName represents the lost lives of Black woman through police violence.

This message resonated with Almajid because she has also noticed the lack of gender representation within the #BlackLivesMatter movement.

“When we talk about #BlackLivesMatter it is mostly focused on cisgender male bodies and not necessarily other identities,” Almajid said. “Being Black also comes with being a part of the LGBTQIA+ community, being Muslim or Hindu. The issues that Black people face has to include all the identities that we identify with.”

Like their male counterparts, Black women’s wrongful murders are justified through depicting them as a threat to officers, Crenshaw said in her speech. Unlike Black males, she said, women’s deaths are not recognized and their names are unknown. Their exclusion in mainstream media is the embodiment of racist patriarchy.

She continued by stating that the burden of carrying social justice movements forward and creating meaning through and for them is placed on women’s ­— namely Black women’s — shoulders. Once they have carried the movement, they are then thanked and relieved from their “duties.”

“Forget all this ‘Thank you Black women.’ We don’t want a thank you. We are tired of being the wheels on this bus!” Crenshaw said as the audience applauded loudly. “They can’t do this without us, not just Black women, but all of us who the other side wants to take the country back from.”

The applause grew louder, towering over Crenshaw’s words, and the echoes filled the auditorium as each member rose to their feet.    

Crenshaw concluded her speech by  saying that victory will be achieved when social justice initiatives such as #SayHerName, #BlackLivesMatter, #BlackTransLivesMatter and #MeToo are no longer necessary because lives and identities are valued. Victory, Crenshaw said, will be achieved when this generation forms a resistance and takes back our future.