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Movement Legacies, Reflections,
and Review
Intersectional Activism
In the early 1990s, legal scholar
Kimberlé Crenshaw offered the
conceptual frame of intersectionality to
address “the fact that many of our social
justice problems like racism and
sexism are often overlapping, creating
multiple levels of social injustice.” An
intersectional approach can help shed
light on otherwise invisible or
overlooked disparities among specific
social groups (e.g. Asian women and
Hispanic women, Black men and white
men, Black women and white men).
“When feminism does not
explicitly oppose racism, and
when antiracism does not
incorporate opposition to
patriarchy, race and gender
politics often end up being
antagonistic to each other and
both interests lose.”
-- Kimberlé Crenshaw, on the
importance of intersectionality in
understanding social inequality
Social Justice Issues Requiring an
Intersectional Lens:
• Policing and mass incarceration
• Economic injustice
• Parental leave and childcare policies
• Hiring practices and employment
discrimination
• Healthcare access
• Relationship violence and sexual assault
• Educational policies
• Immigration laws
…all of them!
“Angela Davis Criticizes Mainstream Feminism” (2017)
“The average white person finds it difficult to understand why the Negro resents
being called ‘boy,’ or being thought of as ‘musical’ and ‘athletic,’ because the
average white person doesn’t realize that he assumes he is superior. And naturally
he doesn’t understand the problem of paternalism. So too the average SNCC
worker finds it difficult to discuss the woman problem because of the
assumptions of male superiority. Assumptions of male superiority are as
widespread and deep rooted and every much as crippling to the woman as the
assumptions of white supremacy are to the Negro.”
SNCC Position Paper: “Women and the Movement”
(published anonymously, 1964)
Although racial justice was the primary frame of focus for many civil rights organizations early
on, by the mid-1960s and early 1970s, more progressive or radical activists and organizations
began emphasizing the interlocking nature of systems of oppression such as racism, sexism,
heterosexism, and classism. The framework of what would later be named “intersectionality”
noted, for example, that Black women would not be fully liberated by efforts to end racial
oppression if they were still subjected to sexist oppression.
Black lesbian feminist
Audre Lorde
Black feminism as a theory and world view offers a critique of and
a movement against the classism and racism of liberal feminism
(often characterized as “white middle-class feminism”) and its
focus on public life (e.g. adding gender protection into laws), as
well as the sexism of Black liberation movements and American
society more broadly.
Marsha P. Johnson, who identified as a
drag queen and gay rights activist, is cited
by historians as one of three individuals in
the “vanguard” of the Stonewall uprising,
which is often erroneously remembered in
popular retellings as a rebellion led by
white gay men.
Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
Uprising at the Stonewall Inn
in New York City launched the
Gay Liberation Movement
(28 Jun 1969)
“Remember, we have not established a revolutionary value
system; we are only in the process of establishing it. I do not
remember our ever constituting any value that said that a
revolutionary must say offensive things towards
homosexuals, or that a revolutionary should make sure that
women do not speak out about their own particular kind of
oppression. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite: we say
that we recognize the women’s right to be free. We have not
said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to
the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I
know through reading, and through my life experience and
observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and
liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most
oppressed people in the society…[W]e know that
homosexuality is a fact that exists, and we must understand
it in its purest form: that is, a person should have the
freedom to use his body in whatever way he wants.”
Huey Newton, “The Women’s
Liberation and Gay Liberation
Movements” (1970)
“…the major systems of oppression are
interlocking. The synthesis of these
oppressions creates the conditions of our
lives.”
“If black women were free, it would mean
that everyone else would have to be free
since our freedom would necessitate the
destruction of all the systems of
oppression.”
(1977)
In addition to its roots in resisting the “outside reactionary forces and
racism and elitism” of the second-wave feminist movement, “Black
feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for
Black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of
us were active in those movements (Civil Rights, Black nationalism,
the Black Panthers), and all of our lives were greatly affected and
changed by their ideologies, their goals, and the tactics used to
achieve their goals. It was our experience and disillusionment within
these liberation movements, as well as experience on the periphery of
the white male left, that led to the need to develop a politics that was
anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those
of Black and white men.”
--Combahee River Collective Statement
Bayard Rustin,
“From Montgomery to Stonewall” (1986)
Likening the start of the gay liberation movement with the Stonewall rebellion in
1969 to the launch of the modern civil rights movement with the Montgomery bus
boycott in 1955, Bayard Rustin asserted:
“Gay people must continue this protest. This will not be easy, in part because
homosexuality remains an identity that is subject to a ‘we/they’ distinction. People
who would not say, ‘I am like this, but black people are like that,’ or ‘we are like
this, but women are like that,’ or ‘we are like this, but Jews are like that,’ find it
extremely simple to say, ‘homosexuals are like that, but we are like this.’ That’s
what makes our struggle the central struggle of our time, the central struggle for
democracy and the central struggle for human rights. If gay people do not
understand that, they do not understand the opportunity before them, nor do they
understand the terrifying burdens they carry on their shoulders.”
