The Politics of Law: A Progressive Critique

By David Kairys | Go to book overview

KIMBERLÉ CRENSHAW


16
A BLACK FEMINIST CRITIQUE OF ANTIDISCRIMINATION LAW AND POLITICS

THE title of one of the very few Black women's studies books, All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men, But Some of Us Are Brave, sets forth a problematic consequence of the tendency to treat race and gender as mutually exclusive categories of experience and analysis.1 This tendency is perpetuated by a single-axis framework dominant in antidiscrimination law and reflected in feminist theory and antiracist politics that distorts the multidimensionality of Black women's experiences and undermines efforts to broaden feminist and antiracist analyses.


THE ANTIDISCRIMINATION FRAMEWORK

One way to approach the problem at the intersection of race and sex is to examine how courts frame and interpret the stories of Black women plaintiffs. Indeed, the way courts interpret claims made by Black women is itself part of Black women's experience; consequently, a cursory review of cases involving black female plaintiffs is quite revealing. To illustrate the difficulties inherent in judicial treatment of intersectionality, I will consider three employment discrimination cases: DeGraffenreid v. General Motors, Moore v. Hughes Helicopter, and Payne v. Travenol.2

In DeGraffenreid, five Black women brought suit against General Motors, alleging that the employer's seniority system perpetuated the effects of past discrimination against Black women. Although General Motors did not hire Black women prior to 1964, the court noted that "GeneralMotors has hired . . . female employees for a number of years prior to the enactment of the Civil Rights Act of 1964." Because General

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