Kimberlé Crenshaw is a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia Law School. She has developed Black feminist legal theory and was named one of the top critical thinkers in the world by Prospect magazine in 2019. Based in Los Angeles, Crenshaw is the co-founder and executive director of The African American Policy Forum (AAPF), and creator of the 2014 #SayHerName social media campaign. The online effort is to raise awareness of Black women who are victims of police brutality and anti-Black violence. She hosts a podcast called Intersectionality Matters! and moderates Under The Blacklight, an AAPF webinar series to expound upon both the coronavirus pandemic and anti-Black racism.
This is the seventh part of a series where civil rights leaders, cultural influencers, advocates and critical thinkers explain race relations, societal change, community protest and the political awakening happening in the United States following the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and other Black Americans. The group, including NAACP President Derrick Johnson and #OscarsSoWhite Creator April Reign, pose their thoughts on race relations during the summer of 2020 and how America may move forward less divided. Join the conversation on social media using #PassTheMic.
Kimberlé Crenshaw, Co-Founder, The African American Policy Forum
Q: How would you describe the civic unrest occurring in America right now?
A: This summer we have all borne witness to the utter expendability of Black life. The disproportionate economic and biological toll that COVID has extracted from Black communities has made the nation confront the realities of structural racism in America. The targeted lethality of police violence literally suffocating Black life has made silence untenable. And in this moment of peril and possibility, in this red summer of 2020, Black communities have risen up to shatter the silence that has hidden the disposability of Black life that is both horrific and completely banal in the United States.
Q: Is this a fleeting moment or have we reached an inflection point where lasting change is possible?
A: On the next episode of my series “Under The Blacklight” we’re going to ask this very question. I think it is perhaps the question of the moment. What’s been laid bare in recent months is that Black communities ravaged by the threat of a pandemic, by the economic abandonment from a federal government that will not prioritize their survival, and by the relentless policing and brutalizing of their kin seeking to shatter the status quo. And yet, we’re back to square one when it comes to integrating color-consciousness into our collective discourse. Is the discourse just behind reality? Or have our politics moved on?
Q: Is there another moment in history that relates to the moment we are living through now?
A: This summer has been a long time coming. It has roots in the war on drugs, racial profiling, paramilitary policing in Black neighborhoods, permissive use of lethal force by law enforcement, implicit and explicit bias in policing, in police-sourced solutions to mental health and chemical dependence and other social problems that all combine to produce the disposability of Black life. In that way, it has a lot in common with the Long Hot Summer of 1967, the first time we heard the phrase “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Then, like now, deeply entrenched racial inequality resulted in an outpouring of emotion and activism all over the country.
Q: What specifically needs to happen for Black lives to matter in the United States?
A: We know that where a problem isn’t fully seen, it cannot be fully solved. So first, we need to understand how deeply anti-Blackness is embedded in our systems of governance, especially in our criminal justice system. Most immediately, the African American Policy Forum and the Center for Intersectionality and Social Policy Studies support the Justice in Policing Act as an important first step in overhauling policing in the United States. We are also asking that any actions taken now reflect a fully intersectional lens. Based on the lived realities of Black women who have been assaulted and killed at the hands of law enforcement, we demand investment in community-based practices of public safety; an end to qualified immunity; mechanisms to address the sexual violence perpetrated by law enforcement officers; and a federal registry of police misconduct.
But all of this is a first step in rethinking the relationship between our systems of governance and Black lives.
Q: What does social justice mean to you personally and why should others care?
A: Social justice means building a world where everyone can breathe. Building an intersectional movement means building a movement where no one falls through the cracks, where everyone is seen and counted and taken care of. Social justice means reckoning with our national inheritance: 400 years of anti-blackness and misogyny and heteropatriarchy. We are all implicated in these structures, as victims, as perpetrators, and more often than not, as both. But we don’t have to be complicit, we can all find a way to begin dismantling these structures at every scale.
Q: What solutions will heal racial divisions and disparities?
A: Based on the lived experience of Black women harassed, assaulted, and killed by law enforcement, and listening to the voices of their families and loved ones, we know that “racial divisions” cannot be addressed until we transform American policing. Black people are overexposed to police, and that overexposure results in a heightened risk of trauma and death at the hands of police. Our goal must be to reduce the exposure of all Black people to police as a first step in creating a society that affirms that yes, Black lives matter to our nation.
Q: How do you feel about the future?
A: I am thinking of a tweet that Mariame Kaba, an important thinker in these times and a prison abolitionist, sometimes posts at the end of a long day. “May Tomorrow Bring Us More Justice and Some Peace.”