answered: look the book and the sample. follow the request  RRS 480: Youth Culture, Race and Resistance

look the book and the sample. follow the request 

RRS 480: Youth Culture, Race and Resistance Spring 2022
Current Event Assignment

This assignment is due Sunday, March 16 by 11:59pm.
Prompt: Choose a current event (within the last 5 years) to write a short essay about in relation to
our class. In your essay, explain:
What the event is. Questions to consider: How did you find out about the event (which article/blog/
social media account, etc. are you pulling your info from)? Who is/was involved in the event? What
happened? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Why did it happen?
How this event relates to our class. Questions to consider: Which reading(s) are you using to
discuss the event? What is this reading about? How does it relate to the event — are there certain
concepts or examples from this reading that you can connect to the event or that can help us better
understand the event?
Your reaction to the event itself. Questions to consider: How do you feel about the event you
chose? Why did you choose this specific event? How does the event affect you, if at all? How does
the event impact the larger community/society/world?

Logistical Requirements:
Times New Roman, 12pt font
Page length: 2-3 pages
Citations: MLA, APA, or Chicago
Include in-text citations when necessary
Include a works cited page
Must use at least ONE reading from our syllabus

Current Event Rubric:
Clear explanation of how event relates to class (including the use of at least 1 class reading)
/4 points
Clear explanation of event
/3 points
Clear discussion of student’s reaction to the event
/3 points
Format: Times New Roman 12pt font, double-spaced, minimum 2 pages
/2 points
Citations: in-text citations and works cited page (MLA, APA, or Chicago)
/2 points
Current event occurred within last 5 years
/1 point
/15 points

Allison Adad

Ethnic Studies Curriculum in California

San Francisco State’s fight for the college of Ethnic Studies was the first major triumph

for, not only, ethnic studies, but specifically for students of color in academia. This sparked

movements all over the U.S. that forced colleges to listen to the demands students had for their

school to teach their truth. A similar time has come, but this time, for high school students in

California. The California Department of Education Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum Advisory

Committee (CDE) has been drafting an Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum (ESMC) so high

schoolers would be given the chance to learn the narratives of marginalized groups in this

country through ethnic studies, this draft has finally come to the final round of approval before it

is finalized by California’s Board of Education (Morrar). This all sounds like such promising

endeavors for BIPOC marginalized communities that are often not represented in the world of

academia but ever since Assembly Bill No. 2016 was passed, which ignited the creation of this

curriculum, there has been controversy regarding erasure of certain ethnic groups, such as Arab

Americans, Palestinian Americans, Jewish Americans, and Pacific Islanders from the curriculum

(Morrar). There has been several revisions due to the abundant critiques from educators,

students, and members of the community but on February 2nd, 2021 the advisory committee

writers for the ESMC requested there names be removed from the finalized curriculum (“CA

Ethnic Studies Writers Remove Their Names from State Curriculum, Insist It’s an Insult to

Ethnic Studies.”). This endeavor, of now 5 years, has seemed to be a beacon of hope for

education being more inclusive and truthful, but this event has also demonstrated that this

curriculum is not what dedicated ethnic studies activists hoped for, and that there is still great

work to be done to ensure no erasure is committed .

This fight is so crucial because it is a fight for representation. Representation of culture,

struggle, and resistance. According to Lara Kiswani, a former professor of mine who actually

introduced me to this bill, in a webinar hosted by Arab Resource and Organizing Center

(AROC): the right-wing backlash in the midst of the creation of the ESMC began in 2019 which

targeted the removal of Arab American studies and the erasure of the Palestine; eventually the

CDE “agreed to reinsert Arab and Asian American studies”, but they have gutted the entire

curriculum” and it became a “white-washed lesson plan”. During the Webinar Jason Ferreira also

pointed out the parallels between the fight for ethnic studies now, and in 1968 during the Third

World Liberation Front Strikes. He mentioned that we, the marginalized groups, have “the right

to define what constitutes ethnic studies,” and calls out those opposing the original version of the

ESMC and groups them to the same oppressors the TWLF faced (“The Fight for Ethnic Studies

in CA with Special Guest: Angela Davis.”). This collection of ethnic studies experts on the

webinar all emphasized that ethnic studies isn’t just a department, it’s who we are because of it’s

interconnectedness with out ancestors, our places of origin, our native language, and native land.

The CDE continues to fail to prioritize the positive impact learning such valuable history could

have on BIPOC children in high school, simply because ethnic studies does not fall under

americas white, colonial, cis-heteronormative, capitalist agenda. The people on the California

Board of Education have most likely never taken an ethnic studies course yet have the power to

create a curriculum they think is best for children state-wide. The reason “educators and activist

groups that the authors of the curriculum’s original draft have demanded that their names be

removed,” is because the bill no longer reflects the committees vision for an authentic

curriculum of ethnic studies pedagogy. During the webinar in February 2nd 2021, Allyson

Tintiangco-Cubales is the one who announced the request that would be sent to the CDE to

remove their names “from the association from the final document” (Gardiner). This is

something that must have deeply troubled the original writers of the ESMC because their

intention in doing so was a genuine hope to empower BIPOC youth, but in the end they were not

able to fully resonate with their accomplishment. On March 19th, California officially approved

the curriculum. This feels like a step forward but after investigating and understanding that this

curriculum does not truly serve every oppressed group, it’s hard to feel content. The process of

this whole bill from start to finish, demonstrates the sacrifices marginalized groups make to resist

systems of oppression, and how it’s unfortunately it can still not be enough.

This event is relevant to youth culture, race, and resistance, because at the heart of this

battle to spread ethnic studies curriculum is the children that educators want to reach. All these

movements taught at SFSU’s Race & Resistance Curriculum involve historical movements, all

with young people at the forefront. When young students are given representation in their history

books, it makes it easier for them to be courageous to be themselves unapologetically. In

“A snapchat story: how black girls develop strategies for critical resistance in school” by Lauren

Kelly, we see this engagement from young girls in matters like racial equity stem from the use of

social media. Social Media is a tool that makes it easy to learn and when intricate topics related

to social justice are made easier to understand, it’s likely that people will be more inclined to

learning. We see this with a young girl named Layla, who sates she’s already “learned so much

about disabled people’s rights and erasure of Native such a short time” from

Twitter; this same student acknowledged that social media taught her about racial inequity, which

“she found lacking in her formal schooling” (Kelly 381). Having ethnic studies as readily

available resource in schools will help develop the ability to critically question ones

surroundings and allow one to feel more compelled to be involved, which is the beginning of

activism. Similarly, before the creation of the ethnic studies at SFSU, students from the Black

Students Union demanded a Black studies department, because they knew they had a right to

learn about their ancestors and they also knew that the truth could no longer be buried under a

white supremacist cloak (Bates). This fight for ethnic studies is still being fought.

I chose this article because ethnic studies is a framework that has changed my perspective

of my surroundings for the better. This article was a great learning tool for me to understand that

there are multiple dimensions to an exiting issue, and so many different ways to critically

evaluate what the truth is and who is being primarly affected. On the surface, the ESMC seems

like a curriculum that all activists were waiting for, but major news outlets only celebrated the

newly approved curriculum and fail to mention the letter that the advisory committee sent to the

CDE, or the disapproval of the finalized curriculum from many ethnic studies educators and

students (“California Adopts First Statewide Ethnic Studies High School Curriculum.”). This

occurrence has shown me how prevalent erasure is and if we aren’t constantly being active about

preventing it, then erasure will triumph. I see ethnic studies as a form of story telling, because

one day if technology ceases to exist we will only be able to pass down what we know through

our words, and art, so this is why we must keep it alive.

Work Cited

Bates, Karen Grigsby, and Shereen Marisol Meraji. “The Student Strike That Changed Higher Ed

Forever.” NPR, NPR, 21 Mar. 2019.

“CA Ethnic Studies Writers Remove Their Names from State Curriculum, Insist It’s an Insult to

Ethnic Studies.” Save Arab American Studies, Arab Resources and Organizing

Committee, 3 Feb. 2021.

“California Adopts First Statewide Ethnic Studies High School Curriculum.” NBC News, NBC

Universal News Group, 19 Mar. 2021.

Gardiner, Dustin. “California’s Ethnic Studies Curriculum Sparks Sharp Divide as Vote Nears.”

San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, 18 Mar. 2021.

Kelly, Lauren Leigh. (2018) A snapchat story: how black girls develop strategies for critical

resistance in school, Learning, Media and Technology, 43:4, 374-389, DOI:


Morrar, Sawson. “Controversial Ethnic Studies Draft Approved by California Commission,

Moves to Final Round .” The Sacramento Bee, The Sacramento Bee, 20 Nov. 2020.

Morrar, Sawson. “Will the Ethnic Studies Plan Include Pacific Islanders and Arab Americans?

Eventually .” The Sacramento Bee, The Sacramento Bee, 14 Aug. 2020.

“The Fight for Ethnic Studies in CA with Special Guest: Angela Davis.” Arab Resource Was &

Organizing Center, Arab Resource Was & Organizing Center, 2 Feb. 2021.

For years students have experienced police harassment in schools. This issue has raised

controversy on whether police officers should be assigned to schools. Many argued that by

integrating police into schools it can help prevent criminal acts; however, the reality is that many

students of color have been arrested and maltreated for the slightest cause, which can be one of

the contributors of the schools to prison pipeline. The event found discusses how the community

and youth in Oakland fought to remove Oakland schools police department in order for children

not to be discriminated against by police and feel safe while trying to have an education.

Taking a class about the juvenile justice system and the history of the many attempts to

reform it, I was drawn more into looking for information on what changes can be made in order

to help youth not to fall into the juvenile justice system. While doing this I came across an

article, School board votes to defund, disband Oakland school police, by Ashley McBride. The

site where the article was found is a nonprofit site, made up of a team of local journalists

working for their community in Oakland, California. This site is to inform the community and

have the opportunity to give true information on what goes around Oakland, it also reports about

the undeserved local communities, shares information resources and investigates the systems.

(The Oaklandside, 2021).

The Black Organizing Project (BOP), the Oakland Unified School District families along

with families and youth came together in order to have the Oaklands police department removed

from schools. The BOP is an organization group who works for social, racial and economic

justice for their community. After a long and peaceful fight, they accomplished to have “Oakland

Unified School District leaders vote unanimously June 24th to eliminate their school police

department by Jan. 1, 2021, and initiate a community input process to create a new school safety

plan.” (McBride, 2020), and this was due to the “George Floyd Resolution to Eliminate the

Oakland School Police department” (Black Organizing Project, 2020). Having defunded the

Oakland police department due to the constant use of police force on students, and asking to

“redirect funds to educational services and other programs that “support Black students and all

students of color,”.” (McBride, 2020), will help meet the needs of all students.

This event relates to the San Francisco State students who came together to demand more

admission for more black students which empowered the third world liberation students to ask

for the same rights. The article “The Student Strike That Changed Higher Ed Forever”, by Bates

and Meraji (2019), explain how fifty years ago the longest student strike in U.S. history was held

at San Francisco State College” which helped make a change for all students of color to have the

privilege to acquire a higher education and have their ethnic group addressed and learned more

about their culture and their own history. This begins with two students who came together to

form the “Black Student Union”. When various students came together to start demanding their

rights, they were brutally attacked by the police, which caused “outraged faculty and members of

some of the city’s black communities” to join. After many months of protest students were able

to have “The administration, in response to student demands, established a College of Ethnic

Studies. The administration also agreed to accept virtually all students of color for the fall

semester of 1969.” (Bates & Meraji, 2019).

Both articles connect to one another because in both events it talks about how the

community comes together to fight for students’ rights and for the system to start making

changes, as well as having police involvement who have attacked students unjustly. Having to

unite to march in a peaceful way and not giving up until being heard is the example of being able

to make positive changes in the school system.

With everything that has happened in recent years and how many have come together to

raise awareness in order to become aware that people of color are still underrepresented and how

parents are tired of having their children suffer in the hands of police. Instead of spending most

of the funding in school police departments for the “safety of students”, the school system can

make good use of these funding’s by implementing positive levels of support for students and

their families. Having schools collaborate with community members, agencies, or organizations

will help them have positive outcomes in their learning because it can improve school resources

and will help expand their academic, social, and emotional development. If schools want police

to be part their system, then police should only provide students with workshops where they can

teach the children about their rights and guide them to a positive path by encouraging them and

being there when they need assistance.


Bates, G., K. & Meraji, M., S. 2019. The Student Strike That Changed Higher Ed

Forever. NPR.

Black Organizing Project.

McBride, A. 2020. School board votes to defund, disband Oakland school police. The



Nia Thompson
March 19, 2021

RRS 480
Current Event Assignment

Reclaiming Our Time:

The Robbery and Recollection of Black Girlhood

A traveling art exhibit named ​The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face ​featuring portraits of

school aged Black girls in West Philadelphia seeks to “create a sacred space for Black women

and girls to reflect on [their] childhood, and for the rest of the world to acknowledge that, yes,

[they] really did have one,” (Wellington, 2021).

The show, open through April 30th at the Slought Gallery, was born from a partnership

of The Colored Girls Museum to honor Women’s History Month. Vashti Dubois, founder of the

CG Museum asserts the exhibit focuses on the experience of many Black girls in which

“girlhood is a neglected space” (Wellington). DuBois commissioned six artists to create portraits

of Black girls who were selected by Black women as muses, prompting the viewer to “become

engrossed in seeing [them],” and consequently “begin to remember [one’s] own childhood and

see the little girl in [oneself]” (Wellington, 2021).

Creating a space for Black girls and women to reflect on their girlhood (or lack thereof)

and connect back to their inner child is not only welcomed, but necessary. Black girls across the

globe have to fight for their humanity and autonomy to be recognized, especially in institutions

such as academia. In schools, the educational needs of Black girls are wholly unaccounted for as

the system pushes them to the outskirts of scholarly success, communicating that “their

presence…is tolerated at best, and oftentimes unwanted” (Kelly, 2018). Even worse, as they

experience erasure they simultaneously endure hypervisibility in the form of “inequitable

discipline practices” (Kelly, 2018). It is widely known that Black girls experience

Thompson, 2

“disproportionate rates of punitive treatment in the education and juvenile justice systems”

(Wellington, 2021).

Jumping a​ minimum ​of two ropes at once – racism and sexism – black girls are

hypersexualized and treated far beyond their age starting very young. In a 2017 study by the

Georgetown Center for Poverty and Inequality, findings cemented that Black girls are perceived

to need “less nurturing, less protection, and less emotional support” (Epstein et al., 2017). This

misconception has roots dating all the way back to slavery, in which enslaved Black women

were viewed as possessing animalistic strength and the ability to endure the harshest of

circumstances, defying traditionally feminine traits. Moreover, since they weren’t classified as

human, but rather property, the caricature of a Black ‘superwomen’ further enabled whites to

treat them as high functioning units of labor. The effects and lasting residuals of this stigma are

still evident today, especially in the ‘Strong Black Woman’ trope.

The complexities and intersecting oppressions Black girls experience and are forced to

grapple with at such a young age often results in the undergoing of critical reflection and

resistance, but not without cost. Such maturity further catapultes young Black girls out of their

youth and into a level of consciousness and preoccupation with forms of resistance other

marginalized demographics only begin to engage in young adulthood.

Indeed, Black girls have expressed the process of coming to critical consciousness at such

a young age as “even more [intense]” and “really overwhel[ming]” (Kelly, 2018). This often

evokes “feelings of anger and sadness” and moves the girls to find “strategies for withstanding

[such] emotions by ‘compartmentaliz[ing].’” (Kelly, 2018). Coming to consciousness is rarely a

smooth or easy transformation. Black girls often experience a struggle of recognizing operating

Thompson, 3

systems of oppression in their lives, described by some as “hav[ing] all these feelings and [that]

you can’t name” which alters the way they view and interact with the world (Kelly, 2018).

This is why Black women revisiting adolescence is a critical act of self love as well as

resistance. Through recollection, one can begin to heal the wounds of a stolen youth as well as

break internalized manifestations of such robbery and halt their projections onto future

generations. By meditating on the right to the carelessness and nurturing tenderness so

beautifully reconstructed in the art exhibit, yet so absent in Black girlhood, Black femmes can

take an active role in caring for themselves through reclaiming the extended grace of


This current event stood out to me because of its beauty and relevance to both our

readings and my personal life. I was pushed into accelerated maturity largely through needing to

make sense of encounters with prejudice teachers and racist classmates growing up. I think the

show has the ability to impact Black women who experience the exhibit simply by calling them

back to their inner child, a privilege so rarely afforded to us. Unfortunately I can’t attend the

event from sheer physical distance, but the article already has sparked a yearning within me to

revisit and reclaim the childhood I wasn’t granted.

Thompson, 4


Epstein, R.; Blake, J.; and González, T. (2017). Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black

Girls’ Childhood. ​Center of Poverty and Inequity, Georgetown Law.​ Online text accessed
at ​

Kelly, L. (2018). A Snapchat Story: How Black Girls Develop Strategies for critical Resistance

in School. ​Learning, Media and Technology​, ​43​(4), 374-389.

Wellington, E. (2021). This Exhibit From The Colored Girls Museum is Reframing the

Conversation of Black Girlhood, ​The Philadelphia Inquirer. ​Online text accessed at

Intersectionality as a Framework
RRS 480

Spring 2022: Week 2

❖ Author Context
❖ What is intersectionality?
❖ Overview of the reading
❖ Reminder: forum due Sunday by 11:59pm

Kimberle Crenshaw

Author Context: Kimberle Crenshaw
“Kimberle Crenshaw is a pioneering scholar and writer on civil rights, critical race theory,
Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law. In addition to her position at
Columbia Law School, she is a Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of California,
Los Angeles.

Crenshaw’s work has been foundational in critical race theory and in “intersectionality,” a
term she coined to describe the double bind of simultaneous racial and gender prejudice. Her
studies, writing, and activism have identified key issues in the perpetuation of inequality,
including the “school to prison pipeline” for African American children and the
criminalization of behavior among Black teenage girls. Through the Columbia Law School
African American Policy Forum (AAPF), which she co-founded, Crenshaw co-authored (with
Andrea Ritchie) Say Her Name: Resisting Police Brutality Against Black Women, which
documented and drew attention to the killing of Black women and girls by police. Crenshaw
and AAPF subsequently launched the #SayHerName campaign to call attention to police
violence against Black women and girls…”

Source: Crenshaw’s Columbia Law School bio

What is intersectionality?
● Originally coined in 1989 by Dr. Crenshaw to “denote the various ways in which race and

gender interact to shape the multiple dimensions of Black women’s employment
experiences” (Crenshaw 1244).
○ Overview of original article* where term was coined: Crenshaw looked at 3 court cases where

employers discriminated against Black women workers. The courts claimed they didn’t
discriminate against women b/c they had white women workers & they didn’t discriminate
against Black people b/c they had Black men workers. Crenshaw needed a framework to
explain that the Black women workers in the cases were being discriminated against b/c of both
their gender and race simultaneously.

○ She wanted to illustrate that “the intersection of racism and sexism factors into Black women’s
lives in ways that cannot be captured wholly by looking at the race or gender dimensions of
those experiences separately” (Crenshaw 1244).

● “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides,
where it interlocks and intersects. It’s not simply that there’s a race problem here, a
gender problem here, and a class or LBGTQ problem there.”
○ Source: Crenshaw’s Columbia Law School bio

*Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex, 1989 by Kimberle Crenshaw

original use of
intersectionality in 1989
focused on the
intersection of sexism and
racism in the lives of Black

Intersectionality has since
been expanded to think
about how multiple axes
of oppression intersect in
the lives of a variety of

Images from: Crenshaw’s TED Talk

What is intersectionality?

Clip from Kimberle Crenshaw’s TED Talk in 2016 “What is: Intersectionality” by Kat Blaque

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, & Violence against Women of Color
● Originally published in 1991 in the Stanford Law Review

● In this article, Crenshaw delves deeper into the term intersectionality. This is not
where the term was originally coined — Crenshaw first used the term in her 1989
article “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex.”

● In “Mapping the Margins,” Crenshaw discusses violence against women of color as a
product of intersecting patterns of racism and sexism. She concludes by suggesting
that intersectionality can be used to discuss other axes of oppression.

● Significance of this article: Crenshaw was making an intervention in the scholarly
literature on feminism and on antiracism and calling on folks to expand the
framework by applying it to various other contexts. She argues that a lack of an
intersectional framework results in negative material conditions for women of color

Mapping the Margins (cont’d)
● Brief summary, in Crenshaw’s words: “Focusing on two dimensions of male

violence against women — battering and rape — I consider how the experiences of
women of color are frequently the product of intersecting patterns of racism and
sexism, and how these experiences tend not to be represented within the
discourses of either feminism or antiracism. Because of their intersectional identity
as both women and of color within discourses that are shaped to respond to one or
the other, women of color are marginalized within both” (1242-1244)

● Article is organized into 3 sections (see page 1245 for Crenshaw’s descriptions)
○ Structural intersectionality
○ Political intersectionality
○ Representational intersectionality

Part 1: Structural Intersectionality
● Crenshaw discusses how racism and sexism create structural injustices in the

lives of women of color who are survivors of sexual violence. These structural
issues, combined with a lack of an intersectional framework, result in
dangerous material conditions for women of color who experience violence

● Examples Crenshaw uses to show this:
○ Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986

■ Amendment in 1990 included a waiver for domestic violence
○ English language requirement at women’s shelters
○ Funding problems + burnout of counselors who support survivors of color

Part 2: Political Intersectionality
● Crenshaw “highlights the fact that women of color are situated within at least two

subordinated groups that frequently pursue conflicting political agendas” (1251-2)
○ Feminist efforts center white women and ignore race
○ Antiracist efforts center men of color and ignore gender/patriarchy
○ Women of color often left having to compromise or be excluded completely

● Examples Crenshaw uses to show this:
○ LAPD denied her access to domestic violence statistics
○ Women of color refusing to call police for domestic violence
○ White women survivors centered in discussions/representations of sexual violence while

women of color dehumanized or ignored
■ White women centered in women’s shelter policies → Latina woman and son denied

■ CBS 48 Hours episode

○ Central Park jogger rape case vs. cases involving women of color

Important note: intersectionality can be life-saving
“The problem is not simply that women who dominate the antiviolence
movement are different from women of color but that they frequently have power
to determine… whether the intersectional differences of women of color will be
incorporated at all into the basic formulation of policy. Thus, the struggle over
incorporating these differences is not a petty or superficial conflict about who gets
to sit at the head of the table. In the context of violence, it is sometimes a deadly
serious matter of who will survive — and who will not” (Crenshaw 1265)

Representational Intersectionality
● Crenshaw focuses on how women of color are represented and talked about

in popular culture and how these representations lack an intersectional

● Example Crenshaw uses to show this:
○ 2 Live Crew obscenity case in 1990

■ Prosecution of the group was not actually about protecting Black women,
but Black women were used as a means to an end: the racist targeting of the
rap group

■ Defense of the group trivialized the misogyny represented in the group’s


How to Forget (and Remember) ‘The
Greatest Punk Rock Band in the World’:
Bad Brains, Hardcore Punk and Black

Popular Culture

Tara Martin Lopez and Michael Mills

On 24 June 1979, an unknown punk band opened for British musicians,
the Damned, at a small venue in Washington, DC.1 While the audience
was expectantly waiting for the headliners, the frenetic and explosive
opening act, Bad Brains, stole the show. One audience member remarked
that the show was ‘an absolute benchmark’. Punk rock icon, Henry
Rollins, went so far as to say, ‘Bad Brains blew the Damned with all
their makeup and shit right off the stage.’2

What was even more remarkable about Bad Brains was that they were all
Black musicians in what is commonly perceived as an all-White music genre.
Band members Paul Hudson (or HR), Earl Hudson, Gary Miller (or Dr.
Know) and Darryl Jenifer made Bad Brains central to the formation of
American hardcore punk. Like first-wave punk, hardcore sought to define

T.M. Lopez (*)
Department of Sociology, Peninsula College, Port Angeles, WA, USA
e-mail: [email protected]

M. Mills
Department of English, Peninsula College, Port Angeles, WA, USA
e-mail: [email protected]

© The Author(s) 2017
K. Gildart et al. (eds.), Youth Culture and Social Change,
Palgrave Studies in the History of Subcultures and Popular Music,
DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-52911-4_8


itself in opposition to mainstream, feel good music, particularly pop, disco
and stadium rock, with its perceived intricate musicianship, nine-minute
songs, concept albums and bloated drum and guitar solos. Hardcore
responded with short, fast, songs, simple chords and beats and biting lyrics
that spoke to disaffected youth. The birth of hardcore was also the result of
punks’ disgust with new wave and the record industry’s promotion of an
inauthentic version of punk. The same punks harboured a certain degree of
distrust for first-wave punk bands who inadvertently or otherwise brought
punk to mainstream consciousness. While such bands remained heroes to
many for their innovation in sound and attitude, hardcore punks found the
Ramones’ lyrics lacking in substance and the Sex Pistols’ image to be
excessively nihilistic.3 The election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and the
conservative, neoliberal ascendancy throughout the 1980s, also created a
sense of political urgency, especially in Washington, DC. Therefore, bands
like Bad Brains and Minor Threat made personal and social change central to
their message. Consequently, the resulting music and subculture of hardcore
thrived in the underground, operating with a ‘Do It Yourself’ (DIY) men-
tality, progressive left-wing politics, and attempting to keep itself at arm’s
length from popular culture and the music industry.4

Nevertheless, the images of bands like Minor Threat and Black Flag
have emblazoned a specific visage of hardcore punk on collective memory,
that of alienated White male youth. Some White punk musicians were the
first to perpetuate this idea. When interviewed in 1979, for instance,
Johnny Ramone from the Ramones asserted that they were ‘playing pure
rock & roll with no blues or folk or any of that stuff in it’.5 That singular
and isolated idea stuck, and in 1986 journalist Mykel Board proclaimed
that ‘punk was the first white music since the 1960s psychedelic stuff’.6

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff critically summarises the overall shape of this
hegemonic understanding of history when he writes: ‘Like many facets
of pop culture, [punk’s] historical image has been whitewashed: when you
think of punk’s history, it’s bands like the Clash, the Sex Pistols, and the
Ramones that spring to mind.’7

Despite the prevalence of this dominant image of punk, among musi-
cians and fans, a powerful undercurrent of memory exists that attests to
the undeniably formative influence of Bad Brains. Anthrax guitarist, Scott
Ian, is frank when he states, ‘The Bad Brains invented hardcore, not Black
Flag or Fear. Those bands ruled as well, but they didn’t have the density of
the Bad Brains.’8 Obviously, the explosiveness of these upstart punks was
not momentary, but for many, Bad Brains had an integral, transformative


and long-lasting role in the creation of hardcore punk. Therefore, our aim
is to situate Bad Brains in hardcore punk rock history not as an anomaly or
a side note, but as an essential force.

More importantly, our study will look beyond the late 1970s and early
1980s to the present, and to the memory of Bad Brains and its importance to
punks of colour. We will demonstrate that since 2000, a flood of texts, both
written and visual, remembering Bad Brains and reclaiming their space in the
hardcore punk rock pantheon have appeared. By analysing documentaries,
books, zines and interviews, we will argue that these recent excavations
represent George Lipsitz’s understanding of ‘counter-memory’. According
to Lipsitz groups like women and African Americans have been ignored in
dominant narratives of history. In order to defy such universalising forces
that obliterate the traces of subordinate groups’ histories, such marginalised
groups focus on their localised experiences and engage in a form of remem-
bering that reconstructs history to re-incorporate into collective memory
that which was previously obscured. By reassessing common understandings
of hardcore punk, new avenues of possibility emerge, especially for punks of
colour. As Lipsitz writes, ‘socially created divisions appear natural and inevi-
table unless we can tell stories that illustrate the possibility of overcoming
unjust divisions’.9 Hence, the history of hardcore punk as a White male
institution has prevailed in collective memory. By contrast, we will demon-
strate that using Bad Brains as a focal point of counter-memory creates
possibilities of legacy and belonging within the American hardcore scene
for Black punks and other punks of colour.


Maria Wiedlack has observed that ‘punk history writing continues the
oblivion of representations and politics by people of color’.10 Such ‘obliv-
ion of representations’ is especially indicative of the marginalisation of the
Black experience generally, and Bad Brains’ role in the development of
hardcore and punk specifically, which has proliferated throughout scho-
larly accounts in punk studies.

Such erasures from academic studies appear in sweeping accounts of US
social and cultural history. In Jefferson Cowie’s recent history of 1970s
America, for example, he bemoans how, unlike punk in the UK, punk in
the United States ‘lacked a conscious infusion of black musical


traditions’.11 Even in accounts which recognise that traditions in Black
culture shaped punk rock, mention of Black bands in the scene are con-
spicuously absent. For instance, although Steven Taylor adamantly rejects
the ‘absurd notion that punk is purely white music’ in his ethnography of
punk, his chapter titled ‘Hardcore’ about the Washington, DC, hardcore
scene, makes no mention of Bad Brains.12 Even more problematic are
authors’ brief mentions of Bad Brains without addressing broader racia-
lised, gendered and classed inequities that are reflected in punk. Many
texts briefly note, or footnote, Bad Brains or include singular photographs
of the band. When such authors frame the band as ‘four black guys in an
all-white world’,13 the texts’ trivial treatment of the subject is essentially
writing the Black presence out of punk rock. Their existence becomes a
novelty or an eclectic addition to an institution assumed to be all-White.14

Such conspicuous omissions provide the academic foundation upon which
more widespread myths of punk as ‘White music’ have been built.15

This chapter challenges such nonchalant dismissals. Not only does Bad
Brains’ stature in punk refute such assertions, but erroneous claims that
rock and punk are exclusively White forms restrict this space of cultural
expression from Black musicians and fans. Mainstream collective memory
embraced the idea that rock music was a White endeavour, admiring Elvis
and the Beatles despite the fact that both acts readily recognised and often
cited the debts they owned to Black musicians. As mainstream Whites
assumed ownership of rock, many Blacks distanced themselves. Ike Willis,
who played guitar and toured with Frank Zappa, notes the most perni-
cious effects of such racially homogeneous portrayals of rock and punk.
Willis reflects:

In the black community I became even more of an oddball as the years went
on because of the fact that the images and the politics being perpetrated on
television and radio and commercials and magazines as rock n roll becoming
more and more perceived in the black community as a white thing.16

Willis echoes the effects of erasing Blacks from punk: rock and punk
become inextricably intertwined with Whiteness. Using perceptions of
Bad Brains as the starting point of our analysis, the facile depictions of
the exclusively White origins of punk quickly reveal themselves to be
inaccurate. The more troublesome fact remains that such perceptions
serve to perpetuate racialised forms of exclusion in punk today.
Therefore, the experiences of Black musicians and fans are central to our


analysis, revealing that Black punks have a claim to the development of
punk, both historically and in the present day.

While Black influences and the issue of race as a whole were sidelined in
accounts of American punk, they were a central focus of research in British
punk. In Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style, he argued that
reggae and race relations constituted a ‘present absence’ in punk.
According to Hebdige the ‘rigid demarcation’ that developed between
punk and reggae reflected broader divisions and tensions between Black
British and White working-class culture.17 Gilroy further situated the rise
of punk in 1970s Britain and asserted that Black dissent, like that of the
1976 Notting Hill Carnival riot, not only coincided with the rise of punk,
but such an ‘uncompromising statement of black dissent’ became ‘a
source of envy and of inspiration to a fledgling punk sensibility’.18

Therefore, in contrast to many American accounts of punk, Hebdige
and Gilroy implied that the image at the heart of punk identity, that of
the rebel, was inspired by Blacks in Britain, which is helpful in reaffirming
our focus on the centrality of race relations and Black culture.
Nevertheless, their focus on punk and reggae as two distinct entities
reaffirms an association of Whiteness with one and Blackness with the
other, sidelining those individuals who crossed the resulting imaginary
borders. As Elizabeth Stinson concisely observes, such bifurcation, ‘hangs
on fetishization of the black other and places punk in a production line of

Furthermore, such accounts have also been criticised for ignoring forms
of racism that were rooted in punk’s origins. Sabin, for instance, argues
that British punk’s association with Rock Against Racism forever tied the
image of punk to left-wing politics, when, in reality, very problematic
forms of racism were deeply embedded in its music and subculture.20 In
the United States, one of the most biting criticisms in this same vein came
from Daniel Traber. In his work, he accuses Los Angeles punk of criti-
quing forms of racial and class exclusion, while, in the process, becoming
an ‘agent’ of such oppression and claims that ‘its rejection of the dominant
culture relies on adopting the stereotypes of inferior, violent, and criminal

While such accounts have been important lines of criticism in illuminat-
ing the limits of punk, the result, nevertheless, can be an essentialised
understanding of White and Black popular culture and a lack of awareness
of the dynamism of such forms of cultural expression. Hall notes the
corrosive effects of such essentialism:


The essentializing moment is weak because it naturalizes and de-historicizes
difference, mistaking what is historical and cultural for what is natural,
biological, and genetic. The moment the signifier ‘black’ is torn from its
historical, cultural, and political embedding … we valorize, by inversion, the
very ground of the racism we are trying to deconstruct.22

Hall emphasises that there are no intrinsic traits among these groups that
create inviolable lines of ‘authentic’ cultural expression.23 Gilroy’s concept
of ‘anti-anti-essentialism’, provides a force of theoretical equilibrium
between the extremes of exceptionalism, which views punk as a force of
absolute exclusion, and pluralism, which sees borders as more fluid. Gilroy
specifically references Bad Brains in the terrain of this debate.

The brand of elitism which would, for example, advance the white noise of
Washington D.C.’s Rasta thrash punk band the Bad Brains as the last word
in black cultural expression is clearly itching to abandon the ground of the
black vernacular entirely.24

While it is important to not impose limiting definitions of what is and is
not Black cultural expression, that understanding must be tempered with
an overarching understanding of the historical and contemporary exclu-
sions and inequalities that are particular to Blacks in the United States, UK
and Caribbean.

While re-incorporating the Black experience into narratives of punk, the
invisibility of women in most of these accounts is also glaringly obvious.
McRobbie was one of the first academics to criticise punk studies for its
sole focus on men. McRobbie noted that women in subcultures were
often seen in the role of girlfriend or groupie, ignoring the creative ways
young women developed subcultural identities, oftentimes in domestic
rather than public spaces.25 A concern for a gendered analysis further leads
us to unpack other forms of invisibility. Patricia Hill Collins’ concept of
intersectionality can frame the complexity of marginalisation and privilege
Bad Brains experienced as a band. Instead of seeing race, class, gender and
sexuality as separate hierarchies, intersectionality urges researchers to see
how they all ‘mutually construct’ one another.26 Therefore, while we will
argue that Bad Brains’ exclusion from dominant narratives was highly
racialised, it is important that as an all-male band, Bad Brains were able
to operate within a highly masculine and sometimes physically violent,
male-dominated music scene.


The efforts of academics have culminated in recent research that embraces a
more complex understanding of the Black experience in punk and reveals the
significance of Bad Brains. One the most notable is Duncombe and
Tremblay’s White Riot: Punk and the Politics of Race, which interrogates
hierarchies of race, class, gender and sexuality, while simultaneously high-
lighting the crucial role Blacks, queers and women played in the development
of punk, both as musicians and fans.27 Scholarly investigations of Bad Brains
have also begun to appear. Maskell, for instance, has explored Bad Brains and
the concept of memory. She contends that Bad Brains established their own
identities as musicians through performances that simultaneously ‘forgot’ the
association of punk with Whiteness and ‘reremember[ed] the sociohistorical
roots of black rock’n’roll’.28 Duncombe, Tremblay and Maskell provide
essential corrections to the dominant myth of a racially homogenous punk
rock, while at the same time, challenging hierarchies intertwined in punk.

