Thought Leader Series: The 19th Amendment and why intersectionality can’t wait

This week we celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, but while this granted white women the right to vote, Black women were not granted full voting rights until 1965 and many Latinx, Asian American, and Native American women couldn’t vote until 1975.

As we celebrate this anniversary, we use this week’s Thought Leader Series to share the words of Kimberlé Crenshaw, executive director of the African American Policy Forum and a professor of law at Columbia University and the University of California, Los Angeles, who coined the term “intersectionality” to address the ways in which different forms of oppression reinforce one another.

In 1976, Emma DeGraffenreid and several other Black women sued General Motors on the basis of racial and gender discrimination, but the courts ruled in the favor of the company citing that Black women should not be permitted to combine their race and gender claims into one. Looking at this case study and the contemporary experiences of marginalized groups including African Americans, LGBTQ+ individuals, women, immigrants, and more, Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” to describe the ways in which discrimination can overlap and different avenues of oppression can reinforce one another.

Crenshaw writes, “Intersectionality…was my attempt to make feminism, anti-racist activism, and anti-discrimination law do what I thought they should — highlight the multiple avenues through which racial and gender oppression were experienced so that the problems would be easier to discuss and understand.”

Although not formally used until the late 1980s by Crenshaw, intersectionality perfectly applies to the suffrage movement. Black women in America faced not only the burden of overcoming their second-class status as women but also struggled to gain full citizenship given the rampant discrimination against Black Americans. The intersectionality of these challenges made life especially difficult for Black Americans.

30 years on from its formal definition, intersectionality remains as salient as ever. Fortunately, the recognition of intersectional struggles allows us to build social justice movements that recognize the disproportionate oppression experienced by these groups. Crenshaw writes, “We simply do not have the luxury of building social movements that are not intersectional.”

When it comes to voting rights and the 19th amendment, contemporary solutions include advocating for voter registration, improving access to polling places and mail-in ballots for underserved areas, and rejecting gerrymandering efforts that neglect the voices of these constituents. It also means empowering Black candidates for political positions and expanding voter registration programs to traditionally neglected communities. These solutions are critical so that when we celebrate the 19th Amendment, we are doing so in an America that has truly empowered all citizens to vote.

Follow the link below to read Crenshaw’s full op-ed.

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