--Rustin, “From Montgomery to Stonewall” (1986)
Central Course Frameworks
• The “long” civil rights movement.
• Geographic, political, and historical contexts for activism.
• Goals, tactics, and strategies.
• Action and reaction; resistance and repression.
• Continuities and breaks.
What story do we know about the civil rights movement?
“Traditionally, relationships between the races in the South were oppressive. In
1954, the Supreme Court decided this was wrong. Inspired by the Court, courageous
Americans, Black and white, took protest to the street, in the form of sit-ins, bus boycotts,
and Freedom Rides. The protest movement, led by the brilliant and eloquent Dr. Martin
Luther King, and aided by a sympathetic federal government, most notably the Kennedy
brothers and a born-again Lyndon Johnson, was able to make America understand racial
discrimination as a moral issue.
Once Americans understood that discrimination was wrong, they quickly moved to
remove racial prejudice and discrimination from American life, as evidenced by the Civil
Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. Dr. King was tragically slain in 1968. Fortunately, by that
time the country had been changed, changed for the better in some fundamental ways. The
movement was a remarkable victory for all Americans. By the 1970s, Southern states where
Blacks could not have voted 10 years earlier were sending African Americans to Congress.
Inexplicably, just as the civil rights victories were piling up, many Black Americans, under
the banner of Black Power, turned their backs on American society.”
--historian Charles Payne, describing the “master narrative” of the civil rights movement
Course Reflection
• What does the master narrative get wrong?
• Consider the organizations and activists discussed this semester. In
what ways was the Black freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s a
success?
• What dreams and goals of activists and organizers during that era have
yet to be realized?
• What are the pressing issues facing Black Americans and people of
color more broadly in the 21st century?
What the Master Narrative Gets Wrong
• Minimizes the importance of local struggles and local organizing done by ordinary
people, especially Black women, implying that “nonelites lack historical agency.”
• Emphasis on norms and morality obscures the importance of “disruption” and “economic
and political pressure” as key tactics propelling change.
• Focus on nationally known leaders ignores the complexity and diversity of Black
Americans and overlooks crucial divisions along lines of class, gender, age, region,
ideology, etc. that propelled a variety of approaches to achieving Black freedom.
• Framework of Montgomery to Memphis (1955-1968) ignores importance of early
dimensions of struggles for Black freedom and suggests that these efforts ended with
King’s death in 1968.
• Top-down perspective (ideas flowing from leaders to the masses) suggests that key
measures of change or progress are changes in laws and policies. Ignores the movement
as a transformative experience for individuals and American culture.
• Emphasis on “large-scale, dramatic events” glosses over the importance of the daily work
of organizing to sustain a movement over the long haul.
Demands for Black Freedom
in the 21st Century
What specific goals or demands
should anchor Movements for
Black Lives today? What tactics
and strategies should activists
prioritize?
Ongoing Efforts to Keep American Citizens from Voting
(aka “voter suppression”)
• Voter identification laws that disproportionately impact poor communities and
voters who do not have a driver’s license.
• Felon disenfranchisement laws (some states prohibit anyone who has ever been
convicted of certain types of felonies from ever voting again, e.g. MS, AL, AZ).
• State requirements that all court fines and fees be paid in order to vote (e.g. FL).
• Closure of polling places (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods), requiring
voters to travel farther to cast ballot.
• Limiting voting hours and early voting (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods)
making it more difficult for working people to cast ballots.
Ongoing Efforts to Keep American Citizens from Voting (cont’d)
(aka “voter suppression”)
• Limiting voting hours and early voting (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods)
making it more difficult for working people to cast ballots.
• Voter roll purges that remove registered voters and require them to reregister.
• Efforts to undermine the security or accessibility of voting by mail (e.g. a new TX
voter ID law led to nearly 40 percent of mail-in ballots being rejected during 2022
primary elections bc the ID used to vote did not match the ID used to register).
• Encouraging self-appointed “poll watchers” to monitor/intimidate voters at the
polls.
• Rhetoric casting doubts on the legitimacy of the electoral process.
**Voter suppression efforts can take multiple forms, both legal and illegal.
(2023)
Source: The Sentencing Project
(The Guardian, 17 Mar 2023)
(New York Times, 10 Apr 2023)
(People’s Dispatch)
(Washington Post)
(NPR)
(Vox)
(Pew Research Center)
(NPR) (CNN)
Register to vote if you are
eligible, and then actually vote!
If you are eligible to vote but do not live in
Massachusetts, visit www.vote.gov.