This chapter contributes to this literature by examining how Bad Brains
were integral to the development of American hardcore punk. Therefore,
part one of this chapter examines Bad Brains’ influence on hardcore in the
United States and their relationship to British punk. While cognisant of
the White, heterosexual and male-dominated nature of punk, we frame
race, gender and class as social constructs that are powerful in resulting
manifestations of solidarity and exclusion, but we reaffirm Bad Brains’
guitarist Darryl Jenifer’s assertion that punk ‘is black expression’.29 We
establish the legacy of Bad Brains in hardcore and set forth how, especially
since 2000, books and films have underlined the importance of Bad Brains
to a wider audience. We focus on Black punks and how their counter-
memory of Bad Brains has allowed them to re-imagine a space for them-
selves in punk rock. We situate Bad Brains and their status as the ‘Greatest
Punk Rock Band in the World’ in a twenty-first century context.


Bad Brains’ singular genius reflected the distinctive character of
Washington, DC at the time. Although other northern metropolitan
areas with majority Black populations existed, the numbers in DC far
surpassed those of its counterparts. While Gary, Indiana, was 53 per cent
Black, and Newark, New Jersey, was 54 per cent Black in 1970, Blacks
made up 71 per cent of the population of Washington, DC.30


Hopkinson notes that its large population of Blacks earned DC the
moniker ‘Chocolate City’ in the mid-1970s.31 The ‘middle-class flight’
in the DC area created ‘two different places in the nation’s capital’, one
of a predominantly White, suburban class and another of urban, Black
DC residents.32 Although 92 per cent of Whites in Washington, DC
moved to the suburbs, the city also experienced the highest rate of Black
suburbanisation in the United States. From 1970 to 1980, the Black
population in Washington suburbs increased from 23 per cent to 46 per

Bad Brains emerged from this process of Black suburbanisation. Paul
Hudson (HR), Bad Brains’ vocalist, and his brother, Earl Hudson, the
band’s drummer, were raised in District Heights, a primarily Black suburb
in Prince George’s County. The Hudsons’ father had retired from the Air
Force by the time the family settled in District Heights, where they lived
close to Gary Miller (Dr Know) and Darryl Jenifer, the future Bad Brains’
guitarist and bass player. The members of Bad Brains represented a
marginal Black middle class that was a particularly distinct feature of the

In the mid-1970s, DC was also a hotbed of musical creativity and the
heart of the ‘go-go’ music movement. As a musical genre influenced by
Caribbean music, ‘go-go’ has been compared to hip hop, funk and
reggae.35 Darryl Jenifer described the members’ early interest in progres-
sive jazz rock and later interest in punk: ‘We wanted to make our music
progressive. It was the norm to do the funk and the “go-go”. For some
reason, I didn’t want to be normal!’36 HR, Earl Hudson, Dr Know and
Darryl Jenifer went in a different direction, forming a short-lived jazz-
fusion band called ‘Mind Power’. Early band member, Sid McCray, is
credited with introducing the other members to punk records. With a
focus on becoming a punk band, the four musicians formed Bad Brains in

Most punk music was loud, fast and relatively simple. It was not
uncommon for untrained musicians to pick up instruments for the first
time and start bands. By comparison, Dr Know, Earl Hudson and Darryl
Jenifer were technically accomplished musicians, and HR had an astonish-
ing vocal range. Kory Grow of Spin magazine writes, ‘Add to that almost-
Buddhist, life-is-suffering worldview the fact that Bad Brains could actu-
ally play their instruments virtuosically – anathema to the punk spirit of the
time – and you had a band operating on a previously unexplored plane.’38

With these skills they took the attitude and anti-pop sentiment of bands


like the Sex Pistols, the Dead Boys and the Damned and honed their own
resulting style with faster, tighter, more technically complex songs. They
innovated the form further by blending punk and reggae songs into one
coherent stage experience. With HR engaging the audience by rolling on
the floor, doing backflips and tackling audience members, fans who were
drawn to already wild behaviour and music at punk shows knew instantly
that they had never seen anything like Bad Brains.39

According to Crossley, physical, creative and emotional spaces were
central to the evolution of punk.40 Bad Brains played significant roles in
elements of punk space, particularly in two major hardcore scenes: DC and
New York, where they lived briefly after being ‘banned’ by clubs in DC.
Maskell argues that this ban was enough to push the band into under-
ground venues: house parties and abandoned buildings, which ultimately
resulted in furthering their engaging performance style and attitude due to
the lack of a stage to separate the musicians from the audience.41 Their
kinetic stage presence changed the physical experience of punk shows, as
evidenced by Henry Rollins’ quote, ‘that was the start of my life’ referring
to seeing Bad Brains open for The Damned, when HR pinned Rollins to
the ground and sang in his face.42 Their performances became so infamous
by 1982, that journalist Greg Tate stated, ‘virtually anybody who cares will
tell you that Chocolate City’s hardcore scene begins with the Brains’.43

As Crossley suggests, emotional space was also an important ingredient
for evolving punk scenes. Arguably, Bad Brains had a major impact on the
emotional space of the DC and New York scenes. While the band’s early
live performances seem, at first, to be even more violent than those of first-
wave punk bands like the Sex Pistols or the Ramones, upon closer inspec-
tion, the band’s struggle for positive change, and specifically their empha-
sis on ‘PMA’, or ‘Positive Mental Attitude’, are a logical precursor to one
of the largest splinter subcultures within punk: straightedge, which hap-
pened to be founded by Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat, one of the young
DC punks HR referred to as ‘my undergraduates’.44 Whereas the Sex
Pistols’ message was ‘No Future’, DC punk was built on the premise
that music could make a difference. As one journalist reflected in the
1980s on the influence of Bad Brains’ Rastafarianism: ‘The straight-edge
punk of early DC mates Minor Threat was the Protestant mirror of the
Brains’ Rastafarianism and each band articulated a hard ass conviction with
more than a touch of the puritan zealot.’45 ‘PMA’ eventually began to
instill in hardcore a distinctive DIY ethos that shaped the way fans viewed
punk. John Joseph from Cro-Mags notes that he was initially drawn to


punk because, ‘it was about getting fucked up and breaking shit up’, but
for Joseph, ‘Bad Brains were someone who could provide spiritual insight
to the music without being preachy’.46 Maria Wiedlack asserts that this
was the crucial component of Bad Brains’ significance. According to
Wiedlack, Bad Brains ‘established the cultural meaning [of] punk rock as
a political act’.47

Marginalisation within both the White and Black communities con-
stricted Bad Brains’ claim to such space. In addition to the association of
the term ‘punk’ with homosexuality in the Black community, Bad Brains
also became outcasts because they were associated with ‘White’ music and
subculture. Neither did White audiences fully accept them. At the first
show they played, Bad Brains endured racial epithets and threats.48 HR
remembers, ‘Because of their stereotypes, sometimes smart alecks would
come to the shows and be saying “Aww, get these niggers off the stage.
They don’t know what the hell they are doing.” And they’d throw beer
bottles at us and spit on us.’49 Aaron Thompson suggests that being
ostracised from so many social settings made Bad Brains ‘doubly punk’
because they ‘were not traditionally accepted by many African-Americans
as sufficiently Black because of their music, style, and image, yet their
blackness prevented them from being accepted as fully punk in some
circles’.50 Therefore, marginalisation from both within and outside the
punk rock scene limited entry into the fertile ground of freedom and
creativity that punk rock could provide.

Bad Brains’ struggle for space can also be seen as transcending national
boundaries. Gilroy posits that Black British culture cannot be seen in
isolation, but the connections among Black British, Black American and
African Caribbean cultures must be seen as, ‘an intricate web of cultural
and political connections [that] bind[s] blacks here [in the UK] to blacks
elsewhere. At the same time, they are linked to the social relations in this
country’.51 Therefore, Bad Brains can be seen in this broader geographical
and cultural space, which reflects the ‘intricate web’ Gilroy refers to as ‘the
black Atlantic’.52

Bad Brains’ musical trajectory mirrored wider transatlantic currents of
punk, but did so in ways that were distinctive in a ‘Black Atlantic’ context.
American punk bands like the Dead Boys and the Ramones were pivotal to
the band’s transition from jazz-rock to punk. Nevertheless, British punk
was a key catalyst. HR said of their time in Mind Power, ‘We wanted to
innovate… We wanted to be part of something new and different and real.
And then I saw the Sex Pistols album, and I said, “BOOM! This is it!”’53


British punk also influenced Bad Brains’ performances. The anti-racist
Rock Against Racism festivals in the UK, for instance, featuring bands
like X-Ray Spex and the Clash, inspired HR to use Bad Brains’ music and
performance as a sonic assault with a social purpose. He wanted ‘punk
rockers to step out of the embrace of the downtown art scene and take it
to the streets’. This concept was realised in September 1979 with their
own Rock Against Racism show in the middle of the Valley Green
housing project in Washington Highlands, one of the poorest parts of
the DC area. Such confident expressions of this PMA or DIY attitude,
once again, reveal the profound way that Bad Brains affected the ethos of
hardcore. One audience member said about this specific performance:
‘The very fact that these shows happened at all changed the memories,
and in some small and large ways the lives, of some of the people who
witnessed them. A small seed can grow strong in the heart of a young

The band’s eventual embrace of Rastafarianism deepened such trans-
national connections. While it was the Clash that first exposed Bad
Brains to reggae, it was attending a Bob Marley concert in 1982 that
proved transformative.55 For Bad Brains, reggae was the anti-racist
combination of the musical styles of reggae and punk, ‘one that’s
African and one that’s American, the two of them revolutionary’.56

Despite hardcore fans’ negative and/or lukewarm response to Bad
Brains’ reggae, the band continued to play punk shows and retained a
devoted following. A review of Bad Brains’ 1982 album in the
Damaged Goods zine is indicative of the begrudging acceptance punks
gave to the band’s reggae.

Their music sounds powerful, coming across better than it does live. The
songs are short and to the point leaving little room for self-indulgence. The
only real indulgence is in the reggae, which (thankfully) [is] kept short,
except for, ‘I Love Jah.’ The reggae sounds fine, but it comes across as
inferior to the rest of the music.57

Bad Brains’ mark on UK punk is unclear. After Bad Brains’ explosive
opening for the Damned, they invited Bad Brains to tour with them
throughout the UK. That plan did not succeed, because, on arrival at
Heathrow, customs searched the band and their crew and found an empty
vial of cocaine on one of the techs, and they were then forced to return to
the United States.58


Bad Brains were eventually able to tour the UK. During an interview
with Black American punk, Aaron Thompson, in 2016, he noted that it
was his British ex-girlfriend who originally exposed him to Bad Brains’
music.59 British filmmaker and DJ Don Letts was also aware of Bad Brains,
but in a distinctly American context. Letts asserts: ‘Bad Brains are the Sex
Pistols of America. What the Sex Pistols did for the UK scene, Bad Brains
undoubtedly did for the American scene.’60

In many ways it was Bad Brains’ influence that, in part, made hardcore,
in the words of Henry Rollins, ‘as American as fake wars, apple pies, and
baseball’.61 It was especially the DIY ethos, upon which Bad Brains made
such a profound mark, that set hardcore apart and ‘reimagined British
punk rock’.62 When Bad Brains left jazz to embrace punk, the band
members designed clothes. HR notes, ‘That was the thing that was so
great about punk when we first discovered it. You made your music, you
made your clothes, you created your whole thing.’63

In addition to creating sites of independent creativity, Bad Brains and
others infused their music with a message that saw punk as a serious
conduit of social change. In Bad Brains’ song ‘Supertouch’, this sense of
efficacy is tangible. Their development was steeped in a broader socio-
political context that was limited by factors such as race and class.
Nevertheless, the site of energy and creativity that punk provided allowed
Bad Brains to flourish and play a transformative role in American hardcore.

While dominant narratives have neglected punks of colour like Bad
Brains through a shared assumption that hardcore was inherently a
White, middle-class endeavour, from roughly 2000, members of the
hardcore scene took a more active role in publicising their own history.
This is a history in which Bad Brains existed not as a footnote, but as a
foundational element. Lending their voices to a number of books, doc-
umentary films, articles and academic works, well-known figures in inde-
pendent music have forced a wider audience to reconsider generally
accepted views of punk.

One of the first thorough accounts to reaffirm the presence of Blacks in
the punk rock scene by documenting the importance of Bad Brains’
influence emerged in a very punk rock way: through a zine. James Porter
and Jake Austen’s series of articles about the influence of Blacks in punk,
new wave and hardcore emerged in 2002. They note how ‘punk rock


might have represented another wave of ethnic cleansing in Rock & Roll’.
They argued that Blacks did play a transformative role in the development
of punk. In particular, they note how Bad Brains was ‘perhaps the most
important hardcore band ever’.64

Documentaries such as Bad Brains: A Band in D.C., released in 2012,
began to echo this same message. In the film, Henry Rollins directly
speaks to the issue of memory, while pointing to the significance of Bad
Brains. About the album, Black Dots, Rollins noted:

The record was never a record in those days. Had the Bad Brains pressed
1,000 LPs of that tape, that single album would have been determinant in
what’s known as American hardcore music and American independent
music, and it wouldn’t have taken until the new century for a documentary
on that band to come out.65

One of the key histories of the DC hardcore scene, written by Mark
Andersen and Mark Jenkins, Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the
Nation’s Capital, also underlines the significance of Bad Brains in the
development of American hardcore. In addition to dedicating a significant
amount of content to Bad Brains, their music, their performance and their
impact on punk, both editions of this book feature the band on their
covers. In the 2001 and 2003 editions, three of the most prominent DC
punk bands are pictured together: Bad Brains, Fugazi and Bikini Kill. On
the cover of the 2009 edition, however, a picture of HR from Bad Brains
provides the entire backdrop to the title of the book.

From 2001, with the publication of three editions of Dance of Days,
each of which prominently feature Bad Brains, three key currents can be
observed. Firstly, Andersen and Perkins focus on negative aspects of Bad
Brains’ experience in punk, detailing the hostile reception they met in the
scene for being Black.66 Secondly, in an overall movement of counter-
memory, the timing of the publication of the book in 2001 coincides
with the broader current of work to remember Bad Brains’ contributions
to American hardcore. Finally, the increasing centrality of Bad Brains on
the cover art for the various editions of the book, underscores what we
will later observe as an intensified movement to reclaim their position in

In a 2013 book of photographs of the early DC punk rock scene by
Washington Post photographer Lucian Perkins, a picture of Bad Brains is
featured on the cover. The book, Hard Art, not only represents this push


to account for punk rock history, but also by placing a photo of them on
the cover, provides a visual representation of counter-memory that re-
establishes Bad Brains’ importance. The collection of photographs chroni-
cles three shows in 1979 and one in early 1980 and includes photographs
of four bands: Trenchmouth, the Slickee Boys, Bad Brains and the Teen
Idles. Of its roughly 72 featured photographs, 25 are of Bad Brains, 25 are
of the other bands combined and 22 are of audience members.67

Increased academic attention to punk, and to Bad Brains in particular,
also began to intensify after 2000. One of the most notable works was
Duncombe and Tremblay’s White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of
Race. The anthology looks beyond facile representations, and sets out to
illuminate not only the racialised, classed and gendered limits of punk, but
also how punks of colour provided an essential contribution to the scene.
Duncombe and Tremblay assert, ‘[b]lack musical and cultural forms,
whether embraced or rejected, have been part of punk since its

The text acknowledges diversity within punk history, while the cover
of the book counterposes a picture of HR appearing to sing almost
exclusively to a White, female audience member. By contrast, the cover
of Hard Art shows HR singing to a mixed audience, directly in front of
a White youth. Ironically, both are photographs by Lucian Perkins of
the same performance. The choice of covers reveal that while the
authors of Dance of Days are attempting to document a comprehensive
and racially and gender inclusive history of hardcore, the editors accom-
plish this goal, but also problematise the racial dynamics of punk and

In 2014, the first history of the band emerged with Prato’s self-pub-
lished, Punk! Hardcore! Reggae! PMA! Bad Brains! This account primar-
ily focuses on Bad Brains’ history, including interviews with musicians who
attest to the band’s influence. The fact that the book was self-published
attests to the continuing struggle of Bad Brains to fully ascend to the
heights of punk rock notoriety. The majority of the musicians interviewed
for the book were White males, which inadvertently reaffirms punk’s
association with Whiteness, even in a text devoted to Black musicians.69

Overall, in contrast to the dominant memory of punk, musicians like
Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins, filmmakers like Mandy Stein and authors
like Andersen and Prato represent Lipsitz’s ‘counter-memory’ as a new
understanding of punk emergence by reclaiming Bad Brains in the twenty-
first century.



The recent focus on Bad Brains is not just trivia to add to scenesters’ punk
rock points or fuel for academic scholarship, but it represents a deeper
significance as counter-memory for punks of colour. While Black punks’
counter-memory brings about an awareness of exclusions and erasures, it
also allows them to ‘illumine opportunities’70 of belonging, space and
identification with the subculture. Punk, as a site of emotional and creative
acceptance continues to be of particular struggle and significance for
Blacks. Tasha Fierce observes:

The idea of punk rock as some kind of beacon of open-mindedness is
bullshit. Most white punk rockers like to consider themselves absolved of
their privilege simply because they publicly denounce racism and don’t
attend weekly KKK meetings.71

Fierce identifies with punk, but illustrates the contours of experience for
those subcultural participants or fans who cross these lines. When she does
cross into this predominantly White space, race continues to shape how
others see her and her place in the scene. Zinester and punk, Osa Atoe,
describes a similar sense of frustration when at different shows, in different
cities, she was mistaken for other Black punks. She writes: ‘We all don’t
look alike… Thanks everyone for making me feel completely not at home
in my community.’72

Therefore, if, as punk and zinester, Yumii Thecato, writes, it is incum-
bent upon Black punks to ‘separate punk from whiteness’,73 the counter-
memory of Bad Brains allows for this process to occur, and Whiteness can
begin to be decoupled from punk. Their effect on a generation of Black
musicians began to appear in the 1980s and 90s. Angelo Moore, the lead
singer of Fishbone, reflects:

Originally, I was a hip-hop kid with a Jheri curl, a green metallic suit from
Merry-Go-Round. I had appeared as a dancer in the movie Breakin’. When I
first heard the Bad Brains, I thought, ‘Those White boys are bad!’ When I
found out they were black, my world just stopped.74

Remembering Bad Brains in the history of punk and hardcore has been
especially important for Black punks. In the 2010 zine A terrible,


horrible, no good, very bad life # 2, author Kisha Hope reflects on her
own connection to the band:

The first band I fell in love with was Bad Brains. Bad Brains blew my mind
because they played hard, they played fast, and they looked just like me. …
HR is a creepy homophobic jerk and I don’t really care for his politics, but
those early records seriously changed my life, and I cannot ever deny

Hope demonstrates how a claim to Bad Brains allows her to re-remember
punk rock in a manner in which she can fully see herself as a part of the

Tasha Hairston, aka ‘Tasha Fierce’, who wrote zines about punk as a
teenager, is more reticent in her acclaim for Bad Brains. As she devel-
oped a punk identity, she knew about Bad Brains, but did not listen to
them because she preferred female singers. When listening to male
singers, she reflected, ‘What are you revolting against?’ She explains
further: ‘Even though, Bad Brains, I know that they’re not white dudes,
I like having space for women. There are no black women at all.’76

Hairston reminds us that the counter-memory of Bad Brains must be
seen through Patricia Hill Collins’ intersectional lens: while Bad Brains
creates space for Blacks in punk rock, the band’s presence makes the
absence of Black women in many punk scenes all the more

Although Black punks of both sexes were substantially fewer in
number than their White counterparts, they have always been a part
of the scene. While mainstream collective memory may overlook their
experiences and contributions, the Black punk community has turned a
critical eye to the Whitewashing of punk history since 2000. One of the
most notable examples of this is the 2003 documentary, Afro-Punk.
The documentary follows the lives of four Black punk rockers and
includes a multitude of interviews. The film also features performances
by acts like Cipher, Tamar Kali and Bad Brains.78 James Spooner, the
director of Afro-Punk and organiser of the annual Afro-Punk festival,
expresses his own personal struggle with dualities as a ‘biracial kid’ and
a punk: ‘That day I was asked to make a choice: punk or black. I’m
biracial, black and white; I was born into duality.’79 In his search to
negotiate these dualities, Spooner is also part of a larger movement


to reconcile issues of racism and identity. In the process of staking
claim to this counter-memory, a space for his own identity emerges:
‘In 2001, I picked up a camera and I talked with every black punk in
pre-social-network America I could find. I found eighty, and I found

His documentary follows a similar trajectory of what he calls ‘self-
validation’.81 Forty-five minutes into the film, a segment on Bad Brains
appears where Black punks emphasise the crucial importance of the
band, not only to the development of punk and hardcore, but, more
importantly, to creating a sense of belonging for punks of colour. The
interviewees express a sense of awe at Bad Brains’ talent. EWOLF, says,
‘Bad Brains was probably the best punk band to ever exist.’ Another
interviewee, Ryan Bland, excitedly proclaims, ‘It [Bad Brains] was the
angriest, most violent punk shit I’ve ever heard.’82

Underlying all of this is an apparent force of counter-memory. Several
interviewees express how the presence of Bad Brains in punk made their
place in the scene all the more legitimate. Scottie asserts that, ‘We’re
definitely important to it because a lot of us started some of the ground
breaking stuff, like we’ve got Bad Brains… you know.’ Djinji Brown
notes, ‘[h]aving the Bad Brains … That shit made me feel like, yeah, I’m
supposed to be here.’83

Scottie and Brown powerfully pinpoint a central current of developing a
counter-memory of punk rock through the lens of Bad Brains. Lipsitz
argues that counter-memory ‘focuses on localized experiences with
oppression, using them to reframe and refocus dominant narratives pur-
porting to represent universal experience’.84 These interviews challenge
the universalising assumptions of hardcore punk as all White and, instead,
reveal a force of counter-memory that refocuses and reimagines punk as
something more inclusive.

Spooner’s film, Afro-Punk, ends by asking AfricanAmerican punks to
name bands with Black members. It is both an ironic and a poignant
moment in the film, as the interviewees seem momentarily stumped.
Watching this, initially a viewer might believe that the dominant narrative
is accurate. But then something wonderful happens, and the punks begin
to list musicians and bands, finally rattling off a long list, including: Pure
Hell, the Dead Kennedys, Fishbone, Burn, No Redeeming Social Value,
Suicidal Tendencies, Cro-mags and, tellingly, one of only a small handful
of bands that is mentioned more than once, the Bad Brains.



Almost forty years after Bad Brains made their explosive debut in 1979,
much about the world from which they emerged has changed, yet much
has remained the same. The DC metro area still ranks as one of the most
highly segregated areas in the United States85 despite the fact that segre-
gation there has decreased somewhat since the 1970s, and Blacks now
make up only 49 per cent of the population and Whites 38 per cent.86

Coates points out that Bad Brains’ suburban home of Prince George’s
County continued to be ‘a great enclave of black people’.87 Although DC
has maintained its importance as a centre of vibrant Black culture, collec-
tive memory surrounding Bad Brains’ importance has continued to evolve.

Yet, despite increased academic and popular interest in the band, Bad
Brains remain stranded at the economic margins of hardcore punk. As
vociferously as Ian MacKaye and Henry Rollins attest to Bad Brains’
genius and influence, MacKaye has a reported approximate net worth of
$5 million88 and Rollins is worth roughly $13 million.89 Many punk
musicians can be found on the same celebrity net worth database: Jello
Biafra of the Dead Kennedys and Mike Muir of Suicidal Tendencies, for
example, are on the lower end of the spectrum and are of comparable
stature to Bad Brains in terms of punk rock history. Yet none of the
members of Bad Brains even appear on the database. Earlier this year,
the band began crowdsourcing funds for their bandmate, Gary Miller,
who suffered a heart attack. The funds were necessary because he did not
have medical insurance.90

Such stark economic indicators, nevertheless, do not negate the impor-
tance of Bad Brains as a catalyst for counter-memory. Bad Brains’ role in
the development of hardcore punk challenges not only the supposed
‘authentic Whiteness’ of this music and subculture, but also raises ques-
tions of ‘authentic’ Black cultural expression. As bell hooks reminds us,
the process of challenging essentialism:

allows us to affirm multiple black identities, varied black experience. It also
challenges colonial imperialist paradigms of black identity which represent
blackness one-dimensionally in ways that reinforce and sustain white supre-
macy. This discourse created the idea of the ‘primitive’ and promoted the
notion of an ‘authentic’ experience, seeing as ‘natural’ those expressions of
black life which conformed to a pre-existing pattern or stereotype.91


Hooks’ observation resonates strongly with how Black punks have used
Bad Brains as a prism through which to defy such one-dimensional repre-
sentations. Furthermore, it underlines the power of Lipsitz’s counter-
memory to ‘draw upon the oppositional cultural practice’92 of Bad
Brains’ music to carve out a rightful place for the band in the history of

Darryl Jenifer for decades has asserted that punk was ‘black expres-
sion’.93 We have argued that in the effort to establish a counter-memory of
American hardcore punk from 2000 to 2015, Jenifer’s insight has come to
fruition for a generation of punks of colour. In May of 2016, the
Washington Post reported a revival of the hardcore scene in DC.
Journalist Chris Richards described this new manifestation as ‘pioneered
by Bad Brains and popularized by Minor Threat’, but with a more inclu-
sive attitude towards punks of colour. Rob Watson, one current hardcore
musician, describes how he felt comfortable in the scene when he saw that
he was not the only Black person in the room. He also notes, ‘now there
are all these bands with queer people, women and people of color, and
they’re making music for people like them’.94

Bad Brains’ fierce originality, their spasmodic and serene stage pre-
sence, their struggle to promote positive social change and their refusal
to see musical styles as necessitating racial delineation, have had far-reach-
ing impacts on generations of fans, punks and musicians. As a seminal
hardcore band, they are collectively remembered from within the punk
subculture, particularly since 2000, in a way that has radiated out with ever
higher frequency, aimed not only at punk rock collective memory, but also
toward the collective memory of the mainstream. As we approach the
fortieth anniversary of the birth of American hardcore, the subculture
itself is seizing agency and writing its own history through digital and
print publications, radio, television and film. Counter-memory surround-
ing Bad Brains is only one example of this expanding historical perspective
of race in punk.

Bad Brains are far from the only example of people of colour in punk
subculture, or even in hardcore, yet they remain one of the most recog-
nisable and influential examples. Ideally, counter-memory surrounding
Bad Brains and other punks of colour could destroy the chimera of punk
as a White invention and a strictly White, male, middle-class endeavor.
Punk as a subculture today still attracts self-identified misfits, rebels and
others who are at odds with mainstream life and social expectations.
However, the common perception that punk is for one race or another


should continue to be challenged not only within punk, but also within
mainstream culture.

As Angelo Moore, the lead singer of Black punk band Fishbone power-
fully notes: ‘No longer do I have to listen when some [people] come up
and say, “You’re just playing that white boy shit!’’’ To this he replies:
‘Man, listen to some Bad Brains, motherfucker.’95

1. The title of this chapter refers to the first gig poster for Bad Brains, which

billed them as ‘the greatest punk rock band in the world’. See D. Jenifer,
‘Play like a white boy: Hard dancing in the city of chocolate’, in S.
Duncombe and M. Tremblay (eds.), White Riot: Punk Rock and the
Politics of Race (London, 2011), p. 210 (Jenifer 2011).

2. M. Andersen and M. Jenkins, Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the
Nation’s Capital (New York, 2009), pp. 40–41 (Andersen and Jenkins 2009).

3. American Hardcore: The History of American Punk Rock 1980–86, directed
by Paul Rachman (AHC Productions, 2006) DVD.

4. S. Blush, American Hardcore: A Tribal History (Los Angeles, 2001), p. 72
(Blush 2001).

5. T. White, ‘The importance of being a Ramone’, Rolling Stone, 8 February 1979,
ramone-19790208?page=5 [accessed 3 March 2017] (White 1979).

6. M. Board, Maximumrocknroll Magazine, Issue 34, 1986. Quoted in S.
Maskell, ‘Performing punk: Bad Brains and the construction of identity’,
Journal of Popular Music Studies, 21(4) (2009), 413 (Maskell 2009).

7. C. Brinkhurst-Cuff, ‘Why is the history of punk music so white?: True punk
rebellion has always existed in black culture, and continues to exist today’,
Dazed, November 2015,
28372/1/why-is-the-history-of-punk-music-so-white [accessed 3 March
2017] (Brinkhurst-Cuff 2015).

8. Interview with Scott Ian, quoted in G. Prato, Punk! Hardcore! Reggae!
PMA! Bad Brains! (Create Space Independent Publishing Platform,
2014), p. 36 (Prato 2014).

9. G. Lipsitz, Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture
(Minneapolis, 2001), p. 212 (Lipsitz 2001).

10. M. K. Wiedlack, ‘“We’re punk as fuck and fuck like punks”: Queer–feminist
Counter-cultures, Punk Music and the Anti-social Turn in Queer Theory’
(Unpublished DPhil. dissertation, Universitat Wien, 2013), p. 208
(Wiedlack 2013).


11. J. Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New
York, 2010), p. 325 (Cowie 2010). See also: B. Osgerby, ‘“Chewing out a
rhythm on my bubble gum”: The teenage aesthetic and genealogies of American
punk’, in R. Sabin (ed.), Punk Rock: So What?: The Cultural Legacy of Punk
(London, 2009), pp. 154–69 (Osgerby 2009).

12. S. Taylor, False Prophet: Fieldnotes from the Punk Underground
(Middletown, 2003), p. 54 (Taylor 2003).

13. Blush, American Hardcore, 116.
14. R. Moore, Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis

(New York, 2010) (Moore 2010).
15. Although referring to British punk, Simonelli refers to punk as ‘the white

version of Rastafarian ideology’, thereby, reaffirming punk as ‘White’ music.
D. Simonelli, ‘Anarchy, pop, and violence: Punk rock subculture and the
rhetoric of class’, Contemporary British History, 16(2) (Summer 2002),
121–44 (Simonelli 2002).

16. Ike Willis, Interview by Andy Holliden, 11 November 2009, ‘Reclaiming
the right to rock collection’, Archives of African American Music and
Culture, Indiana University Media Collections Online.

17. D. Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London, 1979), p. 68
(Hebdige 1979).

18. P. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack (London, 1987), p. 163
(Gilroy 1987).

19. E. Stinson, ‘Means of detection: A critical archiving of black feminism and
punk performance’, Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory,
22 (2–3) (2012), pp. 284–5 (Stinson 2012).

20. R. Sabin, ‘“I won’t let that dago by”: Rethinking punk and racism’, in
Duncombe and Tremblay (eds.), White Riot, pp. 57–68.

21. D. Traber, ‘L.A.’s ‘white minority’: Punk and the contradictions of self-
marginalization’, Cultural Critique, 48 (2001), 49 (Traber 2001).

22. S. Hall, ‘What is “black” in black popular culture?’, in J. Storey (ed.), Cultural
Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (Harlow, 2009), p. 380 (Hall 2009).

23. For an exploration of race as a social construct in the United States, see: M.
Omi and H. Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (New York,
2015) (Omi and Winant 2015).

24. P. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness
(Cambridge, 1994), pp. 100–1 (Gilroy 1994).

25. A. McRobbie, Feminism and Youth Culture: From ‘Jackie’ to ‘Just Seventeen’
(Boston, 1991) (McRobbie 1991).

26. P. Hill Collins, ‘It’s all in the family: Intersections of gender, race, and
nation’, Hypatia, 13(3) (1998), 62–82 (Hill Collins 1998).

27. Duncombe and Tremblay, White Riot.
28. Maskell, ‘Performing punk’, 411–26.


29. Interview with Darryl Jenifer in Dave Maher, ‘Bad Brains interview’,, 29 October 2015,
view/6663-bad-brains/ [accessed 3 March 2017].

30. D. Massey and N. A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the
Making of the Underclass (Cambridge, 1993), p. 45 (Massey 1993).

31. N. Hopkinson, Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City
(Durham, 2012) (Hopkinson 2012).

32. Ibid.
33. Massey and Denton, American Apartheid, p. 70.
34. G. Tate, ‘Hardcore of darkness: Bad Brains’, in Duncombe and Tremblay

(eds.), White Riot, p. 214.
35. Hopkinson, Go-Go Live, p. 146.
36. ‘Darryl Jenifer of Bad Brains: “I want to be the soldier of my music”’, (2007):
my_music.html?no_takeover [accessed 3 March 2017].

37. Andersen and Jenkins, Dance of Days, pp. 27–9.
38. K. Grow, ‘Hardcore mettle: Bad Brains’ strange survival tale’, Spin (29

November 2012):
survival-tale/2/ [accessed 3 March 2017] (Grow 2012).

39. Maskell, ‘Performing punk’, p. 414.
40. N. Crossley, Networks, Sound, Style, and Subversion: The Punk and Post-

Punk Worlds of Manchester, London, Liverpool, and Sheffield, 1975–80
(Manchester, 2015), p. 36 (Crossley 2015).

41. Maskell, ‘Performing punk’, 415.
42. Bad Brains: A Band in D.C., directed by Mandy Stein and Ben Logan (Plain

Jane Productions, 2012).
43. Tate, ‘Hardcore of darkness’, p. 214.
44. Blush, American Hardcore.
45. E. Davis, ‘The last apostles’, The Voice, 10 October 1989, DC Punk

Archive/Mark Andersen Collection, Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
Library, Washington, DC.

46. Blush, American Hardcore, p. 117.
47. Wiedlack, ‘We are punk as fuck’, p. 222.
48. Andersen, Dance of Days, p. 37.
49. G. Prato, Punk! Hardcore! Reggae!, p. 9.
50. T. A. Lee. ‘From Bad Brains to afro-punk: An analysis of identity, consciousness,

and liberation through punk rock from 1977–2010’ (Unpublished MA thesis,
Cornell University, 2010), p. 18 (Lee 2010).

51. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack, p. 205.
52. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, p. 7.


53. D. Howland, ‘Bad Brains’, Trouser Press Magazine, 1983.
54. L. Perkins, Hard Art: DC 1979 (New York, 2013), p. 13 (Perkins 2013).
55. Blush, American Hardcore, p. 124.
56. Interview with Bad Brains in Now What? No. 0, 1981, Series 1, Box 1,

Folder 98, D.C. Punk and Indie Fanzine Collection, Michelle
Smith Performing Arts Library, University of Maryland, College Park,

57. ‘Review Bad Brains – LP Length Cassette (ROIR)’, Damaged Goods, 2 (8)
(February 1982), Series 2, Box 4, Folder 34. D.C. Punk and Indie Fanzine
Collection, Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library, University of
Maryland, College Park, MD.

58. Blush, American Hardcore, p. 122.
59. Interview with Aaron Thompson by Tara Martin Lopez, 18 April 2016.
60. Interview with Don Letts in Bad Brains: A Band in DC Hulu (Web), 29

October 2015.
61. PUNK: Attitude, directed by Don Letts (3DD Productions, 2005).
62. L. Bakare, ‘From Bad Brains to Cerebral Ballzy: Why hardcore will never die’,

The Guardian (20 November 2014):
2014/nov/20/hardcore-music-hard-fast-us-punk-rock [accessed 3 March
2017] (Bakare 2014).

63. Andersen and Jenkins, Dance of Days, p. 34.
64. J. Porter and J. Austen, ‘Black punk time, blacks in punk, new wave, and

hardcore, 1976–1983’, Roctober, 32 (2002), 43 (Great Lakes Underground
Press Collection, Box 6, Special Collections and Archives, DePaul
University, Chicago, IL) (Porter and Austen 2002).

