Intersectional perspectives emerged from feminist scholarship which acknowledged there were significant differences among women and men rather than simply between them. The term ‘intersectionality’ was initially created by Kimberlè Crenshaw and instigated to feminism in the 1980’s. Intersectionality theory bloomed because of the combined efforts and inputs of feminists of color, specifically black women, and stated that race, class, and gender are interconnected as ‘intersecting oppressions’ (Crenshaw, 1989). Crenshaw intended intersectionality to be used explicitly as a apparatus for examining, specifically legal scholarship, the oppression of black women, and consequently the particular junction amidst gender and race. Crenshaw used three crucial Title VII cases to emphasize how antidiscrimination doctrine obliterates Black women’s particular experiences. The infamous Supreme Court case against General Motors, brought by black women, revealed how employment discrimination from different forms of oppression work together to produce injustice. The two other cases were Moore v Hughes Helicopter, Inc and Payne v Travenol that also showed the discrimination of black women in the workforce. In identity politics “blackness” or “women” do not exist as distinct essences or categories.
Crenshaw asserted that black women are erased by a structure that fixated on either white women as women or black men as blacks. Crenshaw proclaimed that not only are black women excluded but that the experience of racism and sexism for black women cannot be wholly detached or combined together. Only by focusing the experience of black women in the analysis can racism and sexism be better fathomed and learned. The most significant Title VII case that Crenshaw used to show how antidiscrimination doctrine erases Black women’s distinct experiences was DeGraffenreid v General Motors. This suit, brought against General Motors, and evidence provided revealed that General Motors didn’t hire Black women preceding to 1964. The discrimination remained stagnant as years passed; during a recession, all Black women employed after 1970 lost their jobs in a seniority-based layoff. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s effort to bring a suit on behalf of Black women because the lawsuit could only be analyzed from either race or sex discrimination. Being ‘black’ and being a ‘woman’ are separate categories that cannot be combined. General Motors had hired women so the gender discrimination was ousted and the case was thrown in with another racial discrimination case. Black women are protected solely to the degree that their experiences coexist with those of either of the two groups. Crenshaw theory postulates that there is a inclination to manage race and gender as jointly exclusive groupings, which is sustained by single-axis frameworks. Investigating court cases where black women were not allowed to seek claims on behalf of all women, or on behalf of all blacks, but were selectively allowed to make claims as black women shows the neglection of black womens’ particular experiences.
Antidiscrimination doctrine eradicates Black women’s distinct experiences. Crenshaw used two other court cases to show how ‘black’ and ‘women’ are not of the same essence in identity politics. In Moore v Hughes Helicopter, Inc, the court declined to validate Black women as class representatives in race and sex discrimination actions because Moore, a black woman, couldn’t bring a case on behalf of all woman working at Hughes Helicopter. Moore v Helicopter is a sex discrimination case because Moore was discriminated against as a black woman, and therefore could not represent the interests of white women. The justice system reinforced in this ruling that female is equated to being a white female only. In Payne v Travenol, two black women plaintiffs claiming race discrimination brought a class action suit on behalf of all black workers at a pharmaceutical plant. The Court’s response to this suit was that the plaintiffs could only sue on behalf of black women. General race discrimination was apparent and black women were awarded compensation. This ruling was perceived as a triumph for black women, but would be considered to Crenshaw a loss because the court had failed to deal with intersectionality. As the two black women plaintiffs said discrimination solely based on race but there was no men in their lawsuit, so the black men were not extended the same compensation because the court proclaimed that black women could not represent black men adequately. The personal is political, no one will ever care about black women’s issues as much as black women themselves. Intersectionality exhibits how different forms of oppression work together to create injustice that can’t be minimized to one single type. The way that multiple social identities intersect at the micro level of individual experiences creates interlocking systems of privilege and oppression at the macro social-structural level.
Crenshaw developed the intersectionality framework to illustrate the exclusion of Black women from anti-racist discourse and White feminist discourse. Identity politics equates black with men and women with white. Essentially, anti-discrimination doctrine creates a predicament for black women by forcing black women to choose to disregard intersectionality or to vocalize the intersectional facets of their subordination. The former jeopardizes black women’s ability to represent black men and the later forces black women to state a claim that does not lead to the ruling out of black men. Intersectional identity falls like sand through the fingers of our justice system. Our justice system claims that there isn’t discrimination of female as a whole or of African Americans as a whole. In Payne v. Travenol the plaintiff’s proposal to represent all black employees was similar in Moore’s attempt to represent all women employees and both failed as a result of the court’s deficient view of class interest. Moore v Helicopter denies that intersectionality exist and affirms the potence of the white female experience within feminism. In DeGraffenreid v General Motors, shows how black women are only recognized to the extent to which their experiences align with white women or black men. To identity politics dismay, black women’s experiences are different from white women. Intersectionality is necessary because it explains how social identities do not stand on their own – we can’t think about identity in terms of binaries – and these interactions of positionings can lead to differing discrimination and oppression depending on identities. Divergent forms of oppression work together to produce injustice; thus, oppression can’t be reduced to one distinct type.