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  • 3. In the early 1990s, legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw offered the conceptual frame of intersectionality to address “the fact that many of our social justice problems like racism and sexism are often overlapping, creating multiple levels of social injustice.” An intersectional approach can help shed light on otherwise invisible or overlooked disparities among specific social groups (e.g. Asian women and Hispanic women, Black men and white men, Black women and white men).
  • 4. “When feminism does not explicitly oppose racism, and when antiracism does not incorporate opposition to patriarchy, race and gender politics often end up being antagonistic to each other and both interests lose.” -- Kimberlé Crenshaw, on the importance of intersectionality in understanding social inequality
  • 5. Social Justice Issues Requiring an Intersectional Lens: • Policing and mass incarceration • Economic injustice • Parental leave and childcare policies • Hiring practices and employment discrimination • Healthcare access • Relationship violence and sexual assault • Educational policies • Immigration laws …all of them!
  • 6. “Angela Davis Criticizes Mainstream Feminism” (2017)
  • 7. “The average white person finds it difficult to understand why the Negro resents being called ‘boy,’ or being thought of as ‘musical’ and ‘athletic,’ because the average white person doesn’t realize that he assumes he is superior. And naturally he doesn’t understand the problem of paternalism. So too the average SNCC worker finds it difficult to discuss the woman problem because of the assumptions of male superiority. Assumptions of male superiority are as widespread and deep rooted and every much as crippling to the woman as the assumptions of white supremacy are to the Negro.” SNCC Position Paper: “Women and the Movement” (published anonymously, 1964) Although racial justice was the primary frame of focus for many civil rights organizations early on, by the mid-1960s and early 1970s, more progressive or radical activists and organizations began emphasizing the interlocking nature of systems of oppression such as racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism. The framework of what would later be named “intersectionality” noted, for example, that Black women would not be fully liberated by efforts to end racial oppression if they were still subjected to sexist oppression.
  • 8. Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde Black feminism as a theory and world view offers a critique of and a movement against the classism and racism of liberal feminism (often characterized as “white middle-class feminism”) and its focus on public life (e.g. adding gender protection into laws), as well as the sexism of Black liberation movements and American society more broadly.
  • 9. Marsha P. Johnson, who identified as a drag queen and gay rights activist, is cited by historians as one of three individuals in the “vanguard” of the Stonewall uprising, which is often erroneously remembered in popular retellings as a rebellion led by white gay men. Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992)
  • 10. Uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York City launched the Gay Liberation Movement (28 Jun 1969)
  • 11. “Remember, we have not established a revolutionary value system; we are only in the process of establishing it. I do not remember our ever constituting any value that said that a revolutionary must say offensive things towards homosexuals, or that a revolutionary should make sure that women do not speak out about their own particular kind of oppression. As a matter of fact, it is just the opposite: we say that we recognize the women’s right to be free. We have not said much about the homosexual at all, but we must relate to the homosexual movement because it is a real thing. And I know through reading, and through my life experience and observations that homosexuals are not given freedom and liberty by anyone in the society. They might be the most oppressed people in the society…[W]e know that homosexuality is a fact that exists, and we must understand it in its purest form: that is, a person should have the freedom to use his body in whatever way he wants.” Huey Newton, “The Women’s Liberation and Gay Liberation Movements” (1970)
  • 12. “…the major systems of oppression are interlocking. The synthesis of these oppressions creates the conditions of our lives.” “If black women were free, it would mean that everyone else would have to be free since our freedom would necessitate the destruction of all the systems of oppression.” (1977)
  • 13. In addition to its roots in resisting the “outside reactionary forces and racism and elitism” of the second-wave feminist movement, “Black feminist politics also have an obvious connection to movements for Black liberation, particularly those of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of us were active in those movements (Civil Rights, Black nationalism, the Black Panthers), and all of our lives were greatly affected and changed by their ideologies, their goals, and the tactics used to achieve their goals. It was our experience and disillusionment within these liberation movements, as well as experience on the periphery of the white male left, that led to the need to develop a politics that was anti-racist, unlike those of white women, and anti-sexist, unlike those of Black and white men.” --Combahee River Collective Statement
  • 14. Bayard Rustin, “From Montgomery to Stonewall” (1986)
  • 15. Likening the start of the gay liberation movement with the Stonewall rebellion in 1969 to the launch of the modern civil rights movement with the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955, Bayard Rustin asserted: “Gay people must continue this protest. This will not be easy, in part because homosexuality remains an identity that is subject to a ‘we/they’ distinction. People who would not say, ‘I am like this, but black people are like that,’ or ‘we are like this, but women are like that,’ or ‘we are like this, but Jews are like that,’ find it extremely simple to say, ‘homosexuals are like that, but we are like this.’ That’s what makes our struggle the central struggle of our time, the central struggle for democracy and the central struggle for human rights. If gay people do not understand that, they do not understand the opportunity before them, nor do they understand the terrifying burdens they carry on their shoulders.” --Rustin, “From Montgomery to Stonewall” (1986)
  • 16. Central Course Frameworks • The “long” civil rights movement. • Geographic, political, and historical contexts for activism. • Goals, tactics, and strategies. • Action and reaction; resistance and repression. • Continuities and breaks.