65. Interview with Henry Rollins in Bad Brains: A Band in D.C.
66. Andersen and Jenkins, Dance of Days, p. 37.
67. Perkins, Hard Art: DC 1979; C. Connolly, L. Clague and S. Cheslow,

Banned in D.C.: Photos and Anecdotes from the DC Punk Underground,
79–85 (Washington, 2013) features not only many of Lucian Perkins’
photos of Bad Brains, but the title of the book is a direct reference to Bad
Brains’ ‘Banned In D.C.’ (Connolly 2013).

68. Duncombe and Tremblay, White Riot, p. 206.
69. Prato, Punk! Hardcore! Reggae!
70. Lipsitz, Time Passages, pp. 212–213.
71. T. Fierce, ‘Black invisibility and racism in punk rock’, Bitchcore 1999, in

Duncombe and Tremblay, White Riot, p. 283.
72. O. Atoe, ‘Shotgun seamstress’, 1 August 2006 in Shotgun Seamstress: Zine

Collection, A Zine By and For Black Punks (Tacoma, 2012), p. 21.
73. Y. Thecato, Slash They Ass Up: A Black Punk Manifesto (Chicago, 2013)

(Thecato 2013).


74. Interview with Angelo Moore in Michael Gonzalez, ‘Afropunk before afro-
punk’, Ebony (29 August 2014):
culture/afropunk-before-afropunk-232#axzz430seTBES [accessed 3
March 2017].

75. Quoted in Wiedlack, ‘We are punk as fuck’, p. 223.
76. Tasha Hairston, interview by Tara Martin Lopez, 13 May 2016.
77. Hill Collins, ‘It’s all in the family’.
78. Afro-Punk, directed by James Spooner (Afro-Punk, 2003).
79. J. Spooner, ‘Foreword’, in Duncombe and Tremblay, White Riot, p. xiii.
80. Ibid, p. xvi.
81. Onome, ‘Filmmaker James Spooner goes in-depth with afro-punk: The

“rock ‘n’ roll nigger” experience’, A Gathering of Tribes (31 October
[accessed 3 March 2017].

82. Afro-Punk.
83. Ibid.
84. Lipsitz, Time Passages, p. 213.
85. J. Logan and B. Stults, The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis: New

Findings from the 2010 Census, 24 March 2011: http://www.s4.brown.
edu/us2010/Data/Report/report2.pdf [accessed 3 March 2017] (Logan
and Stults 2011).

86. ‘Quick facts – District of Columbia’, U.S. Census Bureau 2015. https:// [accessed 3 March

87. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York, 2015), pp. 52–3
(Coates 2015).

88. ‘Celebrity net worth: Ian MacKaye net worth’, http://www.celebritynet
[accessed 3 March 2017].

89. ‘Celebrity net worth: Henry Rollins net worth’, http://www.celebritynet [accessed 3 March

90. M. Cohen, ‘Bad Brains raising funds to help support Dr. Know after his
near-death illness’, Washington City Paper (10 March 2016): http://www.
nearly-dying-bad-brains-raising-funds-to-help-support-dr-know/ [accessed
3 March 2017] (Cohen 2016).

91. bell hooks, ‘Postmodern blackness’, in J. Storey (ed.), Cultural Theory and
Popular Culture: A Reader (Harlow, 2009), p. 392 (hooks 2009).

92. Lipsitz, Time Passages, p. 231.
93. Mahr, ‘Bad Brains interview.’


94. C. Richards, ‘This is hardcore: A new generation is making Washington’s
punk dialect its own – while It can’, The Washington Post (12 May 2016):
core-is-being-revitalized-by-a-new-generation-of-bands/ [accessed 3
March 2017] (Richards 2016).

95. Interview with Angelo Moore, Afro-Punk.

M. Andersen and M. Jenkins, Dance of Days: Two Decades of Punk in the Nation’s

Capital (New York, 2009), pp. 40–1.
“Bad Brains: A Band in D.C.,” Directed by Mandy Stein and Ben Logan. Plain

Jane Productions, 2012.
L. Bakare, ‘From Bad Brains to Cerebral Ballzy: Why Hardcore Will Never Die’,

The Guardian, November 20, 2014:

S. Blush, American Hardcore: A Tribal History (Los Angeles, 2001), p. 72.
C. Brinkhurst-Cuff, ‘Why is the History of Punk Music so White?: True Punk

Rebellion has Always Existed in Black Culture, and Continues to Exist Today’,
Dazed, November 2015,
28372/1/why-is-the-history-of-punk-music-so-white [accessed 3 March

M. Cohen, ‘Bad Brains Raising Funds to Help Support Dr. Know After His Near-
Death Illness’, Washington City Paper, 10 March 2016: http://www.washing

C. Connolly, L. Clague, and S. Cheslow, Banned in D.C.: Photos and Anecdotes
from the DC Punk Underground, 79–85 (Washington, 2013).

J. Cowie, Stayin’ Alive: The 1970s and the Last Days of the Working Class (New
York, 2010), p. 325.

N. Crossley, Networks, Sound, Style, and Subversion: The Punk and Post-Punk
Worlds of Manchester, London, Liverpool, and Sheffield, 1975–80 (Manchester,
2015), p. 36.

D. Jenifer in Dave Maher, ‘Bad Brains Interview’,, 29 October

P. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack (London, 1987), p. 163.
P. Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge,

1994), pp. 100–1.
K. Grow, ‘Hardcore Mettle: Bad Brains’ Strange Survival Tale’ Spin, November

29, 2012:


S. Hall, ‘What is “Black” in Black Popular Culture?’, in J. Storey (ed) Cultural
Theory and Popular Culture: A Reader (Harlow, 2009), p. 380.

D. Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style (London, 1979), p. 68.
P. Hill Collins, ‘It’s All in the Family: Intersections of Gender, Race, and Nation’,

Hypatia, 13, 3 (1998), 62–82.
bell hooks, ‘Postmodern Blackness’, in J. Storey (ed.), Cultural Theory and

Popular Culture: A Reader (Harlow, 2009), p. 392.
N. Hopkinson, Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City

(Durham, 2012).
D. Jenifer, ‘Play Like a White Boy: Hard Dancing in the City of Chocolate’, in S.

Duncombe and M. Tremblay (eds.), White Riot: Punk Rock and the Politics of
Race (London, 2011), p. 210.

A. Thompson. ‘From Bad Brains to Afro-Punk: An Analysis of Identity,
Consciousness, and Liberation Through Punk Rock From 1977–2010’
(Unpublished MA Thesis, Cornell University, 2010), p. 18.

G. Lipsitz, Time Passages: Collective Memory and American Popular Culture
(Minneapolis, 2001), pp. 212–13.

J. Logan and B. Stults, The Persistence of Segregation in the Metropolis: New
Findings from the 2010 Census, 24 March 2011:

S. Maskell, ‘Performing Punk: Bad Brains and the Construction of Identity’,
Journal of Popular Music Studies, 21, 4 (2009), 413.

D. Massey and N. A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of
the Underclass (Cambridge, 1993), p. 45.

A. McRobbie, Feminism and Youth Culture: From ‘Jackie’ to ‘Just Seventeen’
(Boston, 1991).

R. Moore, Sells Like Teen Spirit: Music, Youth Culture, and Social Crisis (New
York, 2010).

M. Omi and H. Winant, Racial Formation in the United States (New York, 2015).
B. Osgerby, ‘“Chewing Out a Rhythm on My Bubble Gum”: The Teenage

Aesthetic and Genealogies of American Punk’, in R. Sabin (ed) Punk Rock: So
What?: The Cultural Legacy of Punk (London, 2009), pp. 154–69.

G. Prato, Punk! Hardcore! Reggae! PMA! Bad Brains! (Create Space Independent
Publishing Platform, 2014), p. 36.

L. Perkins, Hard Art: DC 1979 (New York, 2013), p. 13.
J. Porter and J. Austen, ‘Black Punk Time, Blacks in Punk, New Wave, and

Hardcore, 1976–1983’, Roctober, 32 (2002), 43.
C. Richards, ‘This is Hardcore: A New Generation is Making Washington’s Punk

Dialect Its Own – While It Can’, The Washington Post, 12 May 2016: http://


D. Simonelli, ‘Anarchy, Pop, and Violence: Punk Rock Subculture and the Rhetoric
of Class’, Contemporary British History, 16, 2 (Summer 2002), 121–44.

E. Stinson, ‘Means of Detection: A Critical Archiving of Black Feminism and Punk
Performance’, Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 22, 2–3
(2012) 283–4.

S. Taylor, False Prophet: Fieldnotes from the Punk Underground (Middletown,
2003), p. 54.

D. Traber, ‘L.A.’s “White Minority”: Punk and the Contradictions of Self-
Marginalization’, Cultural Critique, 48 (2001), 49.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (New York, 2015), pp. 52–3.
Y. Thecato, Slash They Ass Up: A Black Punk Manifesto (Chicago, 2013).
M. K. Wiedlack, ‘“We’re Punk as Fuck and Fuck Like Punks”: Queer-Feminist

Counter-Cultures, Punk Music and the Anti-Social Turn in Queer Theory’
(Unpublished DPhil. dissertation, Universitat Wien, 2013), p. 208.

T. White, ‘The Importance of Being a Ramone’, Rolling Stone, February 8, 1979,

Tara Martin Lopez is a professor of sociology at Peninsula College in Port
Angeles, WA, USA. She specializes in gender stratification and working class
women’s activism and recently published The Winter of Discontent: Myth,
Memory, and History with Liverpool University Press. Martin Lopez has broa-
dened the scope of her research and is currently interested in the role women and
people of colour play in subcultures and social movements. In particular, her next
project will examine the role of both conservative and progressive Latinx move-
ments in the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Michael Mills is Associate Faculty of English at Peninsula College in Port
Angeles, WA, USA, where he is the faculty advisor for Tidepools magazine. A
writer of short fiction, essays and plays, his work has appeared in Short Story,
Tales from the South, Weird Tales and other journals and magazines. His research
interests include: popular culture, counterculture, creative writing theory and
writing pedagogy. A musician, he played in punk rock bands in Eureka,
California and Little Rock, Arkansas.


  • 8 How to Forget (and Remember) ‘The Greatest Punk Rock Band in the World’: Bad Brains, Hardcore Punk and Black Popular Culture
    • ‘Big Takeover’ – The Marginalisation of the Black Experience in Punk Studies
    • ‘Banned in DC’ – Bad Brains in 1970s Washington, DC and Beyond
    • ‘Right Brigade’ – The Legacy of Bad Brains
    • ‘I Against I’ – Counter-Memory and Black Space in Hardcore Punk
    • ‘Salin’ On’ – The Greatest Punk Rock Band in the Twenty-First Century
    • Notes
    • References

Youth Resistance at Work/School
RRS 480

❖ Reading overview +

❖ Forum
❖ Reminder: forum due

Sunday by 11:59pm

Who are our authors?
“Lauren Leigh Kelly is Assistant Professor
of Urban Teacher Education at Rutgers
University Graduate School of Education.
She taught high school English for 10
years in New York. Kelly’s research is
focused on critical hip-hop literacies,
critical consciousness development, Black
feminist theory, and culturally responsive
pedagogy” (Kelly 388)

Who are our authors?
Emir Estrada is Assistant Professor of Sociology at
Arizona State University. She’s “a qualitative immigration
scholar interested in the migration and incorporation
aspect of immigrants from Latin America. Her research
interests in immigration and gender are influenced in
great part by her own immigration experience.”

Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo is Professor of Sociology at
the University of Southern California. “Her research
examines how Latino immigrants negotiate challenges
with informal sector work, varied legal status, and
changing gender, family and community relations. She
has authored or edited nine books, and held research and
writing fellowships.”

Girls for Gender Equity’s Sisters in Strength Youth Organizers share their experiences
with the School to Prison Pipeline and how they’re impacted by School Push-out (2015)

“A snapchat story: how Black girls develop strategies for critical
resistance in school” by Lauren Leigh Kelly
● Published in 2018 in the academic journal Learning, Media and Technology

● Gap in the literature → Kelly’s intervention

● Kelly grounds her study in Black feminist theory, centering the experiences of
7 Black girls who are seniors in a predominantly-white high school. She
describes various examples of the girls engaging in critical resistance at school
and online through social media

● Kelly explores three main research questions:
○ How do Black girls who are (statistical) minorities in their schools experience

○ How do Black girls resist marginalization in the context of their schooling

○ How do Black girls experience community and intersectionality within school?

“While schools can serve as empowering spaces for Black
girls to develop self-knowledge and humanizing critical and
digital literacy practices (McArthur 2016; Sealey-Ruiz 2016),
these institutions can also be oppressive, dehumanizing
spaces for Black girls, ones in which survival and resistance
are oftentimes antithetical” (Kelly 374)

Interview with Balbina Sanchez in Boyle Heights (2013)

“Living the Third Shift: Latina Adolescent Street Vendors in Los
Angeles” by Emir Estrada & Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo
● The chapter was published as part of the book Immigrant Women Workers in

the Neoliberal Age in 2013

● Estrada & Hondagneu-Sotelo add to the feminist literature on
intersectionality by centering the experiences of teenage Latinx street vendors
in East Los Angeles and exploring the ways gender, race, class, and age shape
their lives

● They explore 3 main research questions:
○ Why do more girls than boys do street vending with their families?
○ How do the girls experience this activity?
○ Do the girls see this “third shift” as a burden or as a source of


“Street-vending girls such as Adriana thus contradict this
normative image of non-income-earning, “cared for” children.
These girls are not shielded from adultlike responsibilities and
public interactions. Rather, they do considerable housework,
and they are earning money at a site (the street) that is
normally considered a dangerous place for children, and girls
in particular” (Estrada & Hondagneu-Sotelo 144)

Resistance through Music
RRS 480

❖ Reading overview

❖ Choose a film

❖ Reminder: forum due Sunday
by 11:59pm

Image source: pinterest

“Born and raised in Harlem and the Bronx in New York City, Tricia Rose
graduated from Yale University where she received a BA in Sociology and
then received her Ph.D. from Brown University in American Studies. She
has taught at NYU, and UC Santa Cruz and is currently Chancellor’s
Professor of Africana Studies and the Director of the Center for the Study
of Race and Ethnicity in America at Brown University. Rose also serves as
Associate Dean of the Faculty for Special Initiatives. In addition to her
duties at Brown, Professor Rose sits on the Boards of the Nathan
Cummings Foundation, Color of Change and Black Girls Rock, Inc.

Rose is an internationally respected scholar of post-civil rights era Black
U.S. culture, popular music, social issues, gender and sexuality. She has
been awarded for her teaching and has received several scholarly
fellowships including ones from the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller
Foundation, and the American Association of University Women.”

Bio/Image Source:

Who are our authors?

Megan Thee Stallion is a rapper/songwriter from Houston, Texas.

“Megan has scored major streaming numbers, earned comparisons to
the likes of Trina and Lil Kim and signed a record deal with 300
Entertainment. Her music is unapologetically Southern, with her
thick Houston accent bouncing effortlessly over sensual and bare trap
beats, allowing her lyricism and delivery to shine through. On releases
like her 2018 mixtape Tina Snow, which has been streamed more than
11 million times across all platforms, she offers a refreshing female
perspective to a Southern rap scene whose stars remain largely male,
and presents herself as a peer to unapologetically confident
internet-first stars like Cupcakke, Rico Nasty, Cuban Doll, City Girls
and Saweetie.”

Bio Source: Rolling Stone
Image Source: GQ

Who are our authors?

The Birth of Hip Hop

“All Aboard the Night Train: Flow, Layering, and Rupture in
Postindustrial New York” by Tricia Rose
● Chapter 2 in the book Black Noise from 1994

○ One of the first academic books to study hip hop; today, it is
considered foundational to Hip Hop Studies

● Rose defines hip hop as “a cultural form that attempts to negotiate the
experiences of marginalization, brutally truncated opportunity, and
oppression within the cultural imperatives of African-American and
Caribbean history, identity, and community” (21)

● Rose explores three main research Q’s (see p. 26):
○ What is hip hop culture, and what contributed to its

○ What are some of the defining aesthetic and stylistic

characteristics of hip hop?
○ What is it about the postindustrial city in general and the social

and political terrain in the 1970s in New York City specifically
that contributed to the emergence and early reception of hip

Rose (cont’d)
● Rose emphasizes the importance of locating hip hop “within the context of deindustrialization” (22)

○ By 1970s, there was a significant decrease in federal funding for social services in the city, an increase in
displacement of mostly Black/Latinx folks, and loss of industrial jobs

○ New York = a city marked by extreme increasing wealth and income inequality along racial lines
■ “Between 1978 and 1986, the people in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale experienced an

absolute decline in income, whereas the top 20 percent experienced most of the economic growth. Black
and Hispanics disproportionately occupied this bottom fifth. During this same period, 30 percent of New
York’s Hispanic households (40 percent for Puerto Ricans) and 25 percent of Black households lived at
or below the poverty line” (28)

○ Mainstream depictions of South Bronx = negative, racist/classist (see p. 33)
○ This history = the backdrop for the emergence of hip hop culture; these were the living conditions of the youth

who created hip hop culture in New York
■ “Although city leaders and the popular press had literally and figuratively condemned the South Bronx

neighborhoods and their inhabitants, its youngest Black and Hispanic residents answered back” (34)

● Rose discusses the three main elements of hip hop culture:
○ Graffiti, breakdancing, and rap
○ Explores how young people of color used these elements to resist racialized, gendered, and classed narratives

about Black/Latinx youth
○ Rose’s important gender analysis; youth resisting some social inequalities while enforcing others

Clip from “Black Noise @ 25: Scott Poulson-Bryant and Tricia Rose”

“Why I Speak Up for Black Women” by Megan Thee Stallion
● Published Oct. 13, 2020 in The New York Times

● Megan discusses the specific discrimination and violence
that Black women often experience in different
contexts/industries both currently and historically. She
also reflects on her own experiences of violence and

● “In every industry, women are pitted against one
another, but especially in hip-hop, where it seems as if
the male-dominated ecosystem can handle only one
female rapper at a time. Countless times, people have
tried to pit me against Nicki Minaj and Cardi B, two
incredible entertainers and strong women. I’m not “the
new” anyone; we are all unique in our own ways.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Black girls weren’t inundated with
negative, sexist comments about Black women? If they
were told instead of the many important things that
we’ve achieved?”

SF State Student Strikes
RRS 480

Image source: Nacio Jan Brown, Dec. 3, 1968

❖ Reading overview + context
❖ Film: Agents of Change (67 min)
❖ Forum post
❖ Reminder: forum due Sunday by 11:59pm

SFSU 1968-69 Strike Collections
● Digital Special Collections

● ScholarWorks


● LibGuide Chronology

● J Paul Leonard Library SF
State College Strike

Image Description: Policemen in riot gear face off with
demonstrators on 19th Ave during student demonstrations meant to

shut San Francisco State College down. Associated Press 1/12/1969

VERY brief overview of events leading to ’68 strike
● Black Student Union (BSU) at SF State organized to begin

teaching Black studies classes by Spring 1966. They also
demanded the university admit more Black students, resulting
in ~400 slots for incoming Black students. BSU members began
to do outreach in their community to recruit Black students

● Other ethnic groups join forces with BSU to pursue greater
demands, creating the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF).
TWLF releases first official document on March 5, 1968

● Layoffs of faculty of color + demands for more relevant
education for students of color prompted ~400 students to
strike on Nov. 6, 1968. See list of demands here

● Strike included students, faculty, & community members;
admin + CA Gov. Reagan were in strict opposition to strikers,
called on police to violently attack strikers

● Strike ended on March 21, 1969. Several demands were met,
including the creation of a College of Ethnic Studies at SF State
— the first in the entire country

Image source: Dennis Beall

Source: SF State Strike Collection Source: SF State Strike Collection

Source: J. Paul Leonard Library Collection

“Contrary to a general misconception, the women of the movement were not passively
involved; they worked tirelessly alongside the men in various capacities and supported
them from the conception of the strike to the end. During negotiations with the
administration to end the strike, male BSU negotiators were barred from the meetings,
being labeled as troublemakers and instigators. A core female member of the BSU,
Ramona Tascoe, agreed to meet with the college president, S.I. Hayakawa to negotiate
the demands of the students to bring the strike to an end”

(p. 6 of Sharon Ann Jones’ MA Thesis, 2018)

“Women of the BSU were not silent, passive beings as they were portrayed by the ‘fake’
media. They were focused diligent workers; some of them exposed to activism, long
before they entered State. Women, Black women in particular, have always had a
reputation as fighters for their home and families, as well as for the entire race”

(p. 69 of Sharon Ann Jones’ MA Thesis, 2018)

2016 Fight for Ethnic Studies at SF State
Budget cuts for the College of Ethnic Studies were announced in early 2016, prompting student action

“We know that the College of Ethnic Studies will be constrained to an allocation that does not truly
constitute a budget… We know that fully implementing this allocation means cutting all funding to the
Cesar Chavez Institute, the college’s primary support for faculty research, creative work and partnership
projects with students and community; cutting all work study student funding; cutting core graduate
classes making it impossible to earn a master’s degree in Ethnic Studies, cutting all classes that would
replace teaching faculty on sabbatical (unless the university violates contract and cancels these earned
sabbaticals all together); defunding the Student Resource and Empowerment Center which provides
advising and counseling to students; basically cutting any expenditures that are not directly funding the
salaries of existing tenure track faculty member and permanent staff; and suspending for the next several
years all future hires even to replace retired faculty or faculty recruited to teach at other institutions. In
fact, we know that the allocation does not even provide enough funding to even pay the legally required
salary of tenure track faculty members and permanent staff, guaranteeing the College an artificial deficit
even before the College copies a single document, buys a single piece of equipment or funds a single piece
of material to support a student or faculty member’s work. Specifically, Academic Affairs has provided
$76,136, $114,052, and $275,096 fewer dollars per year respectively for the last three years than is required
to pay the mandatory salaries, and this is the practice proposed for the future”

– Kenneth Monteiro, February 25, 2016 (Dean of the College of Ethnic Studies in 2016)

“The university administration is playing a lot of smoke and mirrors with the
numbers to be able to say that they are paying for things when that may not

be the case… [The administration] says that we’re overspending when the
reality is they have slowly drained and underfunded our budget”

Dr. Andrew Jolivétte, (former) professor and chair of SF State’s American
Indian Studies department in 2016

Mourning the Loss of Hassani Bell

LINK to GoFundMe page

2016 Student Hunger Strike for Ethnic Studies
● First public meeting w/ President Leslie Wong, admin, students, & faculty held on Feb 25, 2016 on

campus at the Seven Hills Conference Room; hundreds of students were in attendance
● Several rallies followed, culminating in the student hunger strike

○ “We saw nothing was being done because we were doing rallies and our voices were still not
being heard” – Ahkeel Mestayer, one of the strikers

● Hunger strike began May 2, 2016 and ended May 11, 2016
○ Four students:

■ Hassani Bell, 18
■ Julia Retzlaff, 19
■ Sachiel Rosen, 19
■ Ahkeel Mestayer, 20

○ Third World Liberation Front 2016
● Some of the demands met:

○ $482,806 for the CoES
○ Funding for 2 full-time tenure-track positions in Africana Studies
○ Race and Resistance Studies minor → department status (making it a major)
○ Development of Pacific Islander Studies program within 5 years
○ Full list here

Queer Youth of
Color Resistance

RRS 480

Image: @nerdybrownkid

❖ Current Event info

❖ BRIEF reading overview

❖ Film: Pariah

❖ Forum post

❖ Reminder: forum due Sunday by 11:59pm

Current Event:
Due March 20th
Prompt available HERE

and via iLearn

Image source:
Translation: “Life is our school”

“Jen Reck is an Assistant Professor and has worked as a lecturer in the Departments of
Sociology and Sexuality Studies at San Francisco State University since 2006. At San

Francisco State University, she has taught courses in LGBTQ studies, introductory research
methods, action research, qualitative methods, gender, deviance, introductory Sociology,

writing, sexuality studies, and the Sociology of youth. She has researched debates over
same-sex marriage, lesbian intimate partner violence, and geographic marginalization of
homeless and marginally housed LGBTQ+ youth in San Francisco. Her current research

interests include criminalization of people experiencing homelessness and social movements
around public accommodation access for transgender people.” (SFSU Sociology website)

Dee Rees was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee. “Rees is a writer-director
whose feature film Pariah premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Pariah was
honored with the Festival’s U.S. Dramatic Competition “Excellence in
Cinematography” Award (Bradford Young) and picked up by Focus Features… In
2015, Rees’ film Bessie premiered on HBO, and starred Queen Latifah as the iconic
singer, Bessie Smith. The film was well received by critics. It won four Primetime
Emmy Awards, including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television
Movie. In addition, Rees was nominated for writing and directing the film.” (NYU
Tisch website). In 2018, Rees’ film Mudbound was nominated for several awards,
including four Oscar nominations (LA Times).

“Homeless Gay and Transgender Youth of Color in San Francisco:
‘No One Likes Street Kids’ — Even in the Castro” by Jen Reck
● Published in 2009 in the Journal of LGBTQ Youth

● Context: LGBTQ youth are disproportionately represented in homeless youth
population in the US

● “This article explores ways in which homeless transgender and gay youth of
color inhabit San Francisco gay community spaces to express their gender
and sexual identities and seek safety as gay and transgender homeless young
people. This research examines the importance of such community support
and places to these young people and analyzes the multiple ways in which
they face marginalization from this community due to their status as
homeless youth of color” (224)

● Reck focuses on the stories of 5 queer/trans/questioning youth of color:
Stacey, Kyla, Victor, JJ, and Mark

Pariah (2011)
Runtime: 1hr 26min

Description: A Black teenage girl named Alike
(played by Adepero Oduye) living in Brooklyn
embraces her identity as a lesbian, but she
struggles with how much she can confide in her
parents (played by Kim Wayans & Charles Parnell).

Content warning: this film delves into experiences
of homophobia and violence in the lives of queer
youth of color. Please pause, skip sections, etc. as
needed. Free counseling is offered to all SF State
students; more info linked here . Please feel free to
reach out to me if needed.

Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at

Learning, Media and Technology

ISSN: 1743-9884 (Print) 1743-9892 (Online) Journal homepage:

A snapchat story: how black girls develop
strategies for critical resistance in school

Lauren Leigh Kelly

To cite this article: Lauren Leigh Kelly (2018) A snapchat story: how black girls develop
strategies for critical resistance in school, Learning, Media and Technology, 43:4, 374-389, DOI:

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Published online: 19 Jul 2018.

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Citing articles: 5 View citing articles

A snapchat story: how black girls develop strategies for critical
resistance in school
Lauren Leigh Kelly

Department of Learning and Teaching, Rutgers University Graduate School of Education, New Brunswick, NJ, USA

Drawing from Black, feminist epistemologies as well as theories of critical
consciousness, and adolescent digital literacies, this paper analyzes the
narratives of 7 Black, female high school students who experience
oppressive practices, including racial microaggressions, silencing, harsh
discipline, and marginalization within a predominately White school
environment. At this juncture in which race, politics, and activism
intersect with school, media, and identity, this study discusses how
Black, female students resist oppression and use digital and social media
as well as other available tools to speak out against injustice and
heighten the racial awareness of their school community. This
qualitative case study uses individual and focus group interviews to
examine the ways in which Black female students develop critical
resistance strategies, working individually and collectively within existing
structures to fight for their humanity and liberation.

Received 15 January 2018
Accepted 26 June 2018

Black feminist theory; black
girl literacies; critical
consciousness; digital
literacies; suburban schooling

To the Little Revolutionary
Be careful, little lightning bug, when you spread your wings
Be mindful of the fire in your belly
There are those who will want to snuff you out
and put out your spark too young.
-Layla, 12th grade student


During the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Aaliyah,1 a Black, female sophomore in a predomi-
nantly White school, was disturbed by the fact that some of her White, male classmates were expli-
citly vocal in their support of a particular candidate, whose policies, she felt, undermined her
freedoms as a woman of color. Within school, there was little space provided to engage in healthy
dialogue about the election or its sociopolitical implications. In response, Aaliyah posted a photo
of two of these classmates on her Snapchat story with a caption that read ‘white supremacists.’
This action led to her being placed into in school suspension for using social media during school
hours. This example highlights how the intersections of institutional racism, digital and social
media, and school discipline impact the schooling experiences and critical development of students
of color, and more specifically, Black, female students. While schools can serve as empowering spaces
for Black girls to develop self-knowledge and humanizing critical and digital literacy practices
(McArthur 2016; Sealey-Ruiz 2016), these institutions can also be oppressive, dehumanizing spaces
for Black girls, ones in which survival and resistance are oftentimes antithetical (Morris 2016).

© 2018 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group

CONTACT Lauren Leigh Kelly [email protected] Department of Learning and Teaching, Rutgers University
Graduate School of Education, 10 Seminary Place, Room 229, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, USA

2018, VOL. 43, NO. 4, 374–389

Aaliyah’s turning to social media to express her frustrations at the oppression she experienced
inside school indicates a lack of and a need for ‘safe spaces’ in school for discussions of race and iden-
tity. It can also be viewed as a response to the ‘conspiracy of silence’ (Sue 2015) regarding expressions
of race and identity that impacts the learning environment and identity development of students of
color, and especially female students of color, in predominantly White spaces. Aaliyah’s actions
reflect the need for marginalized students to resist oppression using the tools available to them as
well as the need for schools to foster and support the critical development of adolescents in order
to build safe, inclusive, and culturally sustaining learning communities.

Background and context

Black women’s critical resistance

The Black Lives Matter movement, founded by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi; the
#metoo movement, founded by Tarana Burke; and the Say Her Name movement, founded by Kim-
berlé Crenshaw and Andrea Ritchie, are three examples of the visibility of the critical resistance of
Black women during this modern civil rights era (Raschig 2017). However, Black women’s leadership
in U.S. activism is far from new. McArthur (2016) reminds us that there is a ‘rich lineage of Black
women activists who used their voices and literacy practices for social change’ (364). This history
includes publically recognized leaders such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Fannie Lou
Hamer, and Ella Baker; however, it also includes less visible activists such as Black, female domestic
workers who, as Collins (2009) explained, ‘undermine the rules governing their employment by
creating Black female spheres of influence and control over the conditions of their work’ (220).
While such forms of activism are less visible, they are fundamental to the history of resistance
and survival of Black women in the U.S.

Collins (2009) describes structural inequality as a ‘matrix of domination’ that must be examined
through the lens of intersectionality in order to dismantle structural oppression. She explained, ‘If
power as domination is organized and operates via intersecting oppressions, then resistance must
show comparable complexity’ (Collins 2009, 218). Consequently, an examination of resistance strat-
egies, including the ways in which adolescents resist the structural forces of school, must involve a
complex understanding of the actions and experiences of Black women. Oftentimes, the contri-
butions of Black women’s actions and voices go unnoticed in the narrative of civil rights and social
justice activism since they take place within the interstices between Black (male) activism and
(White) feminism and emerge from a history of social movements that have excluded the intersec-
tionality of gender and race. As Crenshaw (1991) wrote,

Although racism and sexism readily intersect in the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and anti-
racist practices … . when the practices expound identity as woman or person of color as an either/or prop-
osition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a location that resists telling. (1242)

Ironically, it is at this very intersection that successful social justice movements often foment. Thus,
the struggle for equity and justice in U.S. society must rest upon an understanding of the experiences
and critical resistance of Black females.

Adolescents’ digital literacies and online identity formation

In an increasingly digital and media-centered society, adolescents often engage in literacy practices
through digital forms of communication and in online communities. These digital literacies can play
a role in adolescents’ identity development. In a 2013 study, McLean describes digital literacies as a
means by which young people, specifically Black Caribbean immigrant girls, can ‘come to voice’
(hooks 1994) and engage in critical dialogue with peers. McLean (2013) refers to adolescents’ use
of technology and social media as ‘identity markers’ (70) that highlight their multiple literacies as
well as their membership in multiple communities. Wängqvist and Frisén (2016) describe online


contexts as just as important as home and school contexts for the identity development of adoles-
cents. This is especially so for those who find few physical spaces in which their identities are sup-
ported and embraced. While digital spaces can serve as an important catalyst in the development of
adolescents’ identities, such development extends beyond the digital. As Kahne and Middaugh
(2012) argue, youth engagement in digital media can serve as a space for individual development
as well as an entry point for civic and social participation.

Research on black girls and schooling

Black girls’ tumultuous history in U.S. public schools extends as far back as 1960, when Ruby Bridges
defied angry White mobs of protestors to singlehandedly integrate an all-White school in New
Orleans. Like Ruby, many Black girls in predominately White schools face the reality that their pres-
ence in such schools is tolerated at best, and oftentimes unwanted. Race and gender thus become
omnipresent factors in their relationship to school, impacting the ways in which they position them-
selves in society, in schools, and online (McLean 2013). As Kerry, one of the participants in this
study, said,

[I]t’s always back to the narrative of Black women are always carrying the load for our race as a whole. So, why is
it that all the Black kids are agitating the community? They’re not Black kids. They’re Black girls.

Evans-Winters and Esposito (2010) stated,

Because feminist epistemologies tend to be concerned with the education of White girls and women, and raced-
based epistemologies tend to be consumed with the educational barriers negatively affecting Black boys, the
educational needs of Black girls have fallen through the cracks. (12)

Research on the experiences of Black girls in schools is critical since, ‘Because of racism, sexism, and
class oppression in the U.S., African American girls are in multiple jeopardy of race, class and gender
exclusion in mainstream educational institutions’ (Evans-Winters and Esposito 2010, 13). This
exclusion is exacerbated by the erasure of the contributions of Black women in mainstream history
curriculum and in public school curriculum broadly, which was not ‘designed with Black girls in
mind’ (Morris 2016, 26).

Previous scholarship on Black girls’ education corroborates discussions of the erasure and disem-
powerment of Black girls in schools, including their experiences of silence and isolation (Fordham
1993), inequitable discipline practices (Blake et al. 2011), colorblind racism (Chapman 2013), a social
acceptance of Black males that is not extended to Black females (Ispa-Landa 2013), and adults’
attempts at ‘re-form[ing] the femininity’ of Black girls (E. Morris 2007, 22). However, much of
the research on Black girls’ schooling focuses exclusively on the experiences of Black girls in
urban schools, leaving a paucity of research on the lives and development of Black girls who attend
suburban, racially diverse, or predominantly White schools.

In order for educators and schools to support the healthy development of Black girls and auth-
entically work towards equity in schools, more research is needed that documents the experiences
and critical practices of Black girls who actively resist what they experience as oppression in their
school environments. The study discussed in this paper examines the ways in which a group of ado-
lescent Black females in a predominately White school work individually and collectively within
existing structures to fight for their humanity and liberation.


As a theory of liberation, Black feminism provides a necessary framework for understanding and
researching Black womanhood and, by extension, Black girlhood. Patterson et al. (2016b)
describe Black feminist theory as a ‘vehicle for making black women’s critical consciousness
intelligible to black women’ as well as ‘a powerful methodological tool for research by and

376 L. L. KELLY

about black women’ (59). Evans-Winters and Esposito (2010) stated that ‘there is a need for a
coalition of educational researchers who seek to understand Black girls’ multiple realities …
empirically validate the experiences of girls of African descent … . and actively promote social
and educational policies at the micro- and macro-level, with those in mind who exist at the inter-
sections of race, class, and gender’ (15). Responding to this call, this qualitative research study
sought to discover how Black girls experience school as minoritized2 subjects and how they
develop tools for resistance and survival within this context. This research approach is rooted
in hooks’ (1994) assertion that Black women who ‘deal with sexism and racism, develop impor-
tant strategies for survival and resistance that need to be shared within black communities’ (118).
It is also based on Collins’ (2009) idea that,

When an individual Black woman’s consciousness concerning how she understands her everyday life undergoes
change, she can become empowered. Such consciousness may stimulate her to embark on a path of personal
freedom, even if it exists initially primarily in her own mind. (xii)

Through this lens, the struggle for liberation begins in one’s consciousness and an understanding of
Black girls’ consciousness development is essential to understanding and supporting their critical

In applying a framework of critical methodology to their analysis of the shared experiences of
Black women, Patterson et al. (2016b) offer a critique of ‘traditional’ research methods, which

an assumed separation between power-bearing researcher(s) and the objectified individuals being researched;
forms of data collection that truncate the robust exchange of ideas (e.g., rigidly structured interviews and sur-
veys); and presenting results to serve those who author them more so than the people who inform them. (59)

The author’s research study challenges such traditions by making visible the connections between
the researcher and the participants, deliberately engaging in a ‘robust exchange of ideas’ through
the structure of focus group interviews with the participants, and providing the participants with
a consistent and generative space for healing and testimony that extends beyond the research and
interview processes.

Since this study sought to better understand the experiences and practices of Black girls in school,
documenting the students’ narratives through individual and focus group interviews was critical to the
research approach and to understanding the girls’ particular forms of activism (Patterson, Howard, and
Kinloch 2016a). This practice of documentation serves dual purposes in that it helps the researcher to
gather information about the participants’ experiences at the same time that it helps them to articulate
and reflect on these experiences. Indeed, when the participants were first approached about being
involved in this study, each expressed eagerness to share their stories and to have their stories shared
with others who could both learn and heal from them. Patterson, Howard, and Kinloch (2016a) explain
that as Black women, ‘By being accountable to one another and providing the safe space to tell our
truths, we develop more fully human, less objectified selves’ (48). In pursuit of these aims, the author
entered this study with the following research questions:

. How do Black girls who are (statistical) minorities in their schools experience schooling?

. How do Black girls resist marginalization in the context of their schooling experiences?

. How do Black girls experience community and intersectionality within school?

Setting and context

This research study is connected to a long history between the author and the Apple Valley School
District in which each of the participants is a student. Apple Valley is a K-12 public school district
located in the suburbs of a large northeastern city in the U.S. The district serves students from mul-
tiple surrounding towns that are, for the most part, economically and racially distinct, making Apple


Valley’s student population one of the more racially and socioeconomically diverse in the area while
still remaining predominantly White and middle class. The Apple Valley School District consists of
multiple elementary schools, middle schools, and high schools. Having grown up in one of the towns
that Apple Valley serves, the author spent 13 years as a student in the district and later spent 8 years
as a teacher there. For the majority of the time the author spent as a teacher in one of Apple Valley’s
high schools, she was one of 3 Black teachers and 1 of 8 non-White teachers in a faculty of approxi-
mately 100, serving a student body of nearly 1400 students. 64% of the student body is identified as
White and 36% as students of color, including Black (16%); Asian (13.5%); ‘Hispanic’ (7%); two or
more races (2%); and American Indian (.4%). Socioeconomically, 19% of the student body qualifies
for free or reduced lunch.3

In addition to being underrepresented in the racial makeup of the faculty, the experiences of stu-
dents of color in Apple Valley High also follow national trends regarding overrepresentation in
exclusionary discipline (Kupchik and Catlaw 2015). According to the U.S. Department of Edu-
cation’s Civil Rights Data Collection,4 in 2015, students of color comprised 36% of Apple Valley
High School’s student body and 69.3% of the students placed in ISS (In School Suspension).
While Black students comprised 13.5% of the student population that year, they made up 38.5%
of the students placed in ISS. In that same year, 100% of the students placed in OSS (Out of School
Suspension) were students of color. Phrased differently, of the 37 students who received OSS that
year, zero of those students were White.

During a previous study, the author conducted an interview with a Black female college student
who had previously attended Apple Valley High. During the interview, the student explained that she
‘never felt comfortable’ in the school district, and that, ‘No one wants to be Black at that school.’ She
said that the day she graduated she felt, ‘Finally free.’ In her time as a teacher at Apple Valley High,
the author encountered many Black female students who shared similar experiences. Inspired by
these stories as well as her own, the author sought to examine how Black girls develop strategies
for survival and resistance in this predominantly White school as well as the outcomes of these


Based on the aforementioned theories and experiences, and with the assistance of former students,
the author organized a group of 7 research participants who were all Black girls in the same senior
class at Apple Valley High. This group consisted of Aaliyah, described in the introduction, Layla,
Lillian, Jasmine, Kerry, Marissa, and Monica. 4 of these 7 participants had been former students
of the author; two of the participants were introduced to the author through the research project;
and one of the participants was familiar with the author through school interactions, including hav-
ing a sibling who was a former student of the author. All 7 of these girls had been students in the
district since elementary school, and many had been friends or had known each other for just as
long. When prompted by the researcher, all 7 of the girls self-identified as ‘middle’ or ‘upper middle
class’ and were 17 years old at the time of the study, with the exception of Aaliyah, who was 16. The
criteria for participation in the project were being in the 12th grade class of Apple Valley High, iden-
tifying as Black and female, and having a history of engaging in activist-oriented practices in or out of
school. The sample size was intentionally small in order to preserve intimacy and rapport within the


For this study, the author conducted and audio-recorded an initial semi-structured focus group
interview; 7 individual semi-structured interviews with each of the participants, and a final fol-
low-up focus group interview. The purpose of the two focus group interviews was to elicit more
in-depth responses from the interactions between the participants and their stories than the

378 L. L. KELLY

individual interviews alone may yield as well as to provide a space in which the participants could
learn from and with each other, perhaps finding some healing through listening to each other’s stor-
ies. Additionally, the focus group structure can disrupt the potential ‘hierarchical relationship’ that
may arise in individual interviews (Creswell 2007). The interview questions asked about the girls’
experiences in school, engagement in digital and social media, experiences with mentorship and
community, and development as a Black female within and outside of the school community.
Each interview was approximately one hour long and took place over the course of several weeks
at the community library after school.

The interviews were transcribed and first categorized through open-coding and subsequently
through axial coding (Creswell 2007). Initial emerging themes included the girls’ sociopolitical devel-
opment, experience of microaggressions and negative perceptions of Black people in school, and
painful encounters with adults and peers in school. In this article, the author focuses on the partici-
pants’ development of critical consciousness and the ways in which their school community
responded to this development.


Critical consciousness

Brazilian philosopher and educator Paolo Freire (2000) defined oppression as the act of dehumaniz-
ing others; he described resistance to this oppression as critical consciousness, or the process of
becoming ‘more fully human’ (44). In other words, as one gains critical consciousness, she resists
dehumanization and, in doing so, works towards the full humanity of all. The process of developing
critical consciousness involves both ‘reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it’
(Freire 2000, 51). Based on the narratives of the 7 participants interviewed, the author found that
over the course of their time spent in high school, each of the girls developed characteristics of
the stages of critical consciousness as outlined by Watts and Hipolito-Delgado (2015). These include
critical social analysis, collective identification, political self-efficacy, and sociopolitical action. These
stages took on particular forms and meanings for the participants who experienced this conscious-
ness development at the intersections of Blackness, femininity, and adolescence. Simultaneously, the
girls’ development in the latter two stages, political self-efficacy and sociopolitical action, were sig-
nificantly limited by the response of the school community. The sections below discuss how the par-
ticipants exhibited stages of critical consciousness development as expressed through their individual
and collective narratives.

Critical social analysis/reflection

Critical social analysis, or critical reflection, is defined by Watts and Hipolito-Delgado (2015) as a
‘recognition of social inequalities and understanding of the unjust exercise of sociopolitical power
that creates them’ (849). This involves an analysis of inequity that moves beyond individual acts
of discrimination and reflects on the structures that institutionalize and perpetuate oppression. Criti-
cal social analysis provides individuals with ways in which to understand their experiences as sub-
jects of oppression as well as a means to begin to take action against this oppression.

For the students involved in this study, the development of critical social analysis occurred over
time and as a direct result of exposure to social issues and social media. The girls each applied their
developing understandings of their social and cultural worlds to their experiences and observations
in school, resulting in moments of critical reflection. One example of the participants’ critical social
analysis regarding school can be seen in the following example in which Layla shared some of her
experiences in school:

An administrator and some students have told me that I was just as bad as White supremacists. There’s never
been enough done in this district to acknowledge Black history. I’ve heard teachers say that they don’t even care


what day it is as long as they don’t have to come in, in reference to Martin Luther King Day. I’ve been told that
stereotypes can be a good thing, that Klan members can still be good people. A teacher of mine agreed with
students who said that racist memes weren’t that bad, only in bad taste …

Black people are constantly monitored while going through the hallway and often get more severe punishments
for first and second time offenses … . People are allowed to wear ‘Blue Lives Matter’ and ‘MAGA’ [Make Amer-
ica Great Again] apparel to school, but someone was told to change out of a ‘BLM’ [Black Lives Matter] shirt on
the day of the [Black History Month] assembly. Somehow the faculty of a predominantly White school … think
it’s their place to tell people of color how to feel. The history department continues to paint Martin Luther King
as an … ally to liberal white folk and Malcolm X as a radical terrorist, which is micro-aggressive, as he was not
only black, but Muslim.

In this response, Layla offers multiple critiques of practices within the school that she finds inequi-
table and oppressive, including the policing of political clothing only when it is worn by students of
color; increased monitoring and discipline of students of color; an absence of Black history edu-
cation; a disregarding of Black trauma; and a devaluing of the identities and experiences of students
of color. Additionally, Layla expresses an awareness that these issues are embedded in school struc-
tures such as pedagogy, curriculum, and discipline.

As Layla shared the above response, the other participants nodded along and expressed similar
experiences with microaggressions and structural inequality within school. They then recounted
the moments and processes by which their critical social analysis developed. In her one-on-one inter-
view with the author, Aaliyah discussed the challenge of developing socio-politically while simul-
taneously developing adolescent identities:

I mean there’s also a possibility when you’re young it’s like even more intensified because you have all these
feelings and you can’t name them. And at first it just really overwhelmed me; I was angry all the time, and
then I just – it became more regular I guess, sort of like when all that stuff was happening with police brutality,
sort of like grieving people that you don’t know sort of like does something to you, not in a good or bad way, it
just changes you in a certain way because you’re looking at the world differently and once that happens so many
times and dealing with the sadness of no repercussions happening and coming to school and having teachers
wearing Blue Lives Matters shirts and stuff like that during educational events and just being in school and hav-
ing someone wear confederate stuff and them not being yelled at … it felt very enclosing but now … I’m able to
compartmentalize more.

Aaliyah’s statement, ‘It just changes you in a certain way because you’re looking at the world differ-
ently,’ reflects the permanence of critical social analysis as well as the stages of this development as
she experienced it, including connecting societal inequality with her schooling experiences, feeling
anger and sadness, and finding strategies for withstanding these emotions by ‘compartmentaliz[ing].’

Like Aaliyah, Monica’s critical development also included feelings of sadness and anger and was
similarly triggered by the recognition of systemic racism in the criminal justice system. This recog-
nition began with the death of Trayvon Martin:

I was 12 or 13 when I first heard about what happened to Trayvon Martin; I was like, ‘Wow, this is really sad,
blah, blah, blah,’ but I was like, ‘But he’s going to get justice at the end of the day, like this guy is going to jail,
whatever,’ and then when I heard the verdict that he was going to go off scot-free I was like crying for hours and
I just really didn’t understand before then like what it was really like to be Black I guess … . after that I was just
angry a lot and I was like, ‘How could they just let this guy walk free after taking an innocent life?’ and … ‘Does
this happen often?’ … I was just so confused … . and then as I got older I started to see it happen – well I looked
back and I saw what happened with Rodney King and we learned about Emmett Till in school and … I really
didn’t fully understand until I saw it like when I was living in a time where that happened.

For Monica, it was not Trayvon Martin’s death, but the verdict that allowed Zimmerman to ‘go off
scot-free’ that led to her critical reflection on ‘what it was really like to be Black.’ In addition to Tray-
von Martin, Emmet Till, and Rodney King, Monica also discussed the police killings of Sandra Bland
and Philando Castile. She responded to the news of these events with both confusion and anger,
wrestling with the contradiction between the world as it was taught to her and the world as she
saw it:

380 L. L. KELLY

I don’t know. It’s just – it still is beyond me that people – I can’t really wrap my head around it still, like how do
people think that way- that that kind of behavior is okay? And then you know the people who kind of feed into
it like, ‘He was a thug and he didn’t … .’ Girl, what?

For Monica, critical curiosity (Clark and Seider 2017) was an important part of her social analysis.
She sought answers to questions such as ‘How could they just let this guy walk free after taking an
innocent life?’ and, ‘Does this happen often?’ as she ‘looked back’ and began to develop understand-
ings of the history of structural and institutional racism. Additionally, Monica describes a developing
recognition of the ways in which societal stereotypes impact individual attitudes and actions, stating,
‘And then you know the people who kind of feed into it like, “He was a thug.”’ Monica rejects these
concepts while also recognizing the ways in which implicit bias disproportionately impacts the lives
of Black people.

Aaliyah attributes much of her critical development to her engagement with social media, stating,
‘Twitter changed my life, because I feel like I got all the – like my beginnings of like hearing about
social issues all started from Twitter.’ Aaliyah began her Twitter account as a fan account for a band
that she liked. Over time, her followers developed Twitter identities that sparked Aaliyah’s critical
curiosity. According to Aaliyah,

They were like all evolving and stuff, and they all just started talking about things, and I’m like, ‘What is this
stuff?’ so it led me to like get more books and research more on my own to see more things. And I feel like
honestly, I learned more from Twitter than I did- in terms of like social issues and like real events- than I
did in school.

For Aaliyah, engagement in social media provided her with a scholarly community and sociopolitical
education that she found lacking in her formal schooling. In spite of the challenge of independently
developing critical awareness during adolescence, Aaliyah appreciated learning about social issues at
a young age since she

was able to grapple with the realities of life as a Black girl in this century earlier and so I don’t have to figure that
out in my 20s … I mean, it’s a long quest, but I have figured some of that stuff out and reached certain under-
standings pretty young, which I wouldn’t have been able to do without social media.

Like Aaliyah, Layla also attributed much of her sociopolitical development to engagement with social
media, stating,

I only joined Twitter in July, and already, like I’ve learned so much about like disabled people’s rights and like
erasure of Native Americans, and like it’s such a short time, but like I’m a lot more educated on these things
than I was.

Layla’s critical reflection extends beyond a recognition of racial inequity and addresses the oppres-
sion of those from disabled and indigenous populations. Ultimately, through engagement with social
media, she was able to connect the oppression and experiences of individual identity groups to a
broader struggle for social justice and equity.

The examples provided in this section reflect some of the ways in which the girls individually
came to critical understandings of society. This stage of critical social analysis impacted their indi-
vidual identity development and shaped their subsequent actions and perspectives. However, this
development was also impacted by the girls’ physical and conceptual connections to a larger com-
munity of Black womanhood. The following section discusses how the girls’ collective identification
impacted their schooling experiences and critical consciousness development.

Collective identification

According to Watts and Hipolito-Delgado (2015), collective identification ‘includes feelings of soli-
darity, collective efficacy, and shared culture’ (849). This process involves forging positive and
empowering definitions of one’s social identity and is ‘thought to inspire action or change, not
only for oneself, but also for the betterment of the collective’ (849). Collective identification is


integral to the development of critical consciousness since it can foster critical reflection while build-
ing fellowship between those who share a social identity. Collins (2009) discusses the significance of
this fellowship when she writes of Black women, ‘If she is lucky enough to meet others who are
undergoing similar journeys, she and they can change the world around them’ (xii). For the partici-
pants in this study, finding themselves within a community of Black girlhood both through social
media and their school was an instrumental part of their critical consciousness development.

Many of the girls in this study described feeling isolated as a Black girl within a predominantly
White school for much of their childhood and early adolescence. Finding solidarity with other
Black girls was often described by the girls in contrast to these experiences of isolation. Aaliyah,
for example, discussed the significance of finding ‘sisterhood’ and community with other Black
girls in juxtaposition to her experiences with White friends:

I would go home and make all these jokes that like me and my sister and me and my cousin, like we all get,
because we’re all Black, but then when it came to my [White] friends … they weren’t getting it … . I was getting
frustrated, because I’m just like, ‘No one gets me,’ except for at home … . when I was like able to make more
friends, like when I met Marissa and when I met Monica and I started getting closer with Layla and my [other]
friend and stuff like that, it was sort of like almost therapeutic to like find people that get me and my little jokes
… . It’s comforting.

Here, Aaliyah describes the cultural connection and emotional support that can be found in Black
sisterhood, since they ‘get me and my little jokes.’ Not only does collective identification help
Black girls in finding comfort and safety, but it can also help them to survive and navigate the oppres-
sion they experience since, according to Aaliyah, ‘you’re able to be more light-hearted about tough
things like racism in school when you have a group of Black girls that know what’s it like.’ This type
of solidarity is critical for the emotional development of Black girls as it reassures them that their
experiences of oppression are not unique to them and that there are others who share similar ideol-
ogies and lenses of critical social analysis.

Monica came to this realization through finding like-minded people on Twitter who ‘have the
same kind of mindset that I do and I’m just like, Wow, I really didn’t think that other people felt
this way about certain things.’ Aaliyah also expressed feelings of ideological isolation before
finding shared cultural and ideological communities on Twitter. According to Aaliyah, ‘It felt liber-
ating to speak with people that it wasn’t weird to discuss certain things or to think certain things and
just sort of let me be me in my own way.’ For Monica and Aaliyah, discovering that there were others
like them was emotionally and critically sustaining.

As Layla explained, finding sisterhood through collective identification required a reevaluation of
her existing friendships: ‘I still do have my white friends, but it’s different now … ‘cause they’ll never
understand you the way that my Black friends do, and there’s nothing wrong with that, but it is what
it is.’ While this distance may be more ideological than racial, as many of the other participants dis-
cussed maintaining close friendships with students who are not Black but who share similar ideol-
ogies and whom they see as allies, the girls all discussed the power of collective identification in
building community and spaces for healing. This can be seen in the following excerpt from the
first focus group interview:

Lillian There’s always gonna be like tensions between certain people, but we all share a similar story, and
like if something happens, like, oh, it’s like it happened to me too. Like, I’m here for you-

Marissa -and we always just talk to each other about like our Black people issues –
Lillian Yeah, and it’s just between –
Marissa And it’s only between us, and it’s just great to have that community … just walking into my classes,

seeing like the people that I can confide in just about anything … .
Aaliyah It’s comforting. It’s fun. It’s like you feel a sense of community. Like, our times like when we like –

we all have [the same] period off, so like –it’s a laugh every single day, and it’s just like my one period
to like relax and like –

Lillian Be yourself.
Aaliyah – be myself and sort of like let my hair down almost. I don’t know. I feel like that has been like the

biggest- like, what sisterhood looks like for me.

382 L. L. KELLY

Marissa Because I feel like if you don’t have like your black sisters in school, like you can’t really rely on
anybody, really, to be like your like true, true friend.

This dialogue reveals the necessity for black girls’ collective identification in maintaining
emotional health, developing critical analysis, and finding solidarity. Additionally, the ways in
which the girls finish each other’s sentences reveals the shared cultures and experiences that foster
this community of sisterhood.

Political self efficacy and sociopolitical action

Political self-efficacy is described by Watts and Hipolito-Delgado (2015) as ‘a growing sense of confi-
dence or a motive to take action to improve one’s status in society’ (849). This includes ‘feeling
capable of personal and community action’ in pursuit of social change (Watts and Hipolito-Delgado
2015, 849). Developing confidence in one’s own ability to create change is an essential stage in the
development of critical consciousness since, ‘New ideas and perspectives alone do not lead directly to
changes in the material world. It takes action in the form of strategic behavior to advance social lib-
eration’ (Watts and Hipolito-Delgado 2015, 848). As defined by Watts and Hipolito-Delgado (2015),
sociopolitical action is the ‘promotion of change in social and institutional policies or practices that
maintain an inferior status for members of marginalized groups’ (850). Such strategic action has the
potential to dismantle oppressive structures and create lasting change. For the participants, forms of
action included ‘coming to voice’ (hooks 1994), writing poetry, leveraging positions of power, and
using social media to raise awareness about racial injustice.

Resisting silence
In their individual interviews, all 7 of the participants expressed the idea that social change is con-
tingent upon individuals taking action. Jasmine, for example, said,

Whatever you can do to bring light to the situation, I guess because if you don’t bring light to it and you’re
silent, it’s just gonna roll by and nothing’s gonna get done. It’s gonna be a cycle and it’s gonna keep on going.

Like Jasmine, each of the participants expressed some confidence and willingness towards taking
action within their school communities by speaking out against injustices. Marissa expressed confi-
dence in taking action when she described an incident that occurred during homecoming week at the
high school. As a Black student and member of the mostly-White student government, Marissa had
to decide whether or not to move forward with the spirit week theme of ‘Freedom Friday’ after
receiving backlash from Black community, including parents, who took issue with the notion that
to live in America is to be free. She decided to take action by changing the theme, stating, ‘I’m
gonna do something about it … . I have to do something about it. I’m not gonna just allow these
people to feel uncomfortable, especially when I’m like in charge.’ In this instance, collective identi-
fication played a significant role in Marissa’s decisions, as devaluing the response of the Black com-
munity would also signify a devaluing of her own identities. Kerry also decided to take action after
the Freedom Friday incident, which she described as, ‘the straw on the camel’s back.’ In response to
the racial tensions in the school community, Kerry wrote a poem which she later read during a
school assembly:

The first line of the poem is until you realize that the same blood that courses through your veins was once
mixed with the dust of plantations, spattered on the streets during protests, and dripping from a swinging
rope hanging from a tree, you cannot understand the word freedom. Then it goes into sort of those reactions
in the classroom … . I never expect you to understand. But when I tell you something, when I voice my opinion,
I need it to be respected and I want it to be heard because it comes from such a large overwhelming experience
of what it means to be a Black girl, especially in this district.

Kerry’s decision to share her experiences through poetry reflects how young people engage in forms
of activism that are rooted in their literacy practices. At the same time, such engagement can lead to


social and disciplinary repercussions within school, a reality made evident by the experiences of
Layla and Aaliyah.

Youth activism and school discipline or a tale of two snapchats
As hooks (1994) explains, students who are ‘unwilling to accept without question the assumptions
and values held by privileged classes tend to be silenced, deemed troublemakers’ (179). Both Aaliyah
and Layla came to this realization through their experiences with social media and school discipline.
In discussing the Snapchat incident described in the introduction, Aaliyah explained that the first
comment that one of the administrators made to her was about her course load, remarking that
she was taking a ‘lot of good classes.’ For Aaliyah, who read this as, ‘almost like a cognitive disasso-
ciation from like you vs. like the bad Black people, kind of thing,’ her sense of collective identification
led her to feel insulted by the implications that this observation had for the school’s Black student
community. However, her feeling of powerlessness led her to remain silent:

I was like, ‘Okay, I understand that I did something against school rules, but the way that you twisted that to pin
me against other people that you view as bad is ridiculous and bad. I didn’t speak, because I just was like, ‘Well,
this is gonna get me in more trouble,’ so I just sat there … . And the fact that like a matter of race was like on the
table right here, right, and didn’t even think to call in the one Black administrator in the school or any sort of
Black professional, like not even like, ‘Oh, let me like think about this and get like a second opinion … ’

During her junior year, Layla also looked to social media as a space to express her frustrations and
perhaps educate her peers about social issues. In one instance, she used her Snapchat story to attempt
to change how the school dealt with Black History Month:

I was fed up with the school’s lack of action at Black History Month, especially after the Trump presidency
begins and like everything that was happening at the end of January, beginning of February was like the Muslim
ban and all these other things. So I was angry, and so I decided on my story to do like a little spotlight thing for
Black History Month every day, and so I talked about on one like different genres of Black music and like how
liberating they were. I talked in one about like colorism. I talked about reverse racism as a concept that doesn’t
exist … .

Layla’s actions in attempting to heighten other’s racial awareness through social media led to her
being harassed by a group of students who accused her of racism and radicalism. Layla engaged
in online exchanges with these students that escalated to the point where ‘someone actually posted
on their story, “Cross me and see what happens.”’ During the focus group interview, Layla recalled,

I took all of that to administration, and they’re like, ‘Well, we’ve heard about the things you were saying, like, “I
think only Black people should be able to say the N word,”’ this and that. ‘That’s kind of radical,’ this and that
and whatever.

The following day, Layla and two of the students involved were placed into ISS for engaging in
aggressive online exchanges. As Layla shared her story, many of the study participants interjected
with corroborating commentary, including, ‘Yes, I remember that’ and ‘They were aggressive. I
remember.’ During her individual interview, Layla described experiencing residual trauma from
the harassment of the students and the response of administration.

For both Layla and Aaliyah, who initially viewed social media as a safe space to be and express
themselves, Snapchat became a forum regulated by school surveillance on behalf of peers and admin-
istrators who reinforced a ‘conspiracy of silence’ (Sue 2015) around race and identity and engaged in
a form of silencing by subjecting them to exclusionary school discipline. Ironically, the use of Snap-
chat as an ephemeral space for self-expression (Bayer et al. 2016) exacerbated, rather than alleviated,
racial tensions in school. Kahne and Middaugh (2012) describe participatory politics as a framework
through which young people can ‘gain independence from traditional keepers of information and
political participation’ by introducing and sharing their narratives through social and digital net-
works (53). They argue that educators can prepare young people for civic participation by engaging
digital media literacies in their pedagogy and curriculum. Simultaneously, Kupchik and Catlaw

384 L. L. KELLY

(2015) reported that school suspension has a detrimental impact on young people’s future civic par-
ticipation. They attribute this to the idea that, ‘civic participation is taught through democratic,
inclusive educational climates that encourage participation’ and ‘suspension tends to reduce student
participation and contribute to undemocratic, noninclusive school climates’ (117). Unsurprisingly,
Kupchik and Catlaw (2015) also explained that since Black and Latinx youth are suspended at
much higher rates than their peers, they ‘bear the brunt of this overall negative effect far more
often than do white students’ (118). From these standpoints, both Snapchat incidents can be read
as missed opportunities for the school to support the civic and sociopolitical development of its stu-
dents by engaging in critical discussion of the ideologies and experiences that prompted the girls’
actions and the subsequent responses of their peers.

Kupchik and Catlaw’s (2015) findings are also supported by the fear that many of the participants
expressed regarding the consequences of challenging racism in the school. Throughout the focus
group and individual interviews, the participants often expressed feelings of racial battle fatigue,
the ‘mental, emotional, and physical strain’ that can result from frequent encounters with racial
microaggressions (Smith, Yosso, and Solórzano 2006, 300). Layla, for example, reported feeling
tired of explaining issues of equity to people, and Marissa stated that ‘it gets tiring being Black,
especially in school.’ According to Layla,

Even if you say something, it’s very hard to … challenge their worldview and change it. So I feel like it’s – not
that it’s not worth trying, but it takes a lot of energy to do so, and [I] don’t really have that.

While Layla recognized the need to speak up in school, she also expressed fatigue as a consequence of
doing so with very little impact. For these girls, being vocal about issues of race and equity in school
was exhausting and, in many cases, led to their waning confidence in their own self-efficacy. This
decrease in political self-efficacy was clearly expressed by Marissa:

I feel like maybe starting probably in tenth grade, I was like, ‘Okay, things need to change. I need to be the one to
make the change.’ But now under this new presidential administration, I feel like people are more willing to say
what they want to say and spew their hateful views. It’s kind of like no matter what I say, they don’t care, and
they’re just stuck in their ways now, especially because of Trump and everything that he says. So, I feel like
nothing I say matters, and nothing will sway their opinion.

Recognizing the context for the girls’ development and decrease in political self-efficacy is significant
in understanding the actions that they did and did not take within school. It is also important in
understanding the significance of the spaces that the girls did choose to express their ideas and iden-
tities. Since having confidence in one’s ability to create change is a precursor to taking action in pur-
suit of social change, the girls’ development of sociopolitical action is directly connected to their
complex beliefs about safety and survival.

Silence as resistance
As discussed previously, a lack of dialogue in school regarding the racial politics that impact the
lives of its Black students led to Aaliyah and Layla’s taking action via social media. In addition to
avoiding any concrete discussion of race after Aaliyah’s incident, the school’s administration took
the opportunity during the following semester, in which the presidential election took place, to
urge teachers and students at the school to avoid any discussion of the election unless it was
directly related to academic curriculum. For the participants, this institutionalization of silence
exacerbated their experiences of marginalization in school as well as their feelings of powerless-
ness. Thus, lacking support from their school community and lacking strategic approaches to
social action hindered their development of sociopolitical action. At the same time, however,
the girls learned how to develop strategies for survival within this context and survival is in itself
a form of activism. According to Collins (2009), Black women’s intersectional identities force them
to develop, ‘collective actions within everyday life that challenge domination in these multifaceted
domains’ (Collins 2009, 218). Patterson, Howard, and Kinloch (2016a) refer to these actions as


‘everyday activism,’ that constitutes a form of Black female literacy. According to the authors, ‘this
type of activism rebuffs traditional conceptions of activism as a public activity that adheres to a
publically accepted definition. Our everyday activism occurs in both public and private spaces,
in “official” and unofficial contexts, including inside educational institutions’ (Patterson, Howard,
and Kinloch 2016a, 43). For the girls in this study, their development of sisterhood, sociopolitical
awareness, and strategies for navigating their school environment expands on the tradition of
Black women’s activism.

Collins (2009) explained that Black women’s activism exists in two forms, or ‘dimensions’:
struggles for group survival and struggles for institutional transformation. The latter aligns
with Watts and Hipolito-Delgado’s (2015) definition of sociopolitical action in that it entails,
‘efforts to change discriminatory policies and procedures of government, schools, the workplace,
the media, stores, and other social institutions’ (Collins 2009, 219). The first dimension of Black
women’s activism, group survival, ‘consists of actions taken to create Black female spheres of
influence within existing social structures’ (Collins 2009, 219). Layla’s creation of a Black student
group chat is one example of how she worked to create ‘spheres of influence’ within existing struc-
tures. Another example of this form of action is Marissa’s involvement in student government
and other school-based organizations. While maintaining this involvement often required Mar-
issa to make her identities and ideologies less visible, they also helped her to gain power and
access within school:

I have like things to do, so I just – I can’t – the way I present myself with them, it’s kind of fake, but I get by, and
they love me, and but the problem is I’m like their token, and I know that, but I just – I do use it to my advan-
tage, just to get by in school and just to like be invited to certain events or like you know what I mean? … Like, I
have – I feel like I have to do it, and if I didn’t feel that way, I wouldn’t – I don’t know. Maybe I’d speak out more
against things that they do, but I don’t, because I kind of like use my status to my advantage.

Here, Marissa describes a DuBoisian ‘double-consciousness’ or what Collins (2009) refers to as a
‘dual consciousness’ in which ‘Black women “become familiar with the language and manners of
the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for the illusion of protection” (Lorde 1984, 114),
while hiding a self-defined standpoint from the prying eyes of dominant groups’ (107). Not only
does this strategy help Marissa to succeed socially and academically, but it is also a form of subversive
action that resists the oppressive practices of the institution by gaining access and power within it.
Aaliyah describes this dual consciousness as an ‘in-between act’ that she learned to develop over
time. While this consciousness is not explicitly taught, it is a result of their experiences as Black
girls who have learned that navigating institutions is the only way to overcome them. For the par-
ticipants, their ability to learn and navigate the structures of a racially isolating institution is an
expression of everyday activism rooted in Black female epistemologies (Patterson, Howard, and Kin-
loch 2016a).


Social media as third space

The existence of social media as a liminal space, constantly (re)constructed through collective dia-
logue and individuals’ digital practices, creates a type of ‘Third Space’ (Gutiérrez 2008) in which digi-
tal platform users and media content reciprocally shape and are shaped by each other. Gutiérrez
(2008) refers to the Third Space as an environment ‘in which students begin to reconceive who
they are and what they might be able to accomplish’ (148). Aaen and Dalsgaard (2016) explain,
‘third spaces emerge from a need for discourses that cannot take place within existing settings’
(162). This points to the ways in which learning takes places outside of school while also being
informed by school. For the participants in this study, involvement in digital and social media pro-
vided them with an alternative curriculum through which they could access language, perspectives,
communities, and dialogues not available to them in school.

386 L. L. KELLY

Schools as sites of disruption

Since classrooms offer ‘the most radical space of possibility’ (hooks 1994), it is within classrooms that
the seeds of social transformation must be cultivated. The narratives of the participants in this study
contribute to developing research and praxis on educational equity, especially pertaining to the most
marginalized youth in schools. Within their school environment, the girls in this study sought sup-
port from peers and adults in understanding, healing from, and responding to the racial microag-
gressions they faced daily as well as the violence against Black bodies that they viewed in history
and in contemporary media. Lacking such school-based support, these girls developed their own
strategies of action, many of which resulted in their being silenced and isolated. Baker-Bell, Stan-
brough, and Everett (2017) remind us of the responsibility of critical educators to ‘equip teachers
with transformative tools that work toward healing Black youth and supporting them in speaking
back to and against racial violence’ (138). Within the participants’ experiences, many of the adults
they encountered in school read the girls’ objections as behavioral challenges rather than critical
resistance or social justice actions.

This study pushes teachers and teacher educators to develop new classroom practices to support
the social, emotional, critical and academic development of Black girls as well as all students, since, ‘If
we focus on excellent educational pedagogies for Black women and girls, given their distinct oppres-
sive histories, then Black women lay the foundation for advancing education for all’ (Muhammad
and Haddix 2016, 300). Future research should investigate what schools are successfully doing to
foster critical consciousness amongst young people and how such schools cultivate environments
of safety and support for students of color, especially Black girls.

Black feminist epistemologies as resistance

Patterson et al. (2016b) explain, ‘The evolution from knowledge to resistant action is essential to
black feminism’ (58). The girls in this study learned from and with each other how to navigate
the institution of school and find ways to resist oppressive practices within it, creating frameworks
for resistance within spaces that attempted to marginalize and exclude them. Morris (2016) wrote,
‘Every girl is unique … understanding widely shared experiences connected to structural forces big-
ger than us would go a long way toward supporting the success and education of Black girls’ (86).
While the narratives captured in this study by no means reflect the entirety of the experiences of
Black girls in predominantly White schools, their testimonies allow for a more complex understand-
ing of how young people develop socio-politically and how school communities can support or limit
this development. Thus, research and practice involving young people’s social development and acti-
vism must take into account Black feminist epistemologies and the ways in which Black girls may
engage in ‘everyday activism’ that often goes unrecognized as a form of critical resistance.


1. Pseudonyms are used for all people and places referenced in this study.
2. As explained by (Souto-Manning and Winn 2017), the term ‘minoritized more accurately conveys the power

relations and processes by which certain groups are socially, economically, and politically marginalized within
the larger society’ (xviii).

3. Data retrieved from 2015 U.S. News and World Report.
4. Data retrieved from Civil Rights Data Collection:

Disclosure statement

No potential conflict of interest was reported by the author.


Notes on contributor

Lauren Leigh Kelly is an assistant professor of urban teacher education at Rutgers University Graduate School of Edu-
cation. She taught high school English for 10 years in New York. Kelly’s research is focused on critical hip-hop litera-
cies, critical consciousness development, Black feminist theory, and culturally responsive pedagogy.