  • 17. What story do we know about the civil rights movement? “Traditionally, relationships between the races in the South were oppressive. In 1954, the Supreme Court decided this was wrong. Inspired by the Court, courageous Americans, Black and white, took protest to the street, in the form of sit-ins, bus boycotts, and Freedom Rides. The protest movement, led by the brilliant and eloquent Dr. Martin Luther King, and aided by a sympathetic federal government, most notably the Kennedy brothers and a born-again Lyndon Johnson, was able to make America understand racial discrimination as a moral issue. Once Americans understood that discrimination was wrong, they quickly moved to remove racial prejudice and discrimination from American life, as evidenced by the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1965. Dr. King was tragically slain in 1968. Fortunately, by that time the country had been changed, changed for the better in some fundamental ways. The movement was a remarkable victory for all Americans. By the 1970s, Southern states where Blacks could not have voted 10 years earlier were sending African Americans to Congress. Inexplicably, just as the civil rights victories were piling up, many Black Americans, under the banner of Black Power, turned their backs on American society.” --historian Charles Payne, describing the “master narrative” of the civil rights movement
  • 18. Course Reflection • What does the master narrative get wrong? • Consider the organizations and activists discussed this semester. In what ways was the Black freedom struggle of the 1950s and 1960s a success? • What dreams and goals of activists and organizers during that era have yet to be realized? • What are the pressing issues facing Black Americans and people of color more broadly in the 21st century?
  • 19. What the Master Narrative Gets Wrong • Minimizes the importance of local struggles and local organizing done by ordinary people, especially Black women, implying that “nonelites lack historical agency.” • Emphasis on norms and morality obscures the importance of “disruption” and “economic and political pressure” as key tactics propelling change. • Focus on nationally known leaders ignores the complexity and diversity of Black Americans and overlooks crucial divisions along lines of class, gender, age, region, ideology, etc. that propelled a variety of approaches to achieving Black freedom. • Framework of Montgomery to Memphis (1955-1968) ignores importance of early dimensions of struggles for Black freedom and suggests that these efforts ended with King’s death in 1968. • Top-down perspective (ideas flowing from leaders to the masses) suggests that key measures of change or progress are changes in laws and policies. Ignores the movement as a transformative experience for individuals and American culture. • Emphasis on “large-scale, dramatic events” glosses over the importance of the daily work of organizing to sustain a movement over the long haul.
  • 20. Demands for Black Freedom in the 21st Century What specific goals or demands should anchor Movements for Black Lives today? What tactics and strategies should activists prioritize?
  • 21. Ongoing Efforts to Keep American Citizens from Voting (aka “voter suppression”) • Voter identification laws that disproportionately impact poor communities and voters who do not have a driver’s license. • Felon disenfranchisement laws (some states prohibit anyone who has ever been convicted of certain types of felonies from ever voting again, e.g. MS, AL, AZ). • State requirements that all court fines and fees be paid in order to vote (e.g. FL). • Closure of polling places (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods), requiring voters to travel farther to cast ballot. • Limiting voting hours and early voting (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods) making it more difficult for working people to cast ballots.
  • 22. Ongoing Efforts to Keep American Citizens from Voting (cont’d) (aka “voter suppression”) • Limiting voting hours and early voting (esp. in poor or minority neighborhoods) making it more difficult for working people to cast ballots. • Voter roll purges that remove registered voters and require them to reregister. • Efforts to undermine the security or accessibility of voting by mail (e.g. a new TX voter ID law led to nearly 40 percent of mail-in ballots being rejected during 2022 primary elections bc the ID used to vote did not match the ID used to register). • Encouraging self-appointed “poll watchers” to monitor/intimidate voters at the polls. • Rhetoric casting doubts on the legitimacy of the electoral process. **Voter suppression efforts can take multiple forms, both legal and illegal.
  • 23.
  • 26.
  • 27. (The Guardian, 17 Mar 2023) (New York Times, 10 Apr 2023) (People’s Dispatch)
  • 29. Register to vote if you are eligible, and then actually vote! If you are eligible to vote but do not live in Massachusetts, visit www.vote.gov.

Editor's Notes

  1. https://www.sentencingproject.org/reports/locked-out-2022-estimates-of-people-denied-voting-rights/