Lauren Leigh Kelly


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Chapman, T. K. 2013. “You Can’t Erase Race! Using CRT to Explain the Presence of Race and Racism in Majority
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NY: Routledge.

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Color.” Stanford Law Review 43: 1241–1299.

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Suburban Schools.” Sociology of Education 86 (3): 218–233.
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Kupchik, A., and T. J. Catlaw. 2015. “Discipline and Participation: The Long-Term Effects of Suspension and School

Security on the Political and Civic Engagement of Youth.” Youth & Society 47 (1): 95–124.
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and the Gendered Self:(Re) Constructing Identities Through Multimodal Literacy Practices, edited by B. J. Guzzetti,
and T. W. Bean, 64–73. New York, NY: Routledge.

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38 (4): 490–515.

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388 L. L. KELLY

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  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Background and context
    • Black women’s critical resistance
    • Adolescents’ digital literacies and online identity formation
    • Research on black girls and schooling
  • Methodology
    • Setting and context
    • Sample
    • Methods
  • Results
    • Critical consciousness
    • Critical social analysis/reflection
    • Collective identification
    • Political self efficacy and sociopolitical action
      • Resisting silence
      • Youth activism and school discipline or a tale of two snapchats
      • Silence as resistance
  • Discussion/Implications
    • Social media as third space
    • Schools as sites of disruption
  • Black feminist epistemologies as resistance
  • Notes
  • Disclosure statement
  • Notes on contributor
  • References

Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women
of Color

Author(s): Kimberle Crenshaw

Source: Stanford Law Review , Jul., 1991, Vol. 43, No. 6 (Jul., 1991), pp. 1241-1299

Published by: Stanford Law Review

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Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality,
Identity Politics, and Violence Against

Women of Color

Kimberle Crenshaw*


Over the last two decades, women have organized against the almost
routine violence that shapes their lives.1 Drawing from the strength of
shared experience, women have recognized that the political demands of mil-
lions speak more powerfully than the pleas of a few isolated voices. This
politicization in turn has transformed the way we understand violence
against women. For example, battering and rape, once seen as private (fam-
ily matters) and aberrational (errant sexual aggression), are now largely rec-
ognized as part of a broad-scale system of domination that affects women as
a class.2 This process of recognizing as social and systemic what was for-

* ? 1993 by Kimberle Crenshaw. Professor of Law, University of California, Los Angeles.
B.A. Cornell University, 1981; J.D. Harvard Law School, 1984; LL.M. University of Wisconsin,

I am indebted to a great many people who have pushed this project along. For their kind assist-
ance in facilitating my field research for this article, I wish to thank Maria Blanco, Margaret Cam-
brick, Joan Creer, Estelle Cheung, Nilda Rimonte and Fred Smith. I benefitted from the comments
of Taunya Banks, Mark Barenberg, Darcy Calkins, Adrienne Davis, Gina Dent, Brent Edwards,
Paul Gewirtz, Lani Guinier, Neil Gotanda, Joel Handler, Duncan Kennedy, Henry Monaghan, Eliz-
abeth Schneider and Kendall Thomas. A very special thanks goes to Gary Peller and Richard Yar-
borough. Jayne Lee, Paula Puryear, Yancy Garrido, Eugenia Gifford and Leti Volpp provided
valuable research assistance. I gratefully acknowledge the support of the Academic Senate of
UCLA, Center for Afro-American Studies at UCLA, the Reed Foundation and Columbia Law
School. Earlier versions of this article were presented to the Critical Race Theory Workshop and the
Yale Legal Theory Workshop.

This article is dedicated to the memory of Denise Carty-Bennia and Mary Joe Frug.
1. Feminist academics and activists have played a central role in forwarding an ideological and

institutional challenge to the practices that condone and perpetuate violence against women. See

GLES OF THE BATTERED WOMEN’S MOVEMENT (1982) (arguing that battering is a means of main-
taining women’s subordinate position); S. BROWNMILLER, supra note 1 (arguing that rape is a


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merly perceived as isolated and individual has also characterized the identity
politics of African Americans, other people of color, and gays and lesbians,
among others. For all these groups, identity-based politics has been a source
of strength, community, and intellectual development.

The embrace of identity politics, however, has been in tension with domi-
nant conceptions of social justice. Race, gender, and other identity catego-
ries are most often treated in mainstream liberal discourse as vestiges of bias
or domination-that is, as intrinsically negative frameworks in which social
power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different. According
to this understanding, our liberatory objective should be to empty such cate-
gories of any social significance. Yet implicit in certain strands of feminist
and racial liberation movements, for example is the view that the social
power in delineating difference need not be the power of domination; it can
instead be the source of social empowerment and reconstruction.

The problem with identity politics is not that it fails to transcend differ-
ence, as some critics charge, but rather the opposite-that it frequently con-
flates or ignores intragroup differences. In the context of violence against
women, this elision of difference in identity politics is problematic, funda-
mentally because the violence that many women experience is often shaped
by other dimensions of their identities, such as race and class. Moreover,
ignoring difference within groups contributes to tension among groups, an-
other problem of identity politics that bears on efforts to politicize violence
against women. Feminist efforts to politicize experiences of women and an-
tiracist efforts to politicize experiences of people of color have frequently
proceeded as though the issues and experiences they each detail occur on
mutually exclusive terrains. Although racism and sexism readily intersect in
the lives of real people, they seldom do in feminist and antiracist practices.
And so, when the practices expound identity as woman or person of color as
an either/or proposition, they relegate the identity of women of color to a
location that resists telling.

My objective in this article is to advance the telling of that location by
exploring the race and gender dimensions of violence against women of
color.3 Contemporary feminist and antiracist discourses have failed to con-

patriarchal practice that subordinates women to men); Elizabeth Schneider, The Violence of Privacy,
23 CONN. L. REV. 973, 974 (1991) (discussing how “concepts of privacy permit, encourage and
reinforce violence against women”); Susan Estrich, Rape, 95 YALE L.J. 1087 (1986) (analyzing rape
law as one illustration of sexism in criminal law); see also CATHARINE A. MACKINNON, SEXUAL
that sexual harassment should be redefined as sexual discrimination actionable under Title VII,
rather than viewed as misplaced sexuality in the workplace).

3. This article arises out of and is inspired by two emerging scholarly discourses. The first is
critical race theory. For a cross-section of what is now a substantial body of literature, see PATRICIA
J. WILLIAMS, THE ALCHEMY OF RACE AND RIGHTS (1991); Robin D. Barnes, Race Consciousness:
The Thematic Content of Racial Distinctiveness in Critical Race Scholarship, 103 HARV. L. REV.
1864 (1990); John 0. Calmore, Critical Race Theory, Archie Shepp, and Fire Music. Securing an
Authentic Intellectual Life in a Multicultural World, 65 S. CAL. L. REV. 2129 (1992); Anthony E.
Cook, Beyond Critical Legal Studies: The Reconstructive Theology of Dr. Martin Luther King, 103
HARV. L. REV. 985 (1990); Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Race, Reform and Retrenchment: Trans-
formation and Legitimation in Antidiscrimination Law, 101 HARV. L. REV. 1331 (1988); Richard

1242 [Vol. 43:1241

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sider intersectional identities such as women of color.4 Focusing on two
dimensions of male violence against women-battering and rape-I consider
how the experiences of women of color are frequently the product of inter-
secting patterns of racism and sexism,5 and how these experiences tend not

Delgado, When a Story is Just a Story: Does Voice Really Matter?, 76 VA. L. REV. 95 (1990); Neil
Gotanda, A Critique of “Our Constitution is Colorblind,” 44 STAN. L. REV. 1 (1991) Mari J. Mat-
suda, Public Response to Racist Speech: Considering the Victim’s Story, 87 MICH. L. REV. 2320
(1989); Charles R. Lawrence III, The Id, the Ego, and Equal Protection: Reckoning with Unconscious
Racism, 39 STAN. L. REV. 317 (1987); Gerald Torres, Critical Race Theory: The Decline of the
Universalist Ideal and the Hope of Plural Justice-Some Observations and Questions of an Emerging
Phenomenon, 75 MINN. L. REV. 993 (1991). For a useful overview of critical race theory, see
Calmore, supra, at 2160-2168.

A second, less formally linked body of legal scholarship investigates the connections between
race and gender. See, e.g., Regina Austin, Sapphire Bound!, 1989 WIS. L. REV. 539; Crenshaw,
supra; Angela P. Harris, Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory, 42 STAN. L. REV. 581
(1990); Marlee Kline, Race, Racism and Feminist Legal Theory, 12 HARV. WOMEN’S L.J. 115
(1989); Dorothy E. Roberts, Punishing Drug Addicts Who Have Babies: Women of Color, Equality
and the Right of Privacy, 104 HARV. L. REV. 1419 (1991); Cathy Scarborough, Conceptualizing
Black Women’s Employment Experiences, 98 YALE L.J. 1457 (1989) (student author); Peggie R.
Smith, Separate Identities: Black Women, Work and Title VII, 14 HARV. WOMEN’S L.J. 21 (1991);
Judy Scales-Trent, Black Women and the Constitution: Finding Our Place, Asserting Our Rights, 24
HARV. C.R-C.L. L. REV. 9 (1989); Judith A. Winston, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Title VII, Section
1981, and the Intersection of Race and Gendet ‘n the Civil Rights Act of 1990, 79 CAL. L. REV. 775
(1991). This work in turn has been informed oy a broader literature examining the interactions of
race and gender in other contexts. See, e.g., PATRICIA HILL COLLINS, BLACK FEMINIST THOUGHT:
NIST THOUGHT (1988); Frances Beale, Double Jeopardy: To Be Black and Female, in THE BLACK
WOMAN 90 (Toni Cade ed. 1970); Kink-Kok Cheung, The Woman Warrior versus The Chinaman
Pacific: Must a Chinese American Critic Choose between Feminism and Heroism?, in CONFLICTS IN
FEMINISM 234 (Marianne Hirsch & Evelyn Fox Keller eds. 1990); Deborah H. King, Multiple Jeop-
ardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology, 14 SIGNS 42 (1988); Diane
K. Lewis, A Response to Inequality: Black Women, Racism and Sexism, 3 SIGNS 339 (1977);
Deborah E. McDowell, New Directions for Black Feminist Criticism, in THE NEW FEMINIST CRITI-
CISM: ESSAYS ON WOMEN, LITERATURE AND THEORY 186 (Elaine Showalter ed. 1985); Valerie
Smith, Black Feminist Theory and the Representation of the “Other” in CHANGING OUR OWN

4. Although the objective of this article is to describe the intersectional location of women of
color and their marginalization within dominant resistance discourses, I do not mean to imply that
the disempowerment of women of color is singularly or even primarily caused by feminist and an-
tiracist theorists or activists. Indeed, I hope to dispell any such simplistic interpretations by captur-
ing, at least in part, the way that prevailing structures of domination shape various discourses of
resistance. As I have noted elsewhere, “People can only demand change in ways that reflect the
logic of the institutions they are challenging. Demands for change that do not reflect . . . dominant
ideology . . . will probably be ineffective.” Crenshaw, supra note 3, at 1367. Although there are
significant political and conceptual obstacles to moving against structures of domination with an
intersectional sensibility, my point is that the effort to do so should be a central theoretical and
political objective of both antiracism and feminism.

5. Although this article deals with violent assault perpetrated by men against women, women
are also subject to violent assault by women. Violence among lesbians is a hidden but significant
problem. One expert reported that in a study of 90 lesbian couples, roughly 46% of lesbians have
been physically abused by their partners. Jane Garcia, The Cost of Escaping Domestic Violence: Fear
of Treatment in a Largely Homophobic Society May Keep Lesbian Abuse Victims from Calling for
Help, L.A. Times, May 6, 1991, at 2; see also NAMING THE VIOLENCE: SPEAKING OUT ABOUT
LESIBIAN BATTERING (Kerry Lobel ed. 1986); Ruthann Robson, Lavender Bruises. Intralesbian Vio-
lence, Law and Lesbian Legal Theory, 20 GOLDEN GATE U.L. REV. 567 (1990). There are clear
parallels between violence against women in the lesbian community and violence against women in

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to be represented within the discourses of either feminism or antiracism. Be-
cause of their intersectional identity as both women and of color within dis-
courses that are shaped to respond to one or the other, women of color are
marginalized within both.

In an earlier article, I used the concept of intersectionality to denote the
various ways in which race and gender interact to shape the multiple dimen-
sions of Black6 women’s employment experiences.7 My objective there was
to illustrate that many of the experiences Black women face are not sub-
sumed within the traditional boundaries of race or gender discrimination as
these boundaries are currently understood, and that the intersection of ra-
cism and sexism factors into Black women’s lives in ways that cannot be
captured wholly by looking at the race or gender dimensions of those exper-
iences separately. I build on those observations here by exploring the vari-
ous ways in which race and gender intersect in shaping structural, political,
and representational aspects of violence against women of color.8

I should say at the outset that intersectionality is not being offered here
as some new, totalizing theory of identity. Nor do I mean to suggest that
violence against women of color can be explained only through the specific
frameworks of race and gender considered here.9 Indeed, factors I address

communities of color. Lesbian violence is often shrouded in secrecy for similar reasons that have
suppressed the exposure of heterosexual violence in communities of color-fear of embarassing other
members of the community, which is already stereotyped as deviant, and fear of being ostracized
from the community. Despite these similarities, there are nonetheless distinctions between male
abuse of women and female abuse of women that in the context of patriarchy, racism and
homophobia, warrants more focused analysis than is possible here.

6. I use “Black” and “African American” interchangeably throughout this article. I capitalize
“Black” because “Blacks, like Asians, Latinos, and other ‘minorities,’ constitute a specific cultural
group and, as such, require denotation as a proper noun.” Crenshaw, supra note 3, at 1332 n.2
(citing Catharine MacKinnon, Feminism, Marxism, Method, and the State: An Agendafor Theory, 7
SIGNS 515, 516 (1982)). By the same token, I do not capitalize “white,” which is not a proper noun,
since whites do not constitute a specific cultural group. For the same reason I do not capitalize
“women of color.”

7. Kimberle Crenshaw, Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex, 1989 U. CHI.
LEGAL F. 139.

8. I explicitly adopt a Black feminist stance in this survey of violence against women of color.
I do this cognizant of several tensions that such a position entails. The most significant one stems
from the criticism that while feminism purports to speakfor women of color through its invocation
of the term “woman,” the feminist perspective excludes women of color because it is based upon the
experiences and interests of a certain subset of women. On the other hand, when white feminists
attempt to include other women, they often add our experiences into an otherwise unaltered frame-
work. It is important to name the perspective from which one constructs her analysis; and for me,
that is as a Black feminist. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge that the materials that I
incorporate in my analysis are drawn heavily from research on Black women. On the other hand, I
see my own work as part of a broader collective effort among feminists of color to expand feminism
to include analyses of race and other factors such as class, sexuality, and age. I have attempted
therefore to offer my sense of the tentative connections between my analysis of the intersectional
experiences of Black women and the intersectional experiences of other women of color. I stress that
this analysis is not intended to include falsely nor to exclude unnecessarily other women of color.

9. I consider intersectionality a provisional concept linking contemporary politics with
postmodern theory. In mapping the intersections of race and gender, the concept does engage domi-
nant assumptions that race and gender are essentially separate categories. By tracing the categories
to their intersections, I hope to suggest a methodology that will ultimately disrupt the tendencies to
see race and gender as exclusive or separable. While the primary intersections that I explore here are


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only in part or not at all, such as class or sexuality, are often as critical in
shaping the experiences of women of color. My focus on the intersections of
race and gender only highlights the need to account for multiple grounds of
identity when considering how the social world is constructed.’0

I have divided the issues presented in this article into three categories. In
Part I, I discuss structural intersectionality, the ways in which the location
of women of color at the intersection of race and gender makes our actual
experience of domestic violence, rape, and remedial reform qualitatively dif-
ferent than that of white women. I shift the focus in Part II to political
intersectionality, where I analyze how both feminist and antiracist politics
have, paradoxically, often helped to marginalize the issue of violence against
women of color. Then in Part III, I discuss representational intersectional-
ity, by which I mean the cultural construction of women of color. I consider
how controversies over the representation of women of color in popular cul-
ture can also elide the particular location of women of color, and thus be-
come yet another source of intersectional disempowerment. Finally, I
address the implications of the intersectional approach within the broader
scope of contemporary identity politics.


A. Structural Intersectionality and Battering

I observed the dynamics of structural intersectionality during a brief field
study of battered women’s shelters located in minority communities in Los
Angeles.” In most cases, the physical assault that leads women to these
shelters is merely the most immediate manifestation of the subordination
they experience. Many women who seek protection are unemployed or un-
deremployed, and a good number of them are poor. Shelters serving these
women cannot afford to address only the violence inflicted by the batterer;
they must also confront the other multilayered and routinized forms of dom-
ination that often converge in these women’s lives, hindering their ability to
create alternatives to the abusive relationships that brought them to shelters
in the first place. Many women of color, for example, are burdened by pov-
erty, child care responsibilities, and the lack of job skills.’2 These burdens,

between race and gender, the concept can and should be expanded by factoring in issues such as
class, sexual orientation, age, and color.

10. Professor Mari Matsuda calls this inquiry “asking the other question.” Mari J. Matsuda,
Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal Theory Out of Coalition, 43 STAN. L. REV. 1183 (1991).
For example, we should look at an issue or condition traditionally regarded as a gender issue and
ask, “Where’s the racism in this?”

11. During my research in Los Angeles, California, I visited Jenessee Battered Women’s Shel-
ter, the only shelter in the Western states primarily serving Black women, and Everywoman’s Shel-
ter, which primarily serves Asian women. I also visited Estelle Chueng at the Asian Pacific Law
Foundation, and I spoke with a representative of La Casa, a shelter in the predominantly Latino
community of East L.A.

12. One researcher has noted, in reference to a survey taken of battered women’s shelters, that
“many Caucasian women were probably excluded from the sample, since they are more likely to
have available resources that enable them to avoid going to a shelter. Many shelters admit only
women with few or no resources or alternatives.” MILDRED DALEY PAGELOW, WOMAN-BAT-

1245 July 1991]

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largely the consequence of gender and class oppression, are then com-
pounded by the racially discriminatory employment and housing practices
women of color often face,13 as well as by the disproportionately high unem-
ployment among people of color that makes battered women of color less
able to depend on the support of friends and relatives for temporary
shelter. 14

Where systems of race, gender, and class domination converge, as they
do in the experiences of battered women of color, intervention strategies
based solely on the experiences of women who do not share the same class or
race backgrounds will be of limited help to women who because of race and
class face different obstacles.15 Such was the case in 1990 when Congress
amended the marriage fraud provisions of the Immigration and Nationality
Act to protect immigrant women who were battered or exposed to extreme
cruelty by the United States citizens or permanent residents these women

TERING: VICTIMS AND THEIR EXPERIENCES 97 (1981). On the other hand, many middle- and up-
per-class women are financially dependent upon their husbands and thus experience a diminution in
their standard of living when they leave their husbands.

13. Together they make securing even the most basic necessities beyond the reach of many.
Indeed one shelter provider reported that nearly 85 percent of her clients returned to the battering
relationships, largely because of difficulties in finding employment and housing. African Americans
are more segregated than any other racial group, and this segregation exists across class lines. Re-
cent studies in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs show that 64% of Blacks trying to rent apartments
in white neighborhoods encountered discrimination. Tracy Thompson, Study Finds ‘Persistent’ Ra-
cial Bias in Area’s Rental Housing, Wash. Post, Jan. 31, 1991, at D1. Had these studies factored
gender and family status into the equation, the statistics might have been worse.

14. More specifically, African Americans suffer from high unemployment rates, low incomes,
and high poverty rates. According to Dr. David Swinton, Dean of the School of Business at Jackson
State University in Mississippi, African Americans “receive three-fifths as much income per person
as whites and are three times as likely to have annual incomes below the Federally defined poverty
level of $12,675 for a family of four.” Urban League Urges Action, N.Y. Times, Jan. 9, 1991, at A14.
In fact, recent statistics indicate that racial economic inequality is “higher as we begin the 1990s
than at any other time in the last 20 years.” David Swinton, The Economic Status of African Ameri-
cans: “Permanent” Poverty and Inequality, in THE STATE OF BLACK AMERICA 1991, at 25 (1991).

The economic situation of minority women is, expectedly, worse than that of their male coun-
terparts. Black women, who earn a median of $7,875 a year, make considerably less than Black men,
who earn a median income of $12,609 a year, and white women, who earn a median income of
$9,812 a year. Id. at 32 (Table 3). Additionally, the percentage of Black female-headed families
living in poverty (46.5%) is almost twice that of white female-headed families (25.4%). Id. at 43
(Table 8). Latino households also earn considerably less than white households. In 1988, the me-
dian income of Latino households was $20,359 and for white households, $28,340-a difference of
almost $8,000. HISPANIC AMERICANS: A STATISTICAL SOURCEBOOK 149 (1991). Analyzing by
origin, in 1988, Puerto Rican households were the worst off, with 34.1% earning below $10,000 a
year and a median income for all Puerto Rican households of $15,447 per year. Id. at 155. 1989
statistics for Latino men and women show that women earned an average of $7,000 less than men.
Id. at 169.

15. See text accompanying notes 61-66 (discussing shelter’s refusal to house a Spanish-speak-
ing woman in crisis even though her son could interpret for her because it would contribute to her
disempowerment). Racial differences marked an interesting contrast between Jenesee’s policies and
those of other shelters situated outside the Black community. Unlike some other shelters in Los
Angeles, Jenessee welcomed the assistance of men. According to the Director, the shelter’s policy
was premised on a belief that given African American’s need to maintain healthy relations to pursue
a common struggle against racism, anti-violence programs within the African American community
cannot afford to be antagonistic to men. For a discussion of the different needs of Black women who
are battered, see Beth Richie, Battered Black Women: A Challenge for the Black Community, BLACK
SCHOLAR, Mar./Apr. 1985, at 40.


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immigrated to the United States to marry. Under the marriage fraud provi-
sions of the Act, a person who immigrated to the United States to marry a
United States citizen or permanent resident had to remain “properly” mar-
ried for two years before even applying for permanent resident status,16 at
which time applications for the immigrant’s permanent status were required
of both spouses.17 Predictably, under these circumstances, many immigrant
women were reluctant to leave even the most abusive of partners for fear of
being deported.18 When faced with the choice between protection from their
batterers and protection against deportation, many immigrant women chose
the latter.19 Reports of the tragic consequences of this double subordination
put pressure on Congress to include in the Immigration Act of 1990 a provi-
sion amending the marriage fraud rules to allow for an explicit waiver for
hardship caused by domestic violence.20 Yet many immigrant women, par-

16. 8 U.S.C. ? 1186a (1988). The Marriage Fraud Amendments provide that an alien spouse
“shall be considered, at the time of obtaining the status of an alien lawfully admitted for permanent
residence, to have obtained such status on a conditional basis subject to the provisions of this sec-
tion.” ? 1186a(a)(1). An alien spouse with permanent resident status under this conditional basis
may have her status terminated if the Attorney General finds that the marriage was “improper,”
? 1186a(b)(l), or if she fails to file a petition or fails to appear at the personal interview.
? 1186a(c)(2)(A).

17. The Marriage Fraud Amendments provided that for the conditional resident status to be
removed, “the alien spouse and the petitioning spouse (if not deceased) jointly must submit to the
Attorney General . . . a petition which requests the removal of such conditional basis and which
states, under penalty of perjury, the facts and information.” ? 1186a(b)(l)(A) (emphasis added).
The Amendments provided for a waiver, at the Attorney General’s discretion, if the alien spouse was
able to demonstrate that deportation would result in extreme hardship, or that the qualifying mar-
riage was terminated for good cause. ? 1186a(c)(4). However, the terms of this hardship waiver
have not adequately protected battered spouses. For example, the requirement that the marriage be
terminated for good cause may be difficult to satisfy in states with no-fault divorces. Eileen P. Lyn-
sky, Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986: Till Congress Do Us Part, 41 U. MIAMI L.
REV. 1087, 1095 n.47 (1987) (student author) (citing Jerome B. Ingber & R. Leo Prischet, The
Marriage Fraud Amendments, in THE NEW SIMPSON-RODINO IMMIGRATION LAW OF 1986, at 564-
65 (Stanley Mailman ed. 1986)).

18. Immigration activists have pointed out that “[t]he 1986 Immigration Reform Act and the
Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendment have combined to give the spouse applying for permanent
residence a powerful tool to control his partner.” Jorge Banales, Abuse Among Immigrants; As Their
Numbers Grow So Does the Need for Services, Wash. Post, Oct. 16, 1990, at E5. Dean Ito Taylor,
executive director of Nihonmachi Legal Outreach in San Francisco, explained that the Marriage
Fraud Amendments “bound these immigrant women to their abusers.” Deanna Hodgin, ‘Mail-
Order’ Brides Marry Pain to Get Green Cards, Wash. Times, Apr. 16, 1991, at El. In one egregious
instance described by Beckie Masaki, executive director of the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Fran-
cisco, the closer the Chinese bride came to getting her permanent residency in the United States, the
more harshly her Asian-American husband beat her. Her husband, kicking her in the neck and face,
warned her that she needed him, and if she did not do as he told her, he would call immigration
officials. Id.

19. As Alice Fernandez, head of the Victim Services Agency at the Bronx Criminal Court,
explained, “‘Women are being held hostage by their landlords, their boyfriends, their bosses, their
husbands…. The message is: If you tell anybody what I’m doing to you, they are going to ship
your ass back home. And for these women, there is nothing more terrible than that …. Sometimes
their response is: I would rather be dead in this country than go back home.'” Vivienne Walt,
Immigrant Abuse: Nowhere to Hide; Women Fear Deportation, Experts Say, Newsday, Dec. 2, 1990,
at 8.

20. Immigration Act of 1990, Pub. L. No. 101-649, 104 Stat. 4978. The Act, introduced by
Representative Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), provides that a battered spouse who has conditional per-
manent resident status can be granted a waiver for failure to meet the requirements if she can show
that “the marriage was entered into in good faith and that after the marriage the alien spouse was

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ticularly immigrant women of color, have remained vulnerable to battering
because they are unable to meet the conditions established for a waiver. The
evidence required to support a waiver “can include, but is not limited to,
reports and affidavits from police, medical personnel, psychologists, school
officials, and social service agencies.”21 For many immigrant women, lim-
ited access to these resources can make it difficult for them to obtain the

evidence needed for a waiver. And cultural barriers often further discourage
immigrant women from reporting or escaping battering situations. Tina
Shum, a family counselor at a social service agency, points out that “[t]his
law sounds so easy to apply, but there are cultural complications in the
Asian community that make even these requirements difficult…. Just to
find the opportunity and courage to call us is an accomplishment for
many.”22 The typical immigrant spouse, she suggests, may live “[i]n an ex-
tended family where several generations live together, there may be no pri-
vacy on the telephone, no opportunity to leave the house and no
understanding of public phones.”23 As a consequence, many immigrant wo-
men are wholly dependent on their husbands as their link to the world
outside their homes.24

Immigrant women are also vulnerable to spousal violence because so
many of them depend on their husbands for information regarding their
legal status.25 Many women who are now permanent residents continue to
suffer abuse under threats of deportation by their husbands. Even if the
threats are unfounded, women who have no independent access to informa-
tion will still be intimidated by such threats.26 And even though the domes-

battered by or was subjected to extreme mental cruelty by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident
spouse.” H.R. REP. No. 723(I), 101st Cong., 2d Sess. 78 (1990), reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N.
6710, 6758; see also 8 C.F.R. ? 216.5(3) (1992) (regulations for application for waiver based on claim
of having been battered or subjected to extreme mental cruelty).

21. H.R. REP. No. 723(I), supra note 20, at 79, reprinted in 1990 U.S.C.C.A.N. 6710, 6759.
22. Hodgin, supra note 18.
23. Id.

24. One survey conducted of battered women “hypothesized that if a person is a member of a
discriminated minority group, the fewer the opportunities for socioeconomic status above the pov-
erty level and the weaker the English language skills, the greater the disadvantage.” M. PAGELOW,
supra note 12, at 96. The 70 minority women in the study “had a double disadvantage in this society
that serves to tie them more strongly to their spouses.” Id.

25. A citizen or permanent resident spouse can exercise power over an alien spouse by threat-
ening not to file a petition for permanent residency. If he fails to file a petition for permanent
residency, the alien spouse continues to be undocumented and is considered to be in the country
illegally. These constraints often restrict an alien spouse from leaving. Dean Ito Taylor tells the
story of “one client who has been hospitalized-she’s had him arrested for beating her-but she
keeps coming back to him because he promises he will file for her …. He holds that green card over
her head.” Hodgin, supra note 18. Other stories of domestic abuse abound. Maria, a 50-year-old
Dominican woman, explains that ” ‘One time I had eight stitches in my head and a gash on the other
side of my head, and he broke my ribs …. He would bash my head against the wall while we had
sex. He kept threatening to kill me if I told the doctor what happened.’ ” Maria had a “powerful
reason for staying with Juan through years of abuse: a ticket to permanent residence in the United
States.” Walt, supra note 19.

26. One reporter explained that “Third-world women must deal with additional fears, how-
ever. In many cases, they are afraid of authority, government institutions and their abusers’ threat
of being turned over to immigration officials to be deported.” Banales, supra note 18.


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tic violence waiver focuses on immigrant women whose husbands are United
States citizens or permanent residents, there are countless women married to
undocumented workers (or who are themselves undocumented) who suffer
in silence for fear that the security of their entire families will be jeopardized
should they seek help or otherwise call attention to themselves.27

Language barriers present another structural problem that often limits
opportunities of non-English-speaking women to take advantage of existing
support services.28 Such barriers not only limit access to information about
shelters, but also limit access to the security shelters provide. Some shelters
turn non-English-speaking women away for lack of bilingual personnel and

These examples illustrate how patterns of subordination intersect in wo-
men’s experience of domestic violence. Intersectional subordination need
not be intentionally produced; in fact, it is frequently the consequence of the
imposition of one burden that interacts with preexisting vulnerabilities to
create yet another dimension of disempowerment. In the case of the mar-
riage fraud provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the imposi-
tion of a policy specifically designed to burden one class-immigrant spouses
seeking permanent resident status-exacerbated the disempowerment of
those already subordinated by other structures of domination. By failing to
take into account the vulnerability of immigrant spouses to domestic vio-

27. Incidents of sexual abuse of undocumented women abound. Marta Rivera, director of the
Hostos College Center for Women’s and Immigrant’s Rights, tells of how a 19-year-old Dominican
woman had “arrived shaken . . . after her boss raped her in the women’s restroom at work.” The
woman told Rivera that “70 to 80 percent of the workers [in a Brooklyn garment factory] were
undocumented, and they all accepted sex as part of the job …. She said a 13-year-old girl had been
raped there a short while before her, and the family sent her back to the Dominican Republic.”
Walt, supra note 19. In another example, a “Latin American woman, whose husband’s latest attack
left her with two broken fingers, a swollen face and bruises on her neck and chest, refused to report
the beating to police.” She returned to her home after a short stay in a shelter. She did not leave the
abusive situation because she was “an undocumented, illiterate laborer whose children, passport and
money are tightly controlled by her husband.” Although she was informed of her rights, she was not
able to hurdle the structural obstacles in her path. Banales, supra note 18.

28. For example, in a region with a large number of Third-World immigrants, “the first hurdle
these [battered women’s shelters] must overcome is the language barrier.” Banales, supra note 18.


There can be little question that women unable to communicate in English are severely
handicapped in seeking independence. Some women thus excluded were even further dis-
advantaged because they were not U.S. citizens and some were in this country illegally.
For a few of these, the only assistance shelter staff could render was to help reunite them
with their families of origin.

M. PAGELOW, supra note 12, at 96-97. Non-English speaking women are often excluded even from
studies of battered women because of their language and other difficulties. A researcher qualified the
statistics of one survey by pointing out that “an unknown number of minority group women were
excluded from this survey sample because of language difficulties.” Id. at 96. To combat this lack of
appropriate services for women of color at many shelters, special programs have been created specifi-
cally for women from particular communities. A few examples of such programs include the Victim
Intervention Project in East Harlem for Latina women, Jenesee Shelter for African American wo-
men in Los Angeles, Apna Gar in Chicago for South Asian women, and, for Asian women generally,
the Asian Women’s Shelter in San Francisco, the New York Asian Women’s Center, and the Center
for the Pacific Asian Family in Los Angeles. Programs with hotlines include Sakhi for South Asian
Women in New York, and Manavi in Jersey City, also for South Asian women, as well as programs
for Korean women in Philadelphia and Chicago.

1249 July 1991]

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lence, Congress positioned these women to absorb the simultaneous impact
of its anti-immigration policy and their spouses’ abuse.

The enactment of the domestic violence waiver of the marriage fraud
provisions similarly illustrates how modest attempts to respond to certain
problems can be ineffective when the intersectional location of women of
color is not considered in fashioning the remedy. Cultural identity and class
affect the likelihood that a battered spouse could take advantage of the
waiver. Although the waiver is formally available to all women, the terms of
the waiver make it inaccessible to some. Immigrant women who are so-
cially, culturally, or economically privileged are more likely to be able to
marshall the resources needed to satisfy the waiver requirements. Those im-
migrant women least able to take advantage of the waiver-women who are
socially or economically the most marginal-are the ones most likely to be
women of color.

B. Structural Intersectionality and Rape

Women of color are differently situated in the economic, social, and
political worlds. When reform efforts undertaken on behalf of women ne-
glect this fact, women of color are less likely to have their needs met than
women who are racially privileged. For example, counselors who provide
rape crisis services to women of color report that a significant proportion of
the resources allocated to them must be spent handling problems other than
rape itself. Meeting these needs often places these counselors at odds with
their funding agencies, which allocate funds according to standards of need
that are largely white and middle-class.30 These uniform standards of need
ignore the fact that different needs often demand different priorities in terms
of resource allocation, and consequently, these standards hinder the ability
of counselors to address the needs of nonwhite and poor women.31 A case in
point: women of color occupy positions both physically and culturally
marginalized within dominant society, and so information must be targeted
directly to them in order to reach them.32 Accordingly, rape crisis centers

30. For example, the Rosa Parks Shelter and the Compton Rape Crisis Hotline, two shelters
that serve the African-American community, are in constant conflict with funding sources over the
ratio of dollars and hours to women served. Interview with Joan Greer, Executive Director of Rosa
Parks Shelter, in Los Angeles, California (April 1990).

31. One worker explained:
For example, a woman may come in or call in for various reasons. She has no place to go,
she has no job, she has no support, she has no money, she has no food, she’s been beaten,
and after you finish meeting all those needs, or try to meet all those needs, then she may
say, by the way, during all this, I was being raped. So that makes our community different
than other communities. A person wants their basic needs first. It’s a lot easier to discuss
things when you are full.

Nancy Anne Matthews, Stopping Rape or Managing its Consequences? State Intervention and Fem-
inist Resistance in the Los Angeles Anti-Rape Movement, 1972-1987, at 287 (1989) (Ph.D disserta-
tion, University of California, Los Angeles) (chronicling the history of the rape crisis movement, and
highlighting the different histories and dilemmas of rape crisis hotlines run by white feminists and
those situated in the minority communities).


Typically, more time must be spent with a survivor who has fewer personal resources.

1250 [Vol. 43:1241

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must earmark more resources for basic information dissemination in com-
munities of color than in white ones.

Increased costs are but one consequence of serving people who cannot be
reached by mainstream channels of information. As noted earlier, counsel-
ors in minority communities report spending hours locating resources and
contacts to meet the housing and other immediate needs of women who have
been assualted. Yet this work is only considered “information and referral”
by funding agencies and as such, is typically underfunded, notwithstanding
the magnitude of need for these services in minority communities.33 The
problem is compounded by expectations that rape crisis centers will use a
significant portion of resources allocated to them on counselors to accom-
pany victims to court,34 even though women of color are less likely to have
their cases pursued in the criminal justice system.35 The resources expected
to be set aside for court services are misdirected in these communities.

The fact that minority women suffer from the effects of multiple subordi-
nation, coupled with institutional expectations based on inappropriate
nonintersectional contexts, shapes and ultimately limits the opportunities for
meaningful intervention on their behalf. Recognizing the failure to consider
intersectional dynamics may go far toward explaining the high levels of fail-
ure, frustration, and burn-out experienced by counselors who attempt to
meet the needs of minority women victims.


The concept of political intersectionality highlights the fact that women

These survivors tend to be ethnic minority women. Often, a non-assimilated ethnic minor-
ity survivor requires translating and interpreting, transportation, overnight shelter for her-
self and possibly children, and counseling to significant others in addition to the usual
counseling and advocacy services. So, if a rape crisis center serves a predominantly ethnic
minority population, the “average” number of hours of service provided to each survivor is
much higher than for a center that serves a predominantly white population.

Id. at 275 (quoting position paper of the Southern California Rape Hotline Alliance).
33. Id. at 287-88.

34. The Director of Rosa Parks reported that she often runs into trouble with her funding
sources over the Center’s lower than average number of counselors accompanying victims to court.
Interview with Joan Greer, supra note 30.


Even though current statistics indicate that Black women are more likely to be victimized
than white women, Black women are less likely to report their rapes, less likely to have
their cases come to trial, less likely to have their trials result in convictions, and, most
disturbing, less likely to seek counseling and other support services.

RORS AND RAPE: A STUDY IN PSYCHOLOGY AND LAW 141 (1980) (data obtained from 1,056 citi-
zens serving as jurors in simulated legal rape cases generally showed that “the assailant of the black
woman was given a more lenient sentence than the white woman’s assailant”). According to Fern
Ferguson, an Illinois sex abuse worker, speaking at a Women of Color Institute conference in Knox-
ville, Tennessee, 10% of rapes involving white victims end in conviction, compared with 4.2% for
rapes involving non-white victims (and 2.3% for the less-inclusive group of Black rape victims).
UPI, July 30, 1985. Ferguson argues that myths about women of color being promiscuous and
wanting to be raped encourage the criminal justice system and medical professionals as well to treat
women of color differently than they treat white women after a rape has occurred. Id.

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of color are situated within at least two subordinated groups that frequently
pursue conflicting political agendas. The need to split one’s political energies
between two sometimes opposing groups is a dimension of intersectional dis-
empowerment that men of color and white women seldom confront. Indeed,
their specific raced and gendered experiences, although intersectional, often
define as well as confine the interests of the entire group. For example, ra-
cism as experienced by people of color who are of a particular gender-
male-tends to determine the parameters of antiracist strategies, just as sex-
ism as experienced by women who are of a particular race-white-tends to
ground the women’s movement. The problem is not simply that both dis-
courses fail women of color by not acknowledging the “additional” issue of
race or of patriarchy but that the discourses are often inadequate even to the
discrete tasks of articulating the full dimensions of racism and sexism. Be-
cause women of color experience racism in ways not always the same as
those experienced by men of color and sexism in ways not always parallel to
experiences of white women, antiracism and feminism are limited, even on
their own terms.

Among the most troubling political consequences of the failure of an-
tiracist and feminist discourses to address the intersections of race and gen-
der is the fact that, to the extent they can forward the interest of “people of
color” and “women,” respectively, one analysis often implicitly denies the
validity of the other. The failure of feminism to interrogate race means that
the resistance strategies of feminism will often replicate and reinforce the
subordination of people of color, and the failure of antiracism to interrogate
patriarchy means that antiracism will frequently reproduce the subordina-
tion of women. These mutual elisions present a particularly difficult political
dilemma for women of color. Adopting either analysis constitutes a denial
of a fundamental dimension of our subordination and precludes the develop-
ment of a political discourse that more fully empowers women of color.

A. The Politicization of Domestic Violence

That the political interests of women of color are obscured and some-
times jeopardized by political strategies that ignore or suppress intersectional
issues is illustrated by my experiences in gathering information for this arti-
cle. I attempted to review Los Angeles Police Department statistics reflect-
ing the rate of domestic violence interventions by precinct because such
statistics can provide a rough picture of arrests by racial group, given the
degree of racial segregation in Los Angeles.36 L.A.P.D., however, would not
release the statistics. A representative explained that one reason the statis-
tics were not released was that domestic violence activists both within and

36. Most crime statistics are classified by sex or race but none are classified by sex and race.
Because we know that most rape victims are women, the racial breakdown reveals, at best, rape rates
for Black women. Yet, even given this head start, rates for other non-white women are difficult to
collect. While there are some statistics for Latinas, statistics for Asian and Native American women
are virtually non-existent. Cf G. Chezia Carraway, Violence Against Women of Color, 43 STAN. L.
REV. 1301 (1993).

1252 [Vol. 43:1241

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outside the Department feared that statistics reflecting the extent of domes-
tic violence in minority communities might be selectively interpreted and
publicized so as to undermine long-term efforts to force the Department to
address domestic violence as a serious problem. I was told that activists
were worried that the statistics might permit opponents to dismiss domestic
violence as a minoirty problem and, therefore, not deserving of aggressive

The informant also claimed that representatives from various minority
communities opposed the release of these statistics. They were concerned,
apparently, that the data would unfairly represent Black and Brown commu-
nities as unusually violent, potentially reinforcing stereotypes that might be
used in attempts to justify oppressive police tactics and other discriminatory
practices. These misgivings are based on the familiar and not unfounded
premise that certain minority groups-especially Black men-have already
been stereotyped as uncontrollably violent. Some worry that attempts to
make domestic violence an object of political action may only serve to con-
firm such stereotypes and undermine efforts to combat negative beliefs about
the Black community.

This account sharply illustrates how women of color can be erased by the
strategic silences of antiracism and feminism. The political priorities of both
were defined in ways that suppressed information that could have facilitated
attempts to confront the problem of domestic violence in communities of

1. Domestic violence and antiracist politics.

Within communities of color, efforts to stem the politicization of domes-
tic violence are often grounded in attempts to maintain the integrity of the
community. The articulation of this perspective takes different forms. Some
critics allege that feminism has no place within communities of color, that
the issues are internally divisive, and that they represent the migration of
white women’s concerns into a context in which they are not only irrelevant
but also harmful. At its most extreme, this rhetoric denies that gender vio-
lence is a problem in the community and characterizes any effort to politi-
cize gender subordination as itself a community problem. This is the
position taken by Shahrazad Ali in her controversial book, The Blackman’s
Guide to Understanding the Blackwoman.37 In this stridently antifeminist
tract, Ali draws a positive correlation between domestic violence and the

(1989). Ali’s book sold quite well for an independently published title, an accomplishment no doubt
due in part to her appearances on the Phil Donahue, Oprah Winfrey, and Sally Jesse Raphael televi-
sion talk shows. For public and press reaction, see Dorothy Gilliam, Sick, Distorted Thinking,
Wash. Post, Oct. 11, 1990, at D3; Lena Williams, Black Woman’s Book Starts a Predictable Storm,
N.Y. Times, Oct. 2, 1990, at C11; see also PEARL CLEAGUE, MAD AT MILES: A BLACK WOMAN’S
GUIDE TO TRUTH (1990). The title clearly styled after Ali’s, Mad at Miles responds not only to
issues raised by Ali’s book, but also to Miles Davis’s admission in his autobiography, Miles: The
Autobiography (1989), that he had physically abused, among other women, his former wife, actress
Cicely Tyson.

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liberation of African Americans. Ali blames the deteriorating conditions
within the Black community on the insubordination of Black women and on
the failure of Black men to control them.38 Ali goes so far as to advise Black
men to physically chastise Black women when they are “disrespectful.”39
While she cautions that Black men must use moderation in disciplining
“their” women, she argues that Black men must sometimes resort to physi-
cal force to reestablish the authority over Black women that racism has

Ali’s premise is that patriarchy is beneficial for the Black community,41
and that it must be strengthened through coercive means if necessary.42 Yet

38. Shahrazad Ali suggests that the “[Blackwoman] certainly does not believe that her dis-
repect for the Blackman is destructive, nor that her opposition to him has deteriorated the Black
nation.” S. ALI, supra note 37, at viii. Blaming the problems of the community on the failure of the
Black woman to accept her “real definition,” Ali explains that “[n]o nation can rise when the natural
order of the behavior of the male and the female have been altered against their wishes by force. No
species can survive if the female of the genus disturbs the balance of her nature by acting other than
herself.” Id. at 76.

39. Ali advises the Blackman to hit the Blackwoman in the mouth, “[b]ecause it is from that
hole, in the lower part of her face, that all her rebellion culminates into words. Her unbridled tongue
is a main reason she cannot get along with the Blackman. She often needs a reminder.” Id. at 169.
Ali warns that “if [the Blackwoman] ignores the authority and superiority of the Blackman, there is
a penalty. When she crosses this line and becomes viciously insulting it is time for the Blackman to
soundly slap her in the mouth.” Id.

40. Ali explains that, “[r]egretfully some Blackwomen want to be physically controlled by the
Blackman.” Id. at 174. “The Blackwoman, deep inside her heart,” Ali reveals, “wants to surrender
but she wants to be coerced.” Id. at 72. “[The Blackwoman] wants [the Blackman] to stand up and
defend himself even if it means he has to knock her out of the way to do so. This is necessary
whenever the Blackwoman steps out of the protection of womanly behavior and enters the danger-
ous domain of masculine challenge.” Id. at 174.

41. Ali points out that “[t]he Blackman being number 1 and the Blackwoman being number 2
is another absolute law of nature. The Blackman was created first, he has seniority. And the
Blackwoman was created 2nd. He is first. She is second. The Blackman is the beginning and all
others come from him. Everyone on earth knows this except the Blackwoman.” Id. at 67.

42. In this regard, Ali’s arguments bear much in common with those of neoconservatives who
attribute many of the social ills plaguing Black America to the breakdown of patriarchal family
values. See, e.g., William Raspberry, If We Are to Rescue American Families, We Have to Save the
Boys, Chicago Trib., July 19, 1989, at C15; George F. Will, Voting Rights Won’t Fix It, Wash. Post,
Jan. 23, 1986, at A23; George F. Will, “White Racism” Doesn’t Make Blacks Mere Victims of Fate,
Milwaukee J., Feb. 21, 1986, at 9. Ali’s argument shares remarkable similarities to the controversial
“Moynihan Report” on the Black family, so called because its principal author was now-Senator
Daniel P. Moynihan (D-N.Y.). In the infamous chapter entitled “The Tangle of Pathology,” Moy-
nihan argued that

the Negro community has been forced into a matriarchal structure which, because it is so
out of line with the rest of American society, seriously retards the progress of the group as
a whole, and imposes a crushing burden on the Negro male and, in consequence, on a great
many Negro women as well.

controversy developed over the book, although few commentators challenged the patriarchy embed-
ded in the analysis. Bill Moyers, then a young minister and speechwriter for President Johnson,
firmly believed that the criticism directed at Moynihan was unfair. Some 20 years later, Moyers
resurrected the Moynihan thesis in a special television program, The Vanishing Family: Crisis in
Black America (CBS television broadcast, Jan. 25, 1986). The show first aired in January 1986 and
featured several African-American men and women who had become parents but were unwilling to
marry. Arthur Unger, Hardhitting Special About Black Families, Christian Sci. Mon., Jan. 23, 1986,


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the violence that accompanies this will to control is devastating, not only for
the Black women who are victimized, but also for the entire Black commu-
nity.43 The recourse to violence to resolve conflicts establishes a dangerous
pattern for children raised in such environments and contributes to many
other pressing problems.44 It has been estimated that nearly forty percent of
all homeless women and children have fled violence in the home,45 and an
estimated sixty-three percent of young men between the ages of eleven and
twenty who are imprisoned for homicide have killed their mothers’ batter-
ers.46 And yet, while gang violence, homicide, and other forms of Black-on-
Black crime have increasingly been discussed within African-American poli-
tics, patriarchal ideas about gender and power preclude the recognition of
domestic violence as yet another compelling incidence of Black-on-Black

Efforts such as Ali’s to justify violence against women in the name of
Black liberation are indeed extreme.47 The more common problem is that

at 23. Many saw the Moyers show as a vindication of Moynihan. President Reagan took the oppor-
tunity to introduce an initiative to revamp the welfare system a week after the program aired.
Michael Barone, Poor Children and Politics, Wash. Post, Feb. 10, 1986, at Al. Said one official, “Bill
Moyers has made it safe for people to talk about this issue, the disintegrating black family struc-
ture.” Robert Pear, President Reported Ready to Propose Overhaul of Social Welfare System, N.Y.
Times, Feb. 1, 1986, at A12. Critics of the Moynihan/Moyers thesis have argued that it scapegoats
the Black family generally and Black women in particular. For a series of responses, see Scapegoat-
ing the Black Family, NATION, July 24, 1989 (special issue, edited by Jewell Handy Gresham and
Margaret B. Wilkerson, with contributions from Margaret Burnham, Constance Clayton, Dorothy
Height, Faye Wattleton, and Marian Wright Edelman). For an analysis of the media’s endorsement
of the Moynihan/Moyers thesis, see CARL GINSBURG, RACE AND MEDIA: THE ENDURING LIFE OF

43. Domestic violence relates directly to issues that even those who subscribe to Ali’s position
must also be concerned about. The socioeconomic condition of Black males has been one such
central concern. Recent statistics estimate that 25% of Black males in their twenties are involved in

the criminal justice systems. See David G. Savage, Young Black Males in Jail or in Court Control
Study Says, L.A. Times, Feb. 27, 1990, at Al; Newsday, Feb. 27, 1990, at 15; Study Shows Racial
Imbalance in Penal System, N.Y. Times, Feb. 27, 1990, at A 18. One would think that the linkages
between violence in the home and the violence on the streets would alone persuade those like Ali to
conclude that the African-American community cannot afford domestic violence and the patriarchal
values that support it.

44. A pressing problem is the way domestic violence reproduces itself in subsequent genera-
tions. It is estimated that boys who witness violence against women are ten times more likely to
batter female partners as adults. Women and Violence: Hearings Before the Senate Comm. on the
Judiciary on Legislation to Reduce the Growing Problem of Violent Crime Against Women, 101st
Cong., 2d Sess., pt. 2, at 89 (1991) [hereinafter Hearings on Violent Crime Against Women] (testi-
mony of Charlotte Fedders). Other associated problems for boys who witness violence against wo-
men include higher rates of suicide, violent assault, sexual assault, and alcohol and drug use. Id., pt.
2, at 131 (statement of Sarah M. Buel, Assistant District Attorney, Massachusetts, and Supervisor,
Harvard Law School Battered Women’s Advocacy Project).

45. Id. at 142 (statement of Susan Kelly-Dreiss) (discussing several studies in Pennsylvania
linking homelessness to domestic violence).

46. Id. at 143 (statement of Susan Kelly-Dreiss).
47. Another historical example includes Eldridge Cleaver, who argued that he raped white

women as an assault upon the white community. Cleaver “practiced” on Black women first. EL-
DRIDGE CLEAVER, SOUL ON ICE 14-15 (1968). Despite the appearance of misogyny in both works,
each professes to worship Black women as “queens” of the Black community. This “queenly subser-
vience” parallels closely the image of the “woman on a pedestal” against which white feminists have
railed. Because Black women have been denied pedestal status within dominant society, the image
of the African queen has some appeal to many African-American women. Although it is not a

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the political or cultural interests of the community are interpreted in a way
that precludes full public recognition of the problem of domestic violence.
While it would be misleading to suggest that white Americans have come to
terms with the degree of violence in their own homes, it is nonetheless the
case that race adds yet another dimension to why the problem of domestic
violence is suppressed within nonwhite communities. People of color often
must weigh their interests in avoiding issues that might reinforce distorted
public perceptions against the need to acknowledge and address intracom-
munity problems. Yet the cost of suppression is seldom recognized in part
because the failure to discuss the issue shapes perceptions of how serious the
problem is in the first place.

The controversy over Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple can be un-
derstood as an intracommunity debate about the political costs of exposing
gender violence within the Black community.48 Some critics chastised
Walker for portraying Black men as violent brutes.49 One critic lambasted
Walker’s portrayal of Celie, the emotionally and physically abused protago-
nist who finally triumphs in the end. Walker, the critic contended, had cre-
ated in Celie a Black woman whom she couldn’t imagine existing in any
Black community she knew or could conceive of.50

The claim that Celie was somehow an unauthentic character might be
read as a consequence of silencing discussion of intracommunity violence.
Celie may be unlike any Black woman we know because the real terror ex-
perienced daily by minority women is routinely concealed in a misguided
(though perhaps understandable) attempt to forestall racial stereotyping. Of
course, it is true that representations of Black violence-whether statistical
or fictional-are often written into a larger script that consistently portrays
Black and other minority communities as pathologically violent. The prob-
lem, however, is not so much the portrayal of violence itself as it is the ab-
sence of other narratives and images portraying a fuller range of Black
experience. Suppression of some of these issues in the name of antiracism
imposes real costs. Where information about violence in minority communi-

feminist position, there are significant ways in which the promulgation of the image directly counters
the intersectional effects of racism and sexism that have denied African-American women a perch in
the “gilded cage.”

48. ALICE WALKER, THE COLOR PURPLE (1982). The most severe criticism of Walker devel-
oped after the book was filmed as a movie. Donald Bogle, a film historian, argued that part of the
criticism of the movie stemmed from the one-dimensional portrayal of Mister, the abusive man. See
Jacqueline Trescott, Passions Over Purple; Anger and Unease Over Film’s Depiction of Black Men,
Wash. Post, Feb. 5, 1986, at C1. Bogle argues that in the novel, Walker linked Mister’s abusive
conduct to his oppression in the white world-since Mister “can’t be himself, he has to assert himself
with the black woman.” The movie failed to make any connection between Mister’s abusive treat-
ment of Black women and racism, and thereby presented Mister only as an “insensitive, callous
man.” Id.

49. See, e.g., Gerald Early, Her Picture in the Papers: Remembering Some Black Women, AN-
TAEUS, Spring 1988, at 9; Daryl Pinckney, Black Victims, Black Villains, N.Y. REVIEW OF BOOKS,
Jan. 29, 1987, at 17; Trescott, supra note 48.

50. Trudier Harris, On the Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence, 18 BLACK AM. LIT. F. 155,
155 (1984).

1256 [Vol. 43:1241

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ties is not available, domestic violence is unlikely to be addressed as a serious

The political imperatives of a narrowly focused antiracist strategy sup-
port other practices that isolate women of color. For example, activists who
have attempted to provide support services to Asian- and African-American
women report intense resistance from those communities.51 At other times,
cultural and social factors contribute to suppression. Nilda Rimonte, direc-
tor of Everywoman’s Shelter in Los Angeles, points out that in the Asian
community, saving the honor of the family from shame is a priority.52 Un-
fortunately, this priority tends to be interpreted as obliging women not to
scream rather than obliging men not to hit.

Race and culture contribute to the suppression of domestic violence in
other ways as well. Women of color are often reluctant to call the police, a
hesitancy likely due to a general unwillingness among people of color to
subject their private lives to the scrutiny and control of a police force that is
frequently hostile. There is also a more generalized community ethic against
public intervention, the product of a desire to create a private world free
from the diverse assaults on the public lives of racially subordinated people.
The home is not simply a man’s castle in the patriarchal sense, but may also
function as a safe haven from the indignities of life in a racist society. How-
ever, but for this “safe haven” in many cases, women of color victimized by
violence might otherwise seek help.

There is also a general tendency within antiracist discourse to regard the
problem of violence against women of color as just another manifestation of
racism. In this sense, the relevance of gender domination within the com-
munity is reconfigured as a consequence of discrimination against men. Of

51. The source of the resistance reveals an interesting difference between the Asian-American
and African-American communities. In the African-American community, the resistance is usually
grounded in efforts to avoid confirming negative stereotypes of African-Americans as violent; the
concern of members in some Asian-American communities is to avoid tarnishing the model minority
myth. Interview with Nilda Rimonte, Director of the Everywoman Shelter, in Los Angeles, Califor-
nia (April 19, 1991).

52. Nilda Rimonte, A Question of Culture: Cultural Approval of Violence Against Women in
the Pacific-Asian Community and the Cultural Defense, 43 STAN. L. REV. 1311 (1991); see also Nilda
Rimonte, Domestic Violence Against Pacific Asians, in MAKING WAVES: AN ANTHOLOGY OF WRIT-
INGS BY AND ABOUT ASIAN AMERICAN WOMEN 327, 328 (Asian Women United of California ed.
1989) (“Traditionally Pacific Asians conceal and deny problems that threaten group pride and may
bring on shame. Because of the strong emphasis on obligations to the family, a Pacific Asian woman
will often remain silent rather than admit to a problem that might disgrace her family.”). Addition-
ally, the possibility of ending the marriage may inhibit an immigrant woman from seeking help.
Tina Shum, a family counselor, explains that a “‘divorce is a shame on the whole family…. The
Asian woman who divorces feels tremendous guilt.'” Of course, one could, in an attempt to be
sensitive to cultural difference, stereotype a culture or defer to it in ways that abandon women to
abuse. When-or, more importantly, how-to take culture into account when addressing the needs
of women of color is a complicated issue. Testimony as to the particularities of Asian “culture” has
increasingly been used in trials to determine the culpability of both Asian immigrant women and
men who are charged with crimes of interpersonal violence. A position on the use of the “cultural
defense” in these instances depends on how “culture” is being defined as well as on whether and to
what extent the “cultural defense” has been used differently for Asian men and Asian women. See
Leti Volpp, (Mis)Identifying Culture: Asian Women and the “Cultural Defense,” (unpublished man-
uscript) (on file with the Stanford Law Review).

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course, it is probably true that racism contributes to the cycle of violence,
given the stress that men of color experience in dominant society. It is there-
fore more than reasonable to explore the links between racism and domestic
violence. But the chain of violence is more complex and extends beyond this
single link. Racism is linked to patriarchy to the extent that racism denies
men of color the power and privilege that dominant men enjoy. When vio-
lence is understood as an acting-out of being denied male power in other
spheres, it seems counterproductive to embrace constructs that implicitly
link the solution to domestic violence to the acquisition of greater male
power. The more promising political imperative is to challenge the legiti-
macy of such power expectations by exposing their dysfunctional and
debilitating effect on families and communities of color. Moreover, while
understanding links between racism and domestic violence is an important
component of any effective intervention strategy, it is also clear that women
of color need not await the ultimate triumph over racism before they can
expect to live violence-free lives.

2. Race and the domestic violence lobby.

Not only do race-based priorities function to obscure the problem of vio-
lence suffered by women of color; feminist concerns often suppress minority
experiences as well. Strategies for increasing awareness of domestic violence
within the white community tend to begin by citing the commonly shared
assumption that battering is a minority problem. The strategy then focuses
on demolishing this strawman, stressing that spousal abuse also occurs in the
white community. Countless first-person stories begin with a statement like,
“I was not supposed to be a battered wife.” That battering occurs in families
of all races and all classes seems to be an ever-present theme of anti-abuse
campaigns.53 First-person anecdotes and studies, for example, consistently
assert that battering cuts across racial, ethnic, economic, educational, and
religious lines.54 Such disclaimers seem relevant only in the presence of an

53. See, e.g., Hearings on Violent Crime Against Women, supra note 44, pt. 1, at 101 (testimony
of Roni Young, Director of Domestic Violence Unit, Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore
City, Baltimore, Maryland) (“The victims do not fit a mold by any means.”); Id. pt. 2, at 89 (testi-
mony of Charlotte Fedders) (“Domestic violence occurs in all economic, cultural, racial, and reli-
gious groups. There is not a typical woman to be abused.”); Id. pt. 2 at 139 (statement of Susan
Kelly-Dreiss, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence) (“Victims
come from a wide spectrum of life experiences and backgrounds. Women can be beaten in any
neighborhood and in any town.”).

How SOCIETY RESPONDS 101-02 (1989) (“Battered women come from all types of economic, cul-
tural, religious, and racial backgrounds…. They are women like you. Like me. Like those whom
HIND CLOSED DOORS: VIOLENCE IN THE AMERICAN FAMILY 31 (1980) (“Wife-beating is found in
every class, at every income level.”); Natalie Loder Clark, Crime Begins At Home: Let’s Stop Punish-
ing Victims and Perpetuating Violence, 28 WM. & MARY L. REV. 263, 282 n.74 (1987) (“The prob-
lem of domestic violence cuts across all social lines and affects ‘families regardless of their economic
class, race, national origin, or educational background.’ Commentators have indicated that domestic
violence is prevalent among upper middle-class families.”) (citations omitted); Kathleen Waits, The
Criminal Justice System’s Response to Battering. Understanding the Problem, Forging the Solutions,
60 WASH. L. REV. 267, 276 (1985) (“It is important to emphasize that wife abuse is prevalent

1258 [Vol. 43:1241

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initial, widely held belief that domestic violence occurs primarily in minority
or poor families. Indeed some authorities explicitly renounce the “stere-
otypical myths” about battered women.55 A few commentators have even
transformed the message that battering is not exclusively a problem of the
poor or minority communities into a claim that it equally affects all races
and classes.56 Yet these comments seem less concerned with exploring do-
mestic abuse within “stereotyped” communities than with removing the ster-
eotype as an obstacle to exposing battering within white middle- and upper-
class communities.57

Efforts to politicize the issue of violence against women challenge beliefs
that violence occurs only in homes of “others.” While it is unlikely that
advocates and others who adopt this rhetorical strategy intend to exclude or
ignore the needs of poor and colored women, the underlying premise of this
seemingly univeralistic appeal is to keep the sensibilities of dominant social

throughout our society. Recently collected data merely confirm what people working with victims
have long known: battering occurs in all social and economic groups.”) (citations omitted); Liza G.
Lerman, Mediation of Wife Abuse Cases: The adverse Impact of Informal Dispute Resolution on
Women, 7 HARV. WOMEN’S L.J. 57, 63 (1984) (“Battering occurs in all racial, economic, and reli-
gious groups, in rural, urban, and suburban settings.”) (citation omitted); Steven M. Cook, Domestic
Abuse Legislation in Illinois and Other States: A Survey and Suggestions for Reform, 1983 U. ILL. L.
REV. 261, 262 (1983) (student author) (“Although domestic violence is difficult to measure, several
studies suggest that spouse abuse is an extensive problem, one which strikes families regardless of
their economic class, race, national origin, or educational background.”) (citations omitted).

55. For example, Susan Kelly-Dreiss states:
The public holds many myths about battered women-they are poor, they are women of
color, they are uneducated, they are on welfare, they deserve to be beaten and they even
like it. However, contrary to common misperceptions, domestic violence is not confined to
any one socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, racial or age group.

Hearings on Violent Crime Against Women, supra note 44, pt. 2, at 139 (testimony of Susan Kelly-
Dreiss, Executive Director, Pa. Coalition Against Domestic Violence). Kathleen Waits offers a pos-
sible explanation for this misperception:

It is true that battered women who are also poor are more likely to come to the attention of
governmental officials than are their middle- and upper-class counterparts. However, this
phenomenon is caused more by the lack of alternative resources and the intrusiveness of
the welfare state than by any significantly higher incidence of violence among lower-class

Waits, supra note 54, at 276-77 (citations omitted).
56. However, no reliable statistics support such a claim. In fact, some statistics suggest that

there is a greater frequency of violence among the working classes and the poor. See M. STRAUS, R.
GELLES, & S. STEINMETZ, supra note 54, at 31. Yet these statistics are also unreliable because, to
follow Waits’s observation, violence in middle- and upper-class homes remains hidden from the view
of statisticians and governmental officials alike. See note 55 supra. I would suggest that assertions
that the problem is the same across race and class are driven less by actual knowledge about the
prevalence of domestic violence in different communities than by advocates’ recognition that the
image of domestic violence as an issue involving primarily the poor and minorities complicates ef-
forts to mobilize against it.

57. On January 14, 1991, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Del.) introduced Senate Bill 15, the Vio-
lence Against Women Act of 1991, comprehensive legislation addressing violent crime confronting
women. S. 15, 102d Cong., 1st Sess. (1991). The bill consists of several measures designed to create
safe streets, safe homes, and safe campuses for women. More specifically, Title III of the bill creates
a civil rights remedy for crimes of violence motivated by the victim’s gender. Id. ? 301. Among the
findings supporting the bill were “(1) crimes motivated by the victim’s gender constitute bias crimes
in violation of the victim’s right to be free from discrimination on the basis of gender” and “(2) cur-
rent law [does not provide a civil rights remedy] for gender crimes committed on the street or in the
home.” S. REP. No. 197, 102d Cong., 1st Sess. 27 (1991).

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groups focused on the experiences of those groups. Indeed, as subtly sug-
gested by the opening comments of Senator David Boren (D-Okla.) in sup-
port of the Violence Against Women Act of 1991, the displacement of the
“other” as the presumed victim of domestic violence works primarily as a
political appeal to rally white elites. Boren said,

Violent crimes against women are not limited to the streets of the inner
cities, but also occur in homes in the urban and rural areas across the

Violence against women affects not only those who are actually beaten
and brutalized, but indirectly affects all women. Today, our wives, mothers,
daughters, sisters, and colleagues are held captive by fear generated from
these violent crimes-held captive not for what they do or who they are, but
solely because of gender.58

Rather than focusing on and illuminating how violence is disregarded when
the home is “othered,” the strategy implicit in Senator Boren’s remarks
functions instead to politicize the problem only in the dominant community.
This strategy permits white women victims to come into focus, but does little
to disrupt the patterns of neglect that permitted the problem to continue as
long as it was imagined to be a minority problem. The experience of vio-
lence by minority women is ignored, except to the extent it gains white sup-
port for domestic violence programs in the white community.

Senator Boren and his colleagues no doubt believe that they have pro-
vided legislation and resources that will address the problems of all women
victimized by domestic violence. Yet despite their universalizing rhetoric of
“all” women, they were able to empathize with female victims of domestic
violence only by looking past the plight of “other” women and by recogniz-
ing the familiar faces of their own. The strength of the appeal to “protect
our women” must be its race and class specificity. After all, it has always
been someone’s wife, mother, sister, or daughter that has been abused, even
when the violence was stereotypically Black or Brown, and poor. The point
here is not that the Violence Against Women Act is particularistic on its
own terms, but that unless the Senators and other policymakers ask why
violence remained insignificant as long as it was understood as a minority
problem, it is unlikely that women of color will share equally in the distribu-
tion of resources and concern. It is even more unlikely, however, that those
in power will be forced to confront this issue. As long as attempts to politi-
cize domestic violence focus on convincing whites that this is not a “minor-
ity” problem but their problem, any authentic and sensitive attention to the

58. 137 Cong. Rec. S611 (daily ed. Jan. 14, 1991) (statement of Sen. Boren). Senator William
Cohen (D-Me.) followed with a similar statement, noting that rapes and domestic assaults

are not limited to the streets of our inner cities or to those few highly publicized cases that
we read about in the newspapers or see on the evening news. Women throughout the
country, in our Nation’s urban areas and rural communities, are being beaten and brutal-
ized in the streets and in their homes. It is our mothers, wives, daughters, sisters, friends,
neighbors, and coworkers who are being victimized; and in many cases, they are being
victimized by family members, friends, and acquaintances.

Id. (statement of Sen. Cohen).

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experiences of Black and other minority women probably will continue to be
regarded as jeopardizing the movement.

While Senator Boren’s statement reflects a self-consciously political pres-
entation of domestic violence, an episode of the CBS news program 48
Hours59 shows how similar patterns of othering nonwhite women are appar-
ent in journalistic accounts of domestic violence as well. The program
presented seven women who were victims of abuse. Six were interviewed at
some length along with their family members, friends, supporters, and even
detractors. The viewer got to know something about each of these women.
These victims were humanized. Yet the seventh woman, the only nonwhite
one, never came into focus. She was literally unrecognizable throughout the
segment, first introduced by photographs showing her face badly beaten and
later shown with her face electronically altered in the videotape of a hearing
at which she was forced to testify. Other images associated with this woman
included shots of a bloodstained room and blood-soaked pillows. Her boy-
friend was pictured handcuffed while the camera zoomed in for a close-up of
his bloodied sneakers. Of all the presentations in the episode, hers was the
most graphic and impersonal. The overall point of the segment “featuring”
this woman was that battering might not escalate into homicide if battered
women would only cooperate with prosecutors. In focusing on its own
agenda and failing to explore why this woman refused to cooperate, the pro-
gram diminished this woman, communicating, however subtly, that she was
responsible for her own victimization.

Unlike the other women, all of whom, again, were white, this Black wo-
man had no name, no family, no context. The viewer sees her only as vic-
timized and uncooperative. She cries when shown pictures. She pleads not
to be forced to view the bloodstained room and her disfigured face. The
program does not help the viewer to understand her predicament. The pos-
sible reasons she did not want to testify-fear, love, or possibly both-are
never suggested.60 Most unfortunately, she, unlike the other six, is given no
epilogue. While the fates of the other women are revealed at the end of the
episode, we discover nothing about the Black woman. She, like the “others”
she represents, is simply left to herself and soon forgotten.

I offer this description to suggest that “other” women are silenced as
much by being relegated to the margin of experience as by total exclusion.
Tokenistic, objectifying, voyeuristic inclusion is at least as disempowering as
complete exclusion. The effort to politicize violence against women will do
little to address Black and other minority women if their images are retained
simply to magnify the problem rather than to humanize their experiences.
Similarly, the antiracist agenda will not be advanced significantly by forcibly
suppressing the reality of battering in minority communities. As the 48
Hours episode makes clear, the images and stereotypes we fear are readily

59. 48 Hours: Till Death Do Us Part (CBS television broadcast, Feb. 6, 1991).
60. See Christine A. Littleton, Women’s Experience and the Problem of Transition: Perspectives

on Male Battering of Women, 1989 U. CHI. LEGAL F. 23.

July 1991] 1261

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available and are frequently deployed in ways that do not generate sensitive
understanding of the nature of domestic violence in minority communities.

3. Race and domestic violence support services.

Women working in the field of domestic violence have sometimes repro-
duced the subordination and marginalization of women of color by adopting
policies, priorities, or strategies of empowerment that either elide or wholly
disregard the particular intersectional needs of women of color. While gen-
der, race, and class intersect to create the particular context in which women
of color experience violence, certain choices made by “allies” can reproduce
intersectional subordination within the very resistance strategies designed to
respond to the problem.

This problem is starkly illustrated by the inaccessibility of domestic vio-
lence support services to many non-English-speaking women. In a letter
written to the deputy commissioner of the New York State Department of
Social Services, Diana Campos, Director of Human Services for Programas
de Ocupaciones y Desarrollo Econ6mico Real, Inc. (PODER), detailed the
case of a Latina in crisis who was repeatedly denied accomodation at a shel-
ter because she could not prove that she was English-proficient. The woman
had fled her home with her teenaged son, believing her husband’s threats to
kill them both. She called the domestic violence hotline administered by
PODER seeking shelter for herself and her son. Because most shelters
would not accommodate the woman with her son, they were forced to live
on the streets for two days. The hotline counselor was finally able to find an
agency that would take both the mother and the son, but when the counselor
told the intake coordinator at the shelter that the woman spoke limited Eng-
lish, the coordinator told her that they could not take anyone who was not
English-proficient. When the woman in crisis called back and was told of
the shelter’s “rule,” she replied that she could understand English if spoken
to her slowly. As Campos explains, Mildred, the hotline counselor, told
Wendy, the intake coordinator

that the woman said that she could communicate a little in English. Wendy
told Mildred that they could not provide services to this woman because
they have house rules that the woman must agree to follow. Mildred asked
her, “What if the woman agrees to follow your rules? Will you still not take
her?” Wendy responded that all of the women at the shelter are required to
attend [a] support group and they would not be able to have her in the group
if she could not communicate. Mildred mentioned the severity of this wo-
man’s case. She told Wendy that the woman had been wandering the streets
at night while her husband is home, and she had been mugged twice. She
also reiterated the fact that this woman was in danger of being killed by
either her husband or a mugger. Mildred expressed that the woman’s safety
was a priority at this point, and that once in a safe place, receiving counsel-
ing in a support group could be dealt with.61

61. Letter of Diana M. Campos, Director of Human Services, PODER, to Joseph Semidei,

1262 [Vol. 43:1241

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The intake coordinator restated the shelter’s policy of taking only Eng-
lish-speaking women, and stated further that the woman would have to call
the shelter herself for screening. If the woman could communicate with
them in English, she might be accepted. When the woman called the
PODER hotline later that day, she was in such a state of fear that the hotline
counselor who had been working with her had difficulty understanding her
in Spanish.62 Campos directly intervened at this point, calling the executive
director of the shelter. A counselor called back from the shelter. As Cam-

pos reports,

Marie [the counselor] told me that they did not want to take the woman in
the shelter because they felt that the woman would feel isolated. I explained
that the son agreed to translate for his mother during the intake process.
Furthermore, that we would assist them in locating a Spanish-speaking bat-
tered women’s advocate to assist in counseling her. Marie stated that utiliz-
ing the son was not an acceptable means of communication for them, since it
further victimized the victim. In addition, she stated that they had similar
experiences with women who were non-English-speaking, and that the wo-
men eventually just left because they were not able to communicate with
anyone. I expressed my extreme concern for her safety and reiterated that
we would assist them in providing her with the necessary services until we
could get her placed someplace where they had bilingual staff.63

After several more calls, the shelter finally agreed to take the woman.
The woman called once more during the negotiation; however, after a plan
was in place, the woman never called back. Said Campos, “After so many
calls, we are now left to wonder if she is alive and well, and if she will ever
have enough faith in our ability to help her to call us again the next time she
is in crisis.”64

Despite this woman’s desperate need, she was unable to receive the pro-
tection afforded English-speaking women, due to the shelter’s rigid commit-
ment to exclusionary policies. Perhaps even more troubling than the
shelter’s lack of bilingual resources was its refusal to allow a friend or rela-
tive to translate for the woman. This story illustrates the absurdity of a
feminist approach that would make the ability to attend a support group
without a translator a more significant consideration in the distribution of
resources than the risk of physical harm on the street. The point is not that
the shelter’s image of empowerment is empty, but rather that it was imposed
without regard to the disempowering consequences for women who didn’t
match the kind of client the shelter’s administrators imagined. And thus
they failed to accomplish the basic priority of the shelter movement-to get
the woman out of danger.

Deputy Commissioner, New York State Department of Social Services (Mar. 26, 1992) [hereinafter
PODER Letter].

62. The woman had been slipping back into her home during the day when her husband was at
work. She remained in a heightened state of anxiety because he was returning shortly and she would
be forced to go back out into the streets for yet another night.

63. PODER Letter, supra note 61 (emphasis added).
64. Id.

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Here the woman in crisis was made to bear the burden of the shelter’s

refusal to anticipate and provide for the needs of non-English-speaking wo-
men. Said Campos, “It is unfair to impose more stress on victims by placing
them in the position of having to demonstrate their proficiency in English in
order to receive services that are readily available to other battered wo-
men.”65 The problem is not easily dismissed as one of well-intentioned igno-
rance. The specific issue of monolingualism and the monistic view of
women’s experience that set the stage for this tragedy were not new issues in
New York. Indeed, several women of color reported that they had repeat-
edly struggled with the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Vio-
lence over language exclusion and other practices that marginalized the
interests of women of color.66 Yet despite repeated lobbying, the Coalition
did not act to incorporate the specific needs of nonwhite women into its
central organizing vision.

Some critics have linked the Coalition’s failure to address these issues to
the narrow vision of coalition that animated its interaction with women of

color in the first place. The very location of the Coalition’s headquarters in
Woodstock, New York-an area where few people of color live-seemed to
guarantee that women of color would play a limited role in formulating pol-
icy. Moreover, efforts to include women of color came, it seems, as some-
thing of an afterthought. Many were invited to participate only after the
Coalition was awarded a grant by the state to recruit women of color. How-
ever, as one “recruit” said, “they were not really prepared to deal with us or
our issues. They thought that they could simply incorporate us into their
organization without rethinking any of their beliefs or priorities and that we
would be happy.”67 Even the most formal gestures of inclusion were not to
be taken for granted. On one occasion when several women of color at-
tended a meeting to discuss a special task force on women of color, the
group debated all day over including the issue on the agenda.68

The relationship between the white women and the women of color on
the Board was a rocky one from beginning to end. Other conflicts developed
over differing definitions of feminism. For example, the Board decided to
hire a Latina staffperson to manage outreach programs to the Latino com-
munity, but the white members of the hiring committee rejected candidates
favored by Latina committee members who did not have recognized feminist

65. Id.

66. Roundtable Discussion on Racism and the Domestic Violence Movement (April 2, 1992)
(transcript on file with the Stanford Law Review). The participants in the discussion-Diana Cam-
pos, Director, Bilingual Outreach Project of the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Vio-
lence; Elsa A. Rios, Project Director, Victim Intervention Project (a community-based project in
East Harlem, New York, serving battered women); and Haydee Rosario, a social worker with the
East Harlem Council for Human Services and a Victim Intervention Project volunteer-recounted
conflicts relating to race and culture during their association with the New York State Coalition
Against Domestic Violence, a state oversight group that distributed resources to battered women’s
shelters throughout the state and generally set policy priorities for the shelters that were part of the

67. Id.

68. Id.

[Vol. 43:1241 1264

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credentials. As Campos pointed out, by measuring Latinas against their
own biographies, the white members of the Board failed to recognize the
different circumstances under which feminist consciousness develops and
manifests itself within minority communities. Many of the women who in-
terviewed for the position were established activists and leaders within their
own community, a fact in itself suggesting that these women were probably
familiar with the specific gender dynamics in their communities and were
accordingly better qualified to handle outreach than other candidates with
more conventional feminist credentials.69

The Coalition ended a few months later when the women of color walked

out.70 Many of these women returned to community-based organizations,
preferring to struggle over women’s issues within their communities rather
than struggle over race and class issues with white middle-class women. Yet
as illustrated by the case of the Latina who could find no shelter, the domi-
nance of a particular perspective and set of priorities within the shelter com-
munity continues to marginalize the needs of women of color.

The struggle over which differences matter and which do not is neither
an abstract nor an insignificant debate among women. Indeed, these con-
flicts are about more than difference as such; they raise critical issues of
power. The problem is not simply that women who dominate the antivi-
olence movement are different from women of color but that they frequently
have power to determine, either through material or rhetorical resources,
whether the intersectional differences of women of color will be incorporated
at all into the basic formulation of policy. Thus, the struggle over incorpo-
rating these differences is not a petty or superficial conflict about who gets to
sit at the head of the table. In the context of violence, it is sometimes a
deadly serious matter of who will survive-and who will not.71

B. Political Intersectionalities in Rape

In the previous sections, I have used intersectionality to describe or
frame various relationships between race and gender. I have used intersec-
tionality as a way to articulate the interaction of racism and patriarchy gen-
erally. I have also used intersectionality to describe the location of women
of color both within overlapping systems of subordination and at the mar-
gins of feminism and antiracism. When race and gender factors are ex-
amined in the context of rape, intersectionality can be used to map the ways
in which racism and patriarchy have shaped conceptualizations of rape, to
describe the unique vulnerability of women of color to these converging sys-

69. Id.

70. Ironically, the specific dispute that led to the walk-out concerned the housing of the Span-
ish-language domestic violence hotline. The hotline was initially housed at the Coalition’s headquar-
ters, but languished after a succession of coordinators left the organization. Latinas on the Coalition
board argued that the hotline should be housed at one of the community service agencies, while the
board insisted on maintaining control of it. The hotline is now housed at PODER. Id.

71. Said Campos, “It would be a shame that in New York state a battered woman’s life or
death were dependent upon her English language skills.” PODER Letter, supra note 61.

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tems of domination, and to track the marginalization of women of color
within antiracist and antirape discourses.72

1. Racism and sexism in dominant conceptualizations of rape.

Generations of critics and activists have criticized dominant conceptual-
izations of rape as racist and sexist. These efforts have been important in
revealing the way in which representations of rape both reflect and
reproduce race and gender hierarchies in American society.73 Black women,
as both women and people of color, are situated within both groups, each of
which has benefitted from challenges to sexism and racism, respectively, and
yet the particular dynamics of gender and race relating to the rape of Black
women have received scant attention. Although antiracist and antisexist as-
saults on rape have been politically useful to Black women, at some level, the
monofocal antiracist and feminist critiques have also produced a political
discourse that disserves Black women.

Historically, the dominant conceptualization of rape as quintessentially
Black offender/white victim has left Black men subject to legal and extrale-
gal violence. The use of rape to legitimize efforts to control and discipline
the Black community is well established, and the casting of all Black men as
potential threats to the sanctity of white womanhood was a familiar con-
struct that antiracists confronted and attempted to dispel over a century ago.

Feminists have attacked other dominant, essentially patriarchal, concep-
tions of rape, particularly as represented through law. The early emphasis of
rape law on the property-like aspect of women’s chastity resulted in less so-
licitude for rape victims whose chastity had been in some way devalued.
Some of the most insidious assumptions were written into the law, including
the early common-law notion that a woman alleging rape must be able to
show that she resisted to the utmost in order to prove that she was raped,
rather than seduced. Women themselves were put on trial, as judge and jury
scrutinized their lives to determine whether they were innocent victims or
women who essentially got what they were asking for. Legal rules thus func-
tioned to legitimize a good woman/bad woman dichotomy in which women
who lead sexually autonomous lives were usually least likely to be vindicated
if they were raped.

72. The discussion in following section focuses rather narrowly on the dynamics of a Black/
white sexual hierarchy. I specify African Americans in part because given the centrality of sexuality
as a site of racial domination of African Americans, any generalizations that might be drawn from
this history seem least applicable to other racial groups. To be sure, the specific dynamics of racial
oppression experienced by other racial groups are likely to have a sexual componant as well. Indeed,
the repertoire of racist imagery that is commonly associated with different racial groups each contain
a sexual stereotype as well. These images probably influence the way that rapes involving other
minority groups are perceived both internally and in society-at-large, but they are likely to function
in different ways.

73. For example, the use of rape to legitimize efforts to control and discipline the Black com-
munity is well established in historical literature on rape and race. See JOYCE E. WILLIAMS &
the threat of rape, is an important tool of social control in a complex system of racial-sexual

1266 [Vol. 43:1241

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Today, long after the most egregious discriminatory laws have been erad-
icated, constructions of rape in popular discourse and in criminal law con-
tinue to manifest vestiges of these racist and sexist themes. As Valerie Smith
notes, “a variety of cultural narratives that historically have linked sexual
violence with racial oppression continue to determine the nature of public
response to [interracial rapes].”74 Smith reviews the well-publicized case of
a jogger who was raped in New York’s Central Park75 to expose how the
public discourse on the assault “made the story of sexual victimization insep-
arable from the rhetoric of racism.”76 Smith contends that in dehumanizing
the rapists as “savages,” “wolves,” and “beasts,” the press “shaped the dis-
course around the event in ways that inflamed pervasive fears about black
men.”77 Given the chilling parallels between the media representations of
the Central Park rape and the sensationalized coverage of similar allegations
that in the past frequently culminated in lynchings, one could hardly be sur-
prised when Donald Trump took out a full page ad in four New York news-
papers demanding that New York “Bring Back the Death Penalty, Bring
Back Our Police.”78

Other media spectacles suggest that traditional gender-based stereotypes
that are oppressive to women continue to figure in the popular construction
of rape. In Florida, for example, a controversy was sparked by a jury’s ac-
quittal of a man accused of a brutal rape because, in the jurors’ view, the
woman’s attire suggested that she was asking for sex.79 Even the press cov-

74. Valerie Smith, Split Affinities: The Case of Interracial Rape, in CONFLICTS IN FEMINISM
271, 274 (Marianne Hirsch & Evelyn Fox Keller eds. 1990).

75. On April 18, 1989, a young white woman, jogging through New York’s Central Park, was
raped, severely beaten, and left unconscious in an attack by as many as 12 Black youths. Craig
Wolff, Youths Rape and Beat Central Park Jogger, N.Y. Times, Apr. 21, 1989, at B1.

76. Smith, supra note 74, at 276-78.
77. Smith cites the use of animal images to characterize the accused Black rapists, including

descriptions such as: “‘a wolfpack of more than a dozen young teenagers’ and ‘[t]here was a full
moon Wednesday night. A suitable backdrop for the howling of wolves. A vicious pack ran ram-
pant through Central Park…. This was bestial brutality.’ ” An editorial in the New York Times
was entitled “The Jogger and the Wolf Pack.” Id. at 277 (citations omitted).

Evidence of the ongoing link between rape and racism in American culture is by no means
unique to media coverage of the Central Park jogger case. In December 1990, the George Washing-
ton University student newspaper, The Hatchet, printed a story in which a white student alleged that
she had been raped at knifepoint by two Black men on or near the campus. The story caused
considerable racial tension. Shortly after the report appeared, the woman’s attorney informed the
campus police that his client had fabricated the attack. After the hoax was uncovered, the woman
said that she hoped the story “would highlight the problems of safety for women.” Felicity Banger,
False Rape Report Upsetting Campus, N.Y. Times, Dec. 12, 1990, at A2; see also Les Payne, A Rape
Hoax Stirs Up Hate, Newsday, Dec. 16, 1990, at 6.

78. William C. Troft, Deadly Donald, UPI, Apr. 30 1989. Donald Trump explained that he
spent $85,000 to take out these ads because “I want to hate these muggers and murderers. They
should be forced to suffer and, when they kill, they should be executed for their crimes.” Trump
Calls for Death to Muggers, L.A. Times, May 1, 1989, at A2. But cf. Leaders Fear ‘Lynch’ Hysteria
in Response to Trump Ads, UPI, May 6, 1989 (community leaders feared that Trump’s ads would fan
“the flames of racial polarization and hatred”); Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, Cost of Full-Page Ad Could
Help Fight Causes of Urban Violence, N.Y. Times, May 15, 1989, at A18 (“Mr. Trump’s proposal
could well lead to further violence.”).

79. Ian Ball, Rape Victim to Blame, Says Jury, Daily Telegraph, Oct. 6, 1989, at 3. Two
months after the acquittal, the same man pled guilty to raping a Georgia woman to whom he said,

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erage of William Kennedy Smith’s rape trial involved a considerable degree
of speculation regarding the sexual history of his accuser.80

The racism and sexism written into the social construction of rape are
merely contemporary manifestations of rape narratives emanating from a
historical period when race and sex hierarchies were more explicitly policed.
Yet another is the devaluation of Black women and the marginalization of
their sexual victimizations. This was dramatically shown in the special at-
tention given to the rape of the Central Park jogger during a week in which
twenty-eight other cases of first-degree rape or attempted rape were reported
in New York.81 Many of these rapes were as horrific as the rape in Central
Park, yet all were virtually ignored by the media. Some were gang rapes,82
and in a case that prosecutors described as was “one of the most brutal in
recent years,” a woman was raped, sodomized and thrown fifty feet off the
top of a four-story building in Brooklyn. Witnesses testified that the victim
“screamed as she plunged down the air shaft…. She suffered fractures of
both ankles and legs, her pelvis was shattered and she suffered extensive
internal injuries.”83 This rape survivor, like most of the other forgotten vic-
tims that week, was a woman of color.

In short, during the period when the Central Park jogger dominated the
headlines, many equally horrifying rapes occurred. None, however, elicited
the public expressions of horror and outrage that attended the Central Park
rape.84 To account for these different responses, Professor Smith suggests a

“It’s your fault. You’re wearing a skirt.” Roger Simon, Rape: Clothing is Not the Criminal, L.A.
Times, Feb. 18, 1990, at E2.

80. See Barbara Kantrowitz, Naming Names, NEWSWEEK, Apr. 29, 1991, at 26 (discussing
the tone of several newspaper investigations into the character of the woman who alleged that she
was raped by William Kennedy Smith). There were other dubious assumptions animating the cover-
age. One article described Smith as an “unlikely candidate for the rapist’s role.” Boy’s Night Out in
Palm Beach, TIME, Apr. 22, 1991, at 82. But see Hillary Rustin, Letters: The Kennedy Problem,
TIME, May 20, 1991, at 7 (criticizing authors for perpetuating stereotypical images of the who is or is
not a “likely” rapist). Smith was eventually acquitted.

81. The New York Times pointed out that “[n]early all the rapes reported during that April
week were of black or Hispanic women. Most went unnoticed by the public.” Don Terry, In Week
of an Infamous Rape, 28 Other Victims Suffer, N.Y. Times, May 29, 1989, at B25. Nearly all of the
rapes occurred between attackers and victims of the same race: “Among the victims were 17 blacks,
7 Hispanic women, 3 whites, and 2 Asians.” Id.

82. In Glen Ridge, an affluent New Jersey suburb, five white middle-class teenagers allegedly
gang-raped a retarded white woman with a broom handle and a miniature baseball bat. See Robert
Hanley, Sexual Assault Splits a New Jersey Town, N.Y. Times, May 26, 1989, at Bl; Derrick Z.
Jackson, The Seeds of Violence, Boston Globe, June 2, 1989, at 23; Bill Turque, Gang Rape in the
Suburbs, NEWSWEEK, June 5, 1989, at 26.

83. Robert D. McFadden, 2 Men Get 6 to 18 Years for Rape in Brooklyn, N.Y. Times, Oct. 2,
1990, at B2. The woman “lay, half naked, moaning and crying for help until a neighbor heard her”
in the air shaft. Community Rallies to Support Victim of Brutal Brooklyn Rape, N.Y. Daily News,
June 26, 1989, at 6. The victim “suffered such extensive injuries that she had to learn to walk
again …. She faces years of psychological counseling .. .” McFadden, supra.

84. This differential response was epitomized by public reaction to the rape-murder of a young
Black woman in Boston on October 31, 1990. Kimberly Rae Harbour, raped and stabbed more than
100 times by eight members of a local gang, was an unwed mother, an occasional prostitute, and a
drug-user. The Central Park victim was a white, upper-class professional. The Black woman was
raped and murdered intraracially. The white woman was raped and left for dead interracially. The
Central Park rape became a national rallying cause against random (read Black male) violence; the


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sexual hierarchy in operation that holds certain female bodies in higher re-
gard than others.85 Statistics from prosecution of rape cases suggest that
this hierarchy is at least one significant, albeit often overlooked factor in
evaluating attitudes toward rape.86 A study of rape dispositions in Dallas,
for example, showed that the average prison term for a man convicted of
raping a Black woman was two years,87 as compared to five years for the
rape of a Latina and ten years for the rape of an Anglo woman.88 A related
issue is the fact that African-American victims of rape are the least likely to
be believed.89 The Dallas study and others like it also point to a more subtle
problem: neither the antirape nor the antiracist political agenda has focused
on the Black rape victim. This inattention stems from the way the problem
of rape is conceptualized within antiracist and antirape reform discourses.
Although the rhetoric of both agendas formally includes Black women, ra-
cism is generally not problematized in feminism, and sexism, not problema-
tized in antiracist discourses. Consequently, the plight of Black women is
relegated to a secondary importance: The primary beneficiaries of policies
supported by feminists and others concerned about rape tend to be white
women; the primary beneficiaries of the Black community’s concern over
racism and rape, Black men. Ultimately, the reformist and rhetorical strate-
gies that have grown out of antiracist and feminist rape reform movements
have been ineffective in politicizing the treatment of Black women.

2. Race and the antirape lobby.

Feminist critiques of rape have focused on the way rape law has reflected

rape of Kimberly Rae Harbour was written into a local script highlighted by the Boston Police
Department’s siege upon Black men in pursuit of the “fictional” Carol Stuart murderer. See John
Ellement, 8 Teen-agers Charged in Rape, Killing of Dorchester Woman, Boston Globe, Nov. 20,
1990, at 1; James S. Kunen, Homicide No. 119, PEOPLE, Jan. 14, 1991, at 42. For a comparison of
the Stuart and Harbour murders, see Christopher B. Daly, Scant Attention Paid Victim as Homicides
Reach Record in Boston, Wash. Post, Dec. 5, 1990, at A3.

85. Smith points out that “[t]he relative invisibility of black women victims of rape also reflects
the differential value of women’s bodies in capitalist societies. To the extent that rape is constructed
as a crime against the property of privileged white men, crimes against less valuable women-wo-
men of color, working-class women, and lesbians, for example-mean less or mean differently than
those against white women from the middle and upper classes.” Smith, supra note 74, at 275-76.

86. “Cases involving black offenders and black victims were treated the least seriously.” GARY

(1989). LaFree also notes, however, that “the race composition of the victim-offender dyad” was not
the only predictor of case dispositions. Id. at 219-20.

87. Race Tilts the Scales of Justice. Study: Dallas Punishes Attacks on Whites More Harshly,
Dallas Times Herald, Aug. 19, 1990, at Al. A study of 1988 cases in Dallas County’s criminal
justice system concluded that rapists whose victims were white were punished more severely than
those whose victims were Black or Hispanic. The Dallas Times Herald, which had commissioned
the study, reported that “[t]he punishment almost doubled when the attacker and victim were of
different races. Except for such interracial crime, sentencing disparities were much less pronounced
….” Id.

88. Id. Two criminal law experts, Iowa law professor David Baldus and Carnegie-Mellon Uni-
versity professor Alfred Blumstein “said that the racial inequities might be even worse than the
figures suggest.” Id.

89. See G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 219-20 (quoting jurors who doubted the credibility of
Black rape survivors); see also H. FEILD & L. BIENEN, supra note 35, at 117-18.

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dominant rules and expectations that tightly regulate the sexuality of wo-
men. In the context of the rape trial, the formal definition of rape as well as
the evidentiary rules applicable in a rape trial discriminate against women by
measuring the rape victim against a narrow norm of acceptable sexual con-
duct for women. Deviation from that norm tends to turn women into illegit-
imate rape victims, leading to rejection of their claims.

Historically, legal rules dictated, for example, that rape victims had to
have resisted their assailants in order for their claims to be accepted. Any
abatement of struggle was interpreted as the woman’s consent to the inter-
course under the logic that a real rape victim would protect her honor virtu-
ally to the death. While utmost resistance is not formally required anymore,
rape law continues to weigh the credibility of women against narrow norma-
tive standards of female behavior. A woman’s sexual history, for example, is
frequently explored by defense attorneys as a way of suggesting that a wo-
man who consented to sex on other occasions was likely to have consented in
the case at issue. Past sexual conduct as well as the specific circumstances
leading up to the rape are often used to distinguish the moral character of
the legitimate rape victim from women who are regarded as morally debased
or in some other way responsible for their own victimization.

This type of feminist critique of rape law has informed many of the fun-
damental reform measures enacted in antirape legislation, including in-
creased penalties for convicted rapists90 and changes in evidentiary rules to
preclude attacks on the woman’s moral character.91 These reforms limit the
tactics attorneys might use to tarnish the image of the rape victim, but they
operate within preexisting social constructs that distinguish victims from
nonvictims on the basis of their sexual character. And so these reforms,
while beneficial, do not challenge the background cultural narratives that
undermine the credibility of Black women.

Because Black women face subordination based on both race and gender,
reforms of rape law and judicial procedures that are premised on narrow
conceptions of gender subordination may not address the devaluation of
Black women. Much of the problem results from the way certain gender
expectations for women intersect with certain sexualized notions of race, no-

90. For example, Title I of the Violence Against Women Act creates federal penalties for sex
crimes. See 137 CONG. REC. S597, S599-600 (daily ed. Jan. 14, 1991). Specifically, section 111 of
the Act authorizes the Sentencing Commission to promulgate guidelines to provide that any person
who commits a violation after a prior conviction can be punished by a term of imprisonment or fines
up to twice of what is otherwise provided in the guidelines. S. 15, supra note 57, at 8. Additionally
section 112 of the Act authorizes the Sentencing Commission to amend its sentencing guidelines to
provide that a defendant convicted of rape or aggravated rape, “shall be assigned a base offense …
that is at least 4 levels greater than the base offense level applicable to such offenses.” Id. at 5.

91. Title I of the Act also creates new evidentiary rules for the introduction of sexual history in
criminal and civil cases. Id. Sections 151 and 152 amend Fed. R. Evid. 412 by prohibiting “reputa-
tion or opinion evidence of the past sexual behavior of an alleged victim” from being admitted, and
limiting other evidence of past sexual behavior. Id. at 39-44. Similarly, section 153 amends the rape
shield law. Id. at 44-45. States have also either enacted or attempted to enact rape shield law
reforms of their own. See Harriet R. Galvin, Shielding Rape Victims in the State and Federal Courts:
A Proposalfor the Second Decade, 70 MINN. L. REV. 763 (1986); Barbara Fromm, Sexual Battery:
Mixed-Signal Legislation Reveals Need for Further Reform, 18 FLA. ST. U. L. REV. 579 (1991).

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tions that are deeply entrenched in American culture. Sexualized images of
African Americans go all the way back to Europeans’ first engagement with
Africans. Blacks have long been portrayed as more sexual, more earthy,
more gratification-oriented. These sexualized images of race intersect with
norms of women’s sexuality, norms that are used to distinguish good women
from bad, the madonnas from the whores. Thus Black women are essen-
tially prepackaged as bad women within cultural narratives about good wo-
men who can be raped and bad women who cannot. The discrediting of
Black women’s claims is the consequence of a complex intersection of a
gendered sexual system, one that constructs rules appropriate for good and
bad women, and a race code that provides images defining the allegedly es-
sential nature of Black women. If these sexual images form even part of the
cultural imagery of Black women, then the very representation of a Black
female body at least suggests certain narratives that may make Black wo-
men’s rape either less believable or less important. These narratives may
explain why rapes of Black women are less likely to result in convictions and
long prison terms than rapes of white women.92

Rape law reform measures that do not in some way engage and challenge
the narratives that are read onto Black women’s bodies are unlikely to affect
the way cultural beliefs oppress Black women in rape trials. While the de-
gree to which legal reform can directly challenge cultural beliefs that shape
rape trials is limited,93 the very effort to mobilize political resources toward
addressing the sexual oppression of Black women can be an important first
step in drawing greater attention to the problem. One obstacle to such an
effort has been the failure of most antirape activists to analyze specifically
the consequences of racism in the context of rape. In the absence of a direct
attempt to address the racial dimensions of rape, Black women are simply
presumed to be represented in and benefitted by prevailing feminist critiques.

3. Antiracism and rape.

Antiracist critiques of rape law focus on how the law operates primarily
to condemn rapes of white women by Black men.94 While the heightened

92. See note 35 supra.
93. One can imagine certain trial-based interventions that might assist prosecutors in strug-

gling with these beliefs. For example, one might consider expanding the scope of voir dire to ex-
amine jurors’ attitudes toward Black rape victims. Moreover, as more is learned about Black
women’s response to rape, this information may be deemed relevant in evaluating Black women’s
testimony and thus warrant introduction through expert testimony. In this regard, it is worth noting
that the battered women’s syndrome and the rape trauma syndrome are both forms of expert testi-
mony that frequently function in the context of a trial to counter stereotypes and other dominant
narratives that might otherwise produce a negative outcome for the woman “on trial.” These inter-
ventions, probably unimaginable a short while ago, grew out of efforts to study and somehow quan-
tify women’s experience. Similar interventions that address the particular dimensions of the
experiences of women of color may well be possible. This knowledge may grow out of efforts to map
how women of color have fared under standard interventions. For an example of an intersectional
critique of the battered women’s syndrome, see Sharon A. Allard, Rethinking Battered Woman Syn-
drome. A Black Feminist Perspective, 1 U.C.L.A. WOMEN’S L.J. 191 (1991) (student author).

94. See Smith, supra note 74 (discussing media sensationalization of the Central Park jogger
case as consistent with historical patterns of focusing almost exclusively on Black male/white female

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concern with protecting white women against Black men has been primarily
criticized as a form of discrimination against Black men,95 it just as surely
reflects devaluation of Black women.96 This disregard for Black women re-
sults from an exclusive focus on the consequences of the problem for Black
men.97 Of course, rape accusations historically have provided a justification
for white terrorism against the Black community, generating a legitimating
power of such strength that it created a veil virtually impenetrable to appeals
based on either humanity or fact.98 Ironically, while the fear of the Black
rapist was exploited to legitimate the practice of lynching, rape was not even
alleged in most cases.99 The well-developed fear of Black sexuality served
primarily to increase white tolerance for racial terrorism as a prophylactic
measure to keep Blacks under control.’?? Within the African-American
community, cases involving race-based accusations against Black men have
stood as hallmarks of racial injustice. The prosecution of the Scottsboro
boys10l and the Emmett Till’02 tragedy, for example, triggered African-

dyads.); see also Terry, supra note 81 (discussing the 28 other rapes that occurred during the same
week, but that were not given the same media coverage). Although rape is largely an intraracial
crime, this explanation for the disparate coverage given to nonwhite victims is doubtful, however,
given the findings of at least one study that 48% of those surveyed believed that most rapes involved
a Black offender and a white victim. See H. FEILD & L. BIENEN, supra note 35, at 80. Ironically,
Feild and Bienen include in their book-length study of rape two photographs distributed to the
subjects in their study depicting the alleged victim as white and the alleged assailant as Black. Given
the authors’ acknowledgment that rape was overwhelmingly intraracial, the appearance of these
photos was particularly striking, especially because they were the only photos included in the entire

95. See, e.g., G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 237-39.
96. For a similar argument that race-of-victim discrimination in the administration of the

death penalty actually represents the devalued status of Black victims rather than discrimination
against Black offenders, see Randall L. Kennedy, McCleskey v. Kemp: Race, Capital Punishment,
and the Supreme Court, 101 HARV. L. REV. 1388 (1988).

97. The statistic that 89% of all men executed for rape in this country were Black is a familiar
one. Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238, 364 (1972) (Marshall, J., concurring). Unfortunately, the
dominant analysis of racial discrimination in rape prosecutions generally does not discuss whether
any of the rape victims in these cases were Black. See Jennifer Wriggins, Rape, Racism, and the Law,
6 HARV. WOMEN’S L.J. 103, 113 (1983) (student author).

98. Race was frequently sufficient to fill in facts that were unknown or unknowable. As late as
1953, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that a jury could take race into account in determining
whether a Black man was guilty of “an attempt to commit an assault with an attempt to rape.” See
McQuirter v. State, 63 So. 2d. 388, 390 (Ala. 1953). According to the “victim’s” testimony, the man
stared at her and mumbled something unintelligible as they passed. Id. at 389.

99. Ida Wells, an early Black feminist, investigated every lynching she could for about a dec-
ade. After researching 728 lynchings, she concluded that “[o]nly a third of the murdered Blacks
were even accused of rape, much less guilty of it.” PAULA GIDDINGS, WHEN AND WHERE I ENTER:

100. See Jacquelyn Dowd Hall, “The Mind That Burns in Each Body”: Women, Rape, and
Racial Violence, in POWERS OF DESIRE: THE POLITICS OF SEXUALITY 328, 334 (Ann Snitow, Chris-
tine Stansell, & Sharon Thompson eds. 1983).

101. Nine Black youths were charged with the rape of two white women in a railroad freight
car near Scottsboro, Alabama. Their trials occurred in a heated atmosphere. Each trial was com-
pleted in a single day, and the defendants were all convicted and sentenced to death. See DAN T.
versed the defendants’ convictions and death sentences, holding that they were unconstitutionally
denied the right to counsel. Powell v. Alabama, 287 U.S. 45, 65 (1932). However, the defendants
were retried by an all-white jury after the Supreme Court reversed their convictions.

102. Emmett Till was a 14-year-old Black boy from Chicago visiting his relatives near Money,


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American resistance to the rigid social codes of white supremacy.’03 To the
extent rape of Black women is thought to dramatize racism, it is usually cast
as an assault on Black manhood, demonstrating his inability to protect Black
women. The direct assault on Black womanhood is less frequently seen as
an assault on the Black community.104

The sexual politics that this limited reading of racism and rape engenders
continues to play out today, as illustrated by the Mike Tyson rape trial. The
use of antiracist rhetoric to mobilize support for Tyson represented an ongo-
ing practice of viewing with considerable suspicion rape accusations against
Black men and interpreting sexual racism through a male-centered frame.
The historical experience of Black men has so completely occupied the dom-
inant conceptions of racism and rape that there is little room to squeeze in
the experiences of Black women. Consequently, racial solidarity was contin-
ually raised as a rallying point on behalf of Tyson, but never on behalf of
Desiree Washington, Tyson’s Black accuser. Leaders ranging from Benja-
min Hooks to Louis Farrakhan expressed their support for Tyson,105 yet no
established Black leader voiced any concern for Washington. The fact that
Black men have often been falsely accused of raping white women underlies
the antiracist defense of Black men accused of rape even when the accuser
herself is a Black woman.

As a result of this continual emphasis on Black male sexuality as the core
issue in antiracist critiques of rape, Black women who raise claims of rape
against Black men are not only disregarded but also sometimes vilified
within the African-American community. One can only imagine the aliena-
tion experienced by a Black rape survivor such as Desiree Washington when
the accused rapist is embraced and defended as a victim of racism while she
is, at best, disregarded, and at worst, ostracized and ridiculed. In contrast,
Tyson was the beneficiary of the longstanding practice of using antiracist
rhetoric to deflect the injury suffered by Black women victimized by Black
men. Some defended the support given to Tyson on the ground that all Afri-

Mississippi. On a dare by local boys, he entered a store and spoke to a white woman. Several days
later, Emmett Till’s body was found in the Tallahatchie River. “The barbed wire holding the cotton-
gin fan around his neck had became snagged on a tangled river root.” After the corpse was discov-
ered, the white woman’s husband and his brother-in-law were charged with Emmett Till’s murder.
JUAN WILLIAMS, EYES ON THE PRIZE 39-43 (1987). For a historical account of the Emmett Till

103. Crenshaw, supra note 7, at 159 (discussing how the generation of Black activists who
created the Black Liberation Movement were contemporaries of Emmett Till).


Until quite recently, for example, when historians talked of rape in the slavery experience
they often bemoaned the damage this act did to the Black male’s sense of esteem and
respect. He was powerless to protect his woman from white rapists. Few scholars probed
the effect that rape, the threat of rape, and domestic violence had on the psychic develop-
ment of the female victims.

Darlene Clark Hine, Rape and the Inner Lives of Black Women in the Middle West: Preliminary
Thoughts on the Culture of Dissemblance, in UNEQUAL SISTERS: A MULTI-CULTURAL READER IN
U.S. WOMEN’S HISTORY (Ellen Carol Dubois & Vicki L. Ruiz eds. 1990).

105. Michael Madden, No Offensive from Defense, Boston Globe, Feb. 1, 1992, at 33 (Hooks);
Farrakhan Backs Calls for Freeing Tyson, UPI, July 10, 1992.

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can Americans can readily imagine their sons, fathers, brothers, or uncles
being wrongly accused of rape. Yet daughters, mothers, sisters, and aunts
also deserve at least a similar concern, since statistics show that Black wo-
men are more likely to be raped than Black men are to be falsely accused of
it. Given the magnitude of Black women’s vulnerability to sexual violence,
it is not unreasonable to expect as much concern for Black women who are
raped as is expressed for the men who are accused of raping them.

Black leaders are not alone in their failure to empathize with or rally
around Black rape victims. Indeed, some Black women were among Tyson’s
staunchest supporters and Washington’s harshest critics.106 The media
widely noted the lack of sympathy Black women had for Washington; Bar-
bara Walters used the observation as a way of challenging Washington’s
credibility, going so far as to press Washington for a reaction.107 The most
troubling revelation was that many of the women who did not support
Washington also doubted Tyson’s story. These women did not sympathize
with Washington because they believed that Washington had no business in
Tyson’s hotel room at 2:00 a.m. A typical response was offered by one
young Black woman who stated, “She asked for it, she got it, it’s not fair to
cry rape.”108

Indeed, some of the women who expressed their disdain for Washington
acknowledged that they encountered the threat of sexual assault almost
daily.109 Yet it may be precisely this threat-along with the relative absence
of rhetorical strategies challenging the sexual subordination of Black wo-
men-that animated their harsh criticism. In this regard, Black women who
condemned Washington were quite like all other women who seek to dis-
tance themselves from rape victims as a way of denying their own vulnerabil-
ity. Prosecutors who handle sexual assault cases acknowledge that they
often exclude women as potential jurors because women tend to empathize
the least with the victim.110 To identify too closely with victimization may
reveal their own vulnerability.111 Consequently, women often look for evi-

106. See Megan Rosenfeld, After the Verdict, The Doubts: Black Women Show Little Sympathy
for Tyson’s Accuser, Wash. Post, Feb. 13, 1992, at D1; Allan Johnson, Tyson Rape Case Strikes a
Nerve Among Blacks, Chicago Trib., Mar. 29, 1992, at Cl; Suzanne P. Kelly, Black Women Wrestle
with Abuse Issue: Many Say Choosing Racial Over Gender Loyalty Is Too Great a Sacrifice, Star Trib.,
Feb. 18, 1992, at Al.

107. 20/20 (ABC television broadcast, Feb. 21, 1992).
108. Id.

109. According to a study by the Bureau of Justice, Black women are significantly more likely
to be raped than white women, and women in the 16-24 age group are 2 to 3 times more likely to be
victims of rape or attempted rape than women in any other age group. See Ronald J. Ostrow,
Typical Rape Victim Called Poor, Young, L.A. Times, Mar. 25, 1985, at 8.

110. See Peg Tyre, What Experts Say About Rape Jurors, Newsday, May 19, 1991, at 10 (re-
porting that “researchers had determined that jurors in criminal trials side with the complainant or
defendant whose ethnic, economic and religious background most closely resembles their own. The
exception to the rule … is the way women jurors judge victims of rape and sexual assault.”). Linda
Fairstein, a Manhattan prosecutor, states, “(T)oo often women tend to be very critical of the conduct
of other women, and they often are not good jurors in acquaintance-rape cases.” Margaret Carlson,
The Trials of Convicting Rapists, TIME, Oct. 14, 1991, at 11.

111. As sex crimes prosecutor Barbara Eganhauser notes, even young women with contempo-
rary lifestyles often reject a woman’s rape accusation out of fear. “To call another woman the victim

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dence that the victim brought the rape on herself, usually by breaking social
rules that are generally held applicable only to women. And when the rules
classify women as dumb, loose, or weak on the one hand, and smart, dis-
criminating, and strong on the other, it is not surprising that women who
cannot step outside the rules to critique them attempt to validate themselves
within them. The position of most Black women on this issue is particularly
problematic, first, because of the extent to which they are consistently re-
minded that they are the group most vulnerable to sexual victimization, and
second, because most Black women share the African-American commu-
nity’s general resistance to explicitly feminist analysis when it appears to run
up against long-standing narratives that construct Black men as the primary
victims of sexual racism.

C. Rape and Intersectionality in Social Science

The marginalization of Black women’s experiences within the antiracist
and feminist critiques of rape law are facilitated by social science studies that
fail to examine the ways in which racism and sexism converge. Gary
LaFree’s Rape and Criminal Justice: The Social Construction of Sexual As-
sault112 is a classic example. Through a study of rape prosecutions in Min-
neapolis, LaFree attempts to determine the validity of two prevailing claims
regarding rape prosecutions. The first claim is that Black defendants face
significant racial discrimination.113 The second is that rape laws serve to
regulate the sexual conduct of women by withholding from rape victims the
ability to invoke sexual assault law when they have engaged in nontradi-
tional behavior. 14 LaFree’s compelling study concludes that law constructs
rape in ways that continue to manifest both racial and gender domination.115
Although Black women are positioned as victims of both the racism and the
sexism that LaFree so persuasively details, his analysis is less illuminating
than might be expected because Black women fall through the cracks of his
dichotomized theoretical framework.

1. Racial domination and rape.

LaFree confirms the findings of earlier studies that show that race is a
significant determinant in the ultimate disposition of rape cases. He finds
that Black men accused of raping white women were treated most harshly,
while Black offenders accused of raping Black women were treated most
leniently.116 These effects held true even after controlling for other factors

of rape is to acknowledge the vulnerability in yourself. They go out at night, they date, they go to
bars, and walk alone. To deny it is to say at the trial that women are not victims.” Tyre, supra note

112. G. LAFREE, supra note 86.
113. Id. at 49-50.

114. Id. at 50-51.
115. Id. at 237-40.

116. LaFree concludes that recent studies finding no discriminatory effect were inconclusive
because they analyzed the effects of the defendant’s race independently of the race of victim. The
differential race effects in sentencing are often concealed by combining the harsher sentences given to

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such as injury to the victim and acquaintance between victim and assailant.
Compared to other defendants, blacks who were suspected of assaulting
white women received more serious charges, were more likely to have their
cases filed as felonies, were more likely to receive prison sentences if con-
victed, were more likely to be incarcerated in the state penitentiary (as op-
posed to a jail or minimum-security facility), and received longer sentences
on the average.117

LaFree’s conclusions that Black men are differentially punished depend-
ing on the race of the victim do not, however, contribute much to under-
standing the plight of Black rape victims. Part of the problem lies in the
author’s use of “sexual stratification” theory, which posits both that women
are differently valued according to their race and that there are certain
“rules of sexual access” governing who may have sexual contact with whom
in this sexually stratified market. 18 According to the theory, Black men are
discriminated against in that their forced “access” to white women is more
harshly penalized than their forced “access” to Black women. 19 LaFree’s
analysis focuses on the harsh regulation of access by Black men to white
women, but is silent about the relative subordination of Black women to

Black men accused of raping white women with the more lenient treatment of Black men accused of
raping Black women. Id. at 117, 140. Similar results were found in another study. See Anthony
Walsh, The Sexual Stratification Hypothesis and Sexual Assault in Light of the Changing Conceptions
of Race, 25 CRIMINOLOGY 153, 170 (1987) (“sentence severity mean for blacks who assaulted
whites, which was significantly in excess of mean for whites who assaulted whites, was masked by
the lenient sentence severity mean for blacks who assaulted blacks”).

117. G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 139-40.
118. Sexual stratification, according to LaFree, refers to the differential valuation of women

according to their race and to the creation of “rules of sexual access” governing who may have
contact with whom. Sexual stratification also dictates what the penalty will be for breaking these
rules: The rape of a white woman by a Black man is seen as a trespass on the valuable property
rights of white men and is punished most severely. Id. at 48-49.

The fundamental propositions of the sexual stratification thesis have been summarized as

(1) Women are viewed as the valued and scarce property of the men of their own race.
(2) White women, by virtue of membership in the dominant race, are more valuable

than black women.

(3) The sexual assault of a white by a black threatens both the white man’s “property
rights” and his dominant social position. This dual threat accounts for the strength of the
taboo attached to interracial sexual assault.

(4) A sexual assault by a male of any race upon members of the less valued black race
is perceived as nonthreatening to the status quo and therefore less serious.

(5) White men predominate as agents of social control. Therefore, they have the
power to sanction differentially according to the perceived threat to their favored social

Walsh, supra note 116, at 155.
119. I use the term “access” guardedly because it is an inapt euphemism for rape. On the

other hand, rape is conceptualized differently depending on whether certain race-specific rules of
sexual access are violated. Although violence is not explicitly written into the sexual stratification
theory, it does work itself into the rules, in that sexual intercourse that violates the racial access rules
is presumed to be coercive rather that voluntary. See, e.g., Sims v. Balkam, 136 S.E. 2d 766, 769
(Ga. 1964) (describing the rape of a white woman by a Black man as “a crime more horrible than
death”); Story v. State, 59 So. 480 (Ala. 1912) (“The consensus of public opinion, unrestricted to
either race, is that a white woman prostitute is yet, though lost of virtue, above the even greater
sacrifice of the voluntary submission of her person to the embraces of the other race.”); Wriggins,
supra note 97, at 125, 127.


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white women. The emphasis on differential access to women is consistent
with analytical perspectives that view racism primarily in terms of the ine-
quality between men. From this prevailing viewpoint, the problem of dis-
crimination is that white men can rape Black women with relative impunity
while Black men cannot do the same with white women.120 Black women

are considered victims of discrimination only to the extent that white men
can rape them without fear of significant punishment. Rather than being
viewed as victims of discrimination in their own right, they become merely
the means by which discrimination against Black men can be recognized.
The inevitable result of this orientation is that efforts to fight discrimination
tend to ignore the particularly vulnerable position of Black women, who
must both confront racial bias and challenge their status as instruments,
rather than beneficiaries, of the civil rights struggle.

Where racial discrimination is framed by LaFree primarily in terms of a
contest between Black and white men over women, the racism experienced
by Black women will only be seen in terms of white male access to them.
When rape of Black women by white men is eliminated as a factor in the
analysis, whether for statistical or other reasons, racial discrimination
against Black women no longer matters, since LaFree’s analysis involves
comparing the “access” of white and Black men to white women.’21 Yet
Black women are not discriminated against simply because white men can
rape them with little sanction and be punished less than Black men who rape
white women, or because white men who rape them are not punished the
same as white men who rape white women. Black women are also discrimi-
nated against because intraracial rape of white women is treated more seri-
ously than intraracial rape of Black women. But the differential protection
that Black and white women receive against intraracial rape is not seen as
racist because intraracial rape does not involve a contest between Black and
white men. In other words, the way the criminal justice system treats rapes
of Black women by Black men and rapes of white women by white men is
not seen as raising issues of racism because Black and white men are not
involved with each other’s women.

In sum, Black women who are raped are racially discriminated against
because their rapists, whether Black or white, are less likely to be charged
with rape, and when charged and convicted, are less likely to receive signifi-
cant jail time than the rapists of white women. And while sexual stratifica-
tion theory does posit that women are stratified sexually by race, most
applications of the theory focus on the inequality of male agents of rape
rather than on the inequality of rape victims, thus marginalizing the racist

120. This traditional approach places Black women in a position of denying their own victimi-
zation, requiring Black women to argue that it is racist to punish Black men more harshly for raping
white women than for raping Black women. However, in the wake of the Mike Tyson trial, it seems
that many Black women are prepared to do just that. See notes 106-109 supra and accompanying

121. In fact, critics and commentators often use the term “interracial rape” when they are
actually talking only about Black male/white female rape.

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treatment of Black women by consistently portraying racism in terms of the
relative power of Black and white men.

In order to understand and treat the victimization of Black women as a

consequence of racism and sexism, it is necessary to shift the analysis away
from the differential access of men and more toward the differential protec-
tion of women. Throughout his analysis, LaFree fails to do so. His sexual
stratification thesis-in particular, its focus on the comparative power of
male agents of rape-illustrates how the marginalization of Black women in
antiracist politics is replicated in social science research. Indeed, the thesis
leaves unproblematized the racist subordination of less valuable objects
(Black women) to more valuable objects (white women), and it perpetuates
the sexist treatment of women as property extensions of “their” men.

2. Rape and gender subordination.

Although LaFree does attempt to address gender-related concerns of wo-
men in his discussion of rape and the social control of women, his theory of
sexual stratification fails to focus sufficiently on the effects of stratification on
women.122 LaFree quite explicitly uses a framework that treats race and
gender as separate categories, giving no indication that he understands that
Black women may fall in between or within both. The problem with
LaFree’s analysis lies not in its individual observations, which can be in-
sightful and accurate, but in his failure to connect them and develop a
broader, deeper perspective. His two-track framework makes for a narrow
interpretation of the data because it leaves untouched the possibility that
these two tracks may intersect. And it is those who reside at the intersection
of gender and race discrimination-Black women-that suffer from this fun-
damental oversight.

LaFree attempts to test the feminist hypothesis that “the application of
law to nonconformist women in rape cases may serve to control the behavior
of all women.”123 This inquiry is important, he explains, because “if women
who violate traditional sex roles and are raped are unable to obtain justice
through the legal system, then the law may be interpreted as an institutional
arrangement for reinforcing women’s gender-role conformity.”’24 He finds
that “acquittals were more common and final sentences were shorter when
nontraditional victim behavior was alleged.”125 Thus LaFree concludes that
the victim’s moral character was more important than victim injury, and
was second only to the defendant’s character. Overall, 82.3 percent of the
traditional victim cases resulted in convictions and average sentences of

122. G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 148. LaFree’s transition between race and gender suggests
that the shift might not loosen the frame enough to permit discussion of the combined effects of race
and gender subordination on Black women. LaFree repeatedly separates race from gender, treating
them as wholly distinguishable issues. See, e.g., id. at 147.

123. Id.

124. Id. at 151. LaFree interprets nontraditional behavior to include drinking, drug use, extra-
marital sex, illegitimate children, and “having a reputation as a ‘partier,’ a ‘pleasure seeker’ or some-
one who stays out late at night.” Id. at 201.

125. Id. at 204.

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43.38 months.126 Only 50 percent of nontraditional victim cases led to con-
victions, with an average term of 27.83 months.127 The effects of traditional
and nontraditional behavior by Black women are difficult to determine from
the information given and must be inferred from LaFree’s passing com-
ments. For example, LaFree notes that Black victims were evenly divided
between traditional and nontraditional gender roles. This observation, to-
gether with the lower rate of conviction for men accused of raping Blacks,
suggests that gender role behavior was not as significant in determining case
disposition as it was in cases involving white victims. Indeed, LaFree explic-
itly notes that “the victim’s race was … an important predictor of jurors’
case evaluations.”128

Jurors were less likely to believe in a defendant’s guilt when the victim was
black. Our interviews with jurors suggested that part of the explanation for
this effect was that jurors … were influenced by stereotypes of black women
as more likely to consent to sex or as more sexually experienced and hence
less harmed by the assault. In a case involving the rape of a young black
girl, one juror argued for acquittal on the grounds that a girl her age from
‘that kind of neighborhood’ probably wasn’t a virgin anyway.129

126. Id.

127. Id.

128. Id. at 219 (emphasis added). While there is little direct evidence that prosecutors are
influenced by the race of the victim, it is not unreasonable to assume that since race is an important
predictor of conviction, prosecutors determined to maintain a high conviction rate might be less
likely to pursue a case involving a Black victim than a white one. This calculus is probably rein-
forced when juries fail to convict in strong cases involving Black victims. For example, the acquittal
of three white St. John’s University athletes for the gang rape of a Jamaican schoolmate was inter-
preted by many as racially influenced. Witnesses testified that the woman was incapacitated during
much of the ordeal, having ingested a mixture of alcohol given to her by a classmate who subse-
quently initiated the assault. The jurors insisted that race played no role in their decision to acquit.
“There was no race, we all agreed to it,” said one juror; “They were trying to make it racial but it
wasn’t,” said another. Jurors: ‘It Wasn’t Racial,’ Newsday, July 25, 1991, at 4. Yet it is possible that
race did influence on some level their belief that the woman consented to what by all accounts,
amounted to dehumanizing conduct. See, e.g., Carole Agus, Whatever Happened to ‘The Rules’
Newsday, July 28, 1991, at 11 (citing testimony that at least two of the assailants hit the victim in the
head with their penises). The jury nonetheless thought, in the words of its foreman, that the defend-
ants’ behavior was “obnoxious” but not criminal. See Sydney H. Schanberg, Those ‘Obnoxious’ St.
John’s Athletes, Newsday, July 30, 1991, at 79. One can imagine a different outcome had the races of
the parties only been reversed.

Representative Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) called the verdict “a rerun of what used to happen in
the South.” James Michael Brodie, The St. John’s Rape Acquittal: Old Wounds That Just Won’t Go
Away, BLACK ISSUES IN HIGHER EDUC., Aug. 15, 1991, at 18. Denise Snyder, executive director of
the D.C. Rape Crisis Center, commented:

It’s a historical precedent that white men can assault black women and get away with it.
Woe be to the black man who assaults white women. All the prejudices that existed a
hundred years ago are dormant and not so dormant, and they rear their ugly heads in
situations like this. Contrast this with the Central Park jogger who was an upper-class
white woman.

Judy Mann, New Age, Old Myths, Wash. Post, July 26, 1991, at C3 (quoting Snyder); see Kristin
Bumiller, Rape as a Legal Symbol: An Essay on Sexual Violence and Racism, 42 U. MIAMI L. REV.
75, 88 (“The cultural meaning of rape is rooted in a symbiosis of racism and sexism that has toler-
ated the acting out of male aggression against women and, in particular, black women.”).

129. Id. at 219-20 (citations omitted). Anecdotal evidence suggests that this attitude exists
among some who are responsible for processing rape cases. Fran Weinman, a student in my seminar
on race, gender, and the law, conducted a field study at the Rosa Parks Rape Crisis Center. During

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LaFree also notes that “[o]ther jurors were simply less willing to believe the
testimony of black complainants.”’30 One white juror is quoted as saying,
“Negroes have a way of not telling the truth. They’ve a knack for coloring
the story. So you know you can’t believe everything they say.”131

Despite explicit evidence that the race of the victim is significant in deter-
mining the disposition of rape cases, LaFree concludes that rape law func-
tions to penalize nontraditional behavior in women.132 LaFree fails to note
that racial identification may itself serve as a proxy for nontraditional behav-
ior. Rape law, that is, serves not only to penalize actual examples of non-
traditional behavior but also to diminish and devalue women who belong to
groups in which nontraditional behavior is perceived as common. For the
Black rape victim, the disposition of her case may often turn less on her
behavior than on her identity. LaFree misses the point that although white
and Black women have shared interests in resisting the madonna/whore di-
chotomy altogether, they nevertheless experience its oppressive power differ-
ently. Black women continue to be judged by who they are, not by what
they do.

3. Compounding the marginalizations of rape.

LaFree offers clear evidence that the race/sex hierarchy subordinates
Black women to white women, as well as to men-both Black and white.
However, the different effects of rape law on Black women are scarcely men-
tioned in LaFree’s conclusions. In a final section, LaFree treats the devalua-
tion of Black women as an aside-one without apparent ramifications for
rape law. He concludes: “The more severe treatment of black offenders who
rape white women (or, for that matter, the milder treatment of black offend-
ers who rape black women) is probably best explained in terms of racial dis-
crimination within a broader context of continuing social and physical
segregation between blacks and whites.”133 Implicit throughout LaFree’s

her study, she counseled and accompanied a 12-year-old Black rape survivor who became pregnant
as a result of the rape. The girl was afraid to tell her parents, who discovered the rape after she
became depressed and began to slip in school. Police were initially reluctant to interview the girl.
Only after the girl’s father threatened to take matters into his own hands did the police department
send an investigator to the girl’s house. The City prosecutor indicated that the case wasn’t a serious
one, and was reluctant to prosecute the defendant for statutory rape even though the girl was under-
age. The prosecutor reasoned, “After all, she looks 16.” After many frustrations, the girl’s family
ultimately decided not to pressure the prosecutor any further and the case was dropped. See Fran
Weinman, Racism and the Enforcement of Rape Law, 13-30 (1990) (unpublished manuscript) (on
file with the Stanford Law Review).

130. G. LAFREE, supra note 86, at 220.
131. Id.

132. Id. at 226.

133. Id. at 239 (emphasis added). The lower conviction rates for those who rape Black women
may be analogous to the low conviction rates for acquaintance rape. The central issue in many rape
cases is proving that the victim did not consent. The basic presumption in the absence of explicit
evidence of lack of consent is that consent exists. Certain evidence is sufficient to disprove that
presumption, and the quantum of evidence necessary to prove nonconsent increases as the presump-
tions warranting an inference of consent increases. Some women-based on their character, identity,
or dress-are viewed as more likely to consent than other women. Perhaps it is the combination of
the sexual stereotypes about Black people along with the greater degree of familiarity presumed to

[Vol. 43:1241 1280

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study is the assumption that Blacks who are subjected to social control are
Black men. Moreover, the social control to which he refers is limited to
securing the boundaries between Black males and white females. His con-
clusion that race differentials are best understood within the context of social

segregation as well as his emphasis on the interracial implications of bound-
ary enforcement overlook the intraracial dynamics of race and gender subor-
dination. When Black men are leniently punished for raping Black women,
the problem is not “best explained” in terms of social segregation but in
terms of both the race- and gender-based devaluation of Black women. By
failing to examine the sexist roots of such lenient punishment, LaFree and
other writers sensitive to racism ironically repeat the mistakes of those who
ignore race as a factor in such cases. Both groups fail to consider directly
the situation of Black women.

Studies like LaFree’s do little to illuminate how the interaction of race,
class and nontraditional behavior affects the disposition of rape cases involv-
ing Black women. Such an oversight is especially troubling given evidence
that many cases involving Black women are dismissed outright.134 Over 20
percent of rape complaints were recently dismissed as “unfounded” by the
Oakland Police Department, which did not even interview many, if not
most, of the women involved.135 Not coincidentally, the vast majority of the
complainants were Black and poor; many of them were substance abusers or
prostitutes.136 Explaining their failure to pursue these complaints, the police
remarked that “those cases were hopelessly tainted by women who are tran-
sient, uncooperative, untruthful or not credible as witnesses in court.”137

exist between Black men and Black women that leads to the conceptualization of such rapes as
existing somewhere between acquaintance rape and stranger rape.

134. See, e.g., Candy J. Cooper, Nowhere to Turn for Rape Victims: High Proportion of Cases
Tossed Aside by Oakland Police, S.F. Examiner, Sept. 16, 1990, at Al [hereinafter Cooper, Nowhere
to Turn]. The most persuasive evidence that the images and beliefs that Oakland police officers hold
toward rape victims influence the disposition of their cases is represented in two follow-up stories.
See Candy J. Cooper, A Rape Victim Vindicated, S.F. Examiner, Sept. 17, 1990, at Al; Candy J.
Cooper, Victim of Rape, Victim of the System, S.F. Examiner, Sept. 17, 1990, at A10. These stories
contrasted the experiences of two Black women, both of whom had been raped by an acquaintance
after smoking crack. In the first case, although there was little physical evidence and the woman was
initially reluctant to testify, her rapist was prosecuted and ultimately convicted. In the second case,
the woman was severely beaten by her assailant. Despite ample physical evidence and corrobora-
tion, and a cooperative victim, her case was not pursued. The former case was handled by the
Berkeley, California, police department while the latter was handled by the Oakland police depart-
ment. Perhaps the different approaches producing these disparate results can best be captured by the
philosophies of the investigators. Officers in Berkeley “take every woman’s case so seriously that not
one [in 1989] was found to be false.” See Candy J. Cooper, Berkeley Unit Takes All Cases as Legiti-
mate, S.F. Examiner, Sept. 16, 1990, at A16. The same year, 24.4% of Oakland’s rape cases were
classified as “unfounded.” Cooper, Nowhere to Turn, supra.

135. Cooper, Nowhere to Turn, supra note 134, at A10.
136. Id. (“Police, prosecutors, victims and rape crisis workers agree that most of the dropped

cases were reported by women of color who smoked crack or were involved in other criminal, high-
risk behavior, such as prostitution.”).

137. Id. Advocates point out that because investigators work from a profile of the kind of case
likely to get a conviction, people left out of that profile are people of color, prostitutes, drug users
and people raped by acquaintances. This exclusion results in “a whole class of women . . . systemati-
cally being denied justice. Poor women suffer the most.” Id.

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The effort to politicize violence against women will do little to address
the experiences of Black and other nonwhite women until the ramifications
of racial stratification among women are acknowledged. At the same time,
the antiracist agenda will not be furthered by suppressing the reality of in-
traracial violence against women of color. The effect of both these marginal-
izations is that women of color have no ready means to link their experiences
with those of other women. This sense of isolation compounds efforts to
politicize sexual violence within communities of color and permits the
deadly silence surrounding these issues.

D. Implications

With respect to the rape of Black women, race and gender converge in
ways that are only vaguely understood. Unfortunately, the analytical
frameworks that have traditionally informed both antirape and antiracist
agendas tend to focus only on single issues. They are thus incapable of de-
veloping solutions to the compound marginalization of Black women vic-
tims, who, yet again, fall into the void between concerns about women’s
issues and concerns about racism. This dilemma is complicated by the role
that cultural images play in the treatment of Black women victims. That is,
the most critical aspects of these problems may revolve less around the polit-
ical agendas of separate race- and gender-sensitive groups, and more around
the social and cultural devaluation of women of color. The stories our cul-

ture tells about the experience of women of color present another chal-
lenge-and a further opportunity-to apply and evaluate the usefulness of
the intersectional critique.


With respect to the rape of Black women, race and gender converge so
that the concerns of minority women fall into the void between concerns
about women’s issues and concerns about racism. But when one discourse

fails to acknowledge the significance of the other, the power relations that
each attempts to challenge are strengthened. For example, when feminists
fail to acknowledge the role that race played in the public response to the
rape of the Central Park jogger, feminism contributes to the forces that pro-
duce disproportionate punishment for Black men who rape white women,
and when antiracists represent the case solely in terms of racial domination,
they belittle the fact that women particularly, and all people generally,
should be outraged by the gender violence the case represented.

Perhaps the devaluation of women of color implicit here is linked to how
women of color are represented in cultural imagery. Scholars in a wide
range of fields are increasingly coming to acknowledge the centrality of is-
sues of representation in the reproduction of racial and gender hierarchy in
the United States. Yet current debates over representation continually elide
the intersection of race and gender in the popular culture’s construction of
images of women of color. Accordingly, an analysis of what may be termed

1282 [Vol. 43:1241

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“representational intersectionality” would include both the ways in which
these images are produced through a confluence of prevalent narratives of
race and gender, as well as a recognition of how contemporary critiques of
racist and sexist representation marginalize women of color.

In this section I explore the problem of representational intersectional-
ity-in particular, how the production of images of women of color and the
contestations over those images tend to ignore the intersectional interests of
women of color-in the context of the controversy over 2 Live Crew, the
Black rap group that was the subject of an obscenity prosecution in Florida
in 1990. I oppose the obscenity prosecution of 2 Live Crew, but not for the
same reasons as those generally offered in support of 2 Live Crew, and not
without a sense of sharp internal division, of dissatisfaction with the idea
that the “real issue” is race or gender, inertly juxtaposed. An intersectional
analysis offers both an intellectual and political response to this dilemma.
Aiming to bring together the different aspects of an otherwise divided sensi-
bility, an intersectional analysis argues that racial and sexual subordination
are mutually reinforcing, that Black women are commonly marginalized by
a politics of race alone or gender alone, and that a political response to each
form of subordination must at the same time be a political response to both.

A. The 2 Live Crew Controversy

In June 1990, the members of 2 Live Crew were arrested and charged
under a Florida obscenity statute for their performance in an adults-only
club in Hollywood, Florida. The arrests came just two days after a federal
court judge ruled that the sexually explicit lyrics in 2 Live Crew’s album, As
Nasty As They Wanna Be, 38were obscene.’39 Although the members of 2
Live Crew were eventually acquitted of charges stemming from the live per-
formance, the federal court determination that Nasty is obscene still stands.
This obscenity judgment, along with the arrests and subsequent trial,
prompted an intense public controversy about rap music, a controversy that
merged with a broader debate about the representation of sex and violence in
popular music, about cultural diversity, and about the meaning of freedom
of expression.

Two positions dominated the debate over 2 Live Crew. Writing in News-
week, political columnist George Will staked out a case for the prosecu-

138. 2 LIVE CREW, As NASTY AS THEY WANNA BE (Luke Records 1989).
139. In June 1990, a federal judge ruled that 2 Live Crew’s lyrics referring to sodomy and

sexual intercourse were obscene. Skywalker Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 739 F. Supp. 578, 596 (S.D.
Fla. 1990). The court held that the recording appealed to the prurient interest, was patently offen-
sive as defined by state law, and taken as a whole, lacked serious literary, artistic or political value.
Id. at 591-96. However, the court also held that the sheriffs office had subjected the recording to
unconstitutional prior restraint and consequently granted 2 Live Crew permanent injunctive relief.
Id. at 596-604. Two days after the judge declared the recording obscene, 2 Live Crew members were
charged with giving an obscene performance at a club in Hollywood, Florida. Experts Defend Live
Crew Lyrics, UPI, Oct. 19, 1990. Deputy sheriffs also arrested Charles Freeman, a merchant who
was selling copies of the Nasty recording. See Gene Santoro, How 2 B Nasty, NATION, July 2, 1990,
at 4. The 11th Circuit reversed the conviction, Luke Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 960 F.2d 134 (11th
Cir. 1992).

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tion.’40 Will argued that Nasty was misogynistic filth and characterized 2
Live Crew’s performance as a profoundly repugnant “combination of ex-
treme infantilism and menace” that objectified Black women and repre-
sented them as suitable targets of sexual violence.141 The most prominent
defense of 2 Live Crew was advanced by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Harvard
professor and expert on African-American literature. In a New York Times
op-ed piece and in testimony at the criminal trial, Gates contended that 2
Live Crew’s members were important artists operating within and inven-
tively elaborating upon distinctively African-American forms of cultural ex-
pression.142 According to Gates, the characteristic exaggeration featured in
2 Live Crew’s lyrics served a political end: to explode popular racist stereo-
types in a comically extreme form.143 Where Will saw a misogynistic assault
on Black women by social degenerates, Gates found a form of “sexual
carnivalesque” with the promise to free us from the pathologies of racism. 144

Unlike Gates, there are many who do not simply “bust out laughing”
upon first hearing 2 Live Crew.’45 One does a disservice to the issue to
describe the images of women in Nasty as simply “sexually explicit.”’46 Lis-
tening to Nasty, we hear about “cunts” being “fucked” until backbones are
cracked, “asses” being “busted,” “dicks” rammed down throats, and semen

140. See George F. Will, America’s Slide into the Sewer, NEWSWEEK, July 30, 1990, at 64.
141. Id.

142. Henry Louis Gates, 2 Live Crew, Decoded, N.Y. Times, June 19, 1990, at A23. Professor
Gates, who testified on behalf of 2 Live Crew in the criminal proceeding stemming from their live
performance, pointed out that the members of 2 Live Crew were expressing themselves in coded
messages, and were engaging in parody. “For centuries, African-Americans have been forced to
develop coded ways of communicating to protect them from danger. Allegories and double mean-
ings, words redefined to mean their opposites . . . have enabled blacks to share messages only the
initiated understood.” Id. Similarly, parody is a component of “the street tradition called ‘signify-
ing’ or ‘playing the dozens,’ which has generally been risque, and where the best signifier or ‘rapper’
is the one who invents the most extravagant images, the biggest ‘lies,’ as the culture says.” Id.

143. Testifying during 2 Live Crew’s prosecution for obscenity, Gates argued that, “[o]ne of
the brilliant things about these four songs is they embrace that stereotype [of blacks having overly
large sexual organs and being hypersexed individuals]. They name it and they explode it. You can
have no reaction but to bust out laughing. The fact that they’re being sung by four virile young
black men is inescapable to the audience.” Laura Parker, Rap Lyrics Likened to Literature; Witness
in 2 Live Crew Trial Cites Art, Parody, Precedents, Wash. Post, Oct. 20, 1990, at D1.

144. Compare Gates, supra note 142 (labeling 2 Live Crew’s braggadocio as “sexual
carnivalesque”) with Will, supra note 140 (characterizing 2 Live Crew as “lower animals”).

145. See note 143 supra.
146. Although I have elected to print some of the actual language from Nasty, much of the

debate about this case has proceeded without any specific discussion of the lyrics. There are reasons
one might avoid repeating such sexually explicit material. Among the more compelling ones is the
concern that presenting lyrics outside of their fuller musical context hampers a complex understand-
ing and appreciation of the art form of rap itself. Doing so also essentializes one dimension of the art
work-its lyrics-to stand for the whole. Finally, focusing on the production of a single group may
contribute to the impression that that group-here, 2 Live Crew-fairly represents all rappers.

Recognizing these risks, I believe that it is nonetheless important to incorporate excerpts from
the Crew’s lyrics into this analysis. Not only are the lyrics legally relevant in any substantive discus-
sion of the obscenity prosecution, but also their inclusion here serves to reveal the depth of misogyny
many African-American women must grapple with in order to defend 2 Live Crew. This is particu-
larly true for African-American women who have been sexually abused by men in their lives. Of
course, it is also the case that many African-American women who are troubled by the sexual degra-
dation of Black women in some rap music can and do enjoy rap music generally.


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splattered across faces. Black women are “cunts,” “bitches,” and all-pur-
pose “hos.”147

This is no mere braggadocio. Those who are concerned about high rates
of gender violence in our communities must be troubled by the possible con-
nections between these images and the tolerance for violence against women.
Children and teenagers are listening to this music, and one cannot but be
concerned that the range of acceptable behavior is being broadened by the
constant propagation of misogynistic imagery. One must worry as well
about young Black women who, like young men, are learning that their
value lies between their legs. But the sexual value of women, unlike that of
men, is a depletable commodity; boys become men by expending theirs,
while girls become whores.

Nasty is misogynist, and an intersectional analysis of the case against 2
Live Crew should not depart from a full acknowledgement of that misogyny.
But such an analysis must also consider whether an exclusive focus on issues
of gender risks overlooking aspects of the prosecution of 2 Live Crew that
raise serious questions of racism.

B. The Obscenity Prosecution of 2 Live Crew

An initial problem with the obscenity prosecution of 2 Live Crew was its
apparent selectivity.148 Even the most superficial comparison between 2
Live Crew and other mass-marketed sexual representations suggests the like-
lihood that race played some role in distinguishing 2 Live Crew as the first
group ever to be prosecuted for obscenity in connection with a musical re-
cording, and one of a handful of recording artists to be prosecuted for a live
performance. Recent controversies about sexism, racism, and violence in
popular culture point to a vast range of expression that might have provided
targets for censorship, but was left untouched. Madonna has acted out mas-
turbation, portrayed the seduction of a priest, and insinuated group sex on
stage,149 but she has never been prosecuted for obscenity. While 2 Live
Crew was performing in Hollywood, Florida, Andrew Dice Clay’s record-
ings were being sold in stores and he was performing nationwide on HBO.

147. See generally 2 LIVE CREW, supra note 138; N.W.A., STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON (Pri-
ority Records, Inc. 1988); N.W.A., N.W.A. & THE POSSE (Priority Records, Inc. 1989).

148. There is considerable support for the assertion that prosecution of 2 Live Crew and other
rap groups is a manifestation of selective repression of Black expression which is no more racist or
sexist than expression by non-Black groups. The most flagrant example is Geffen Records’ decision
not to distribute an album by the rap act, the Geto Boys. Geffen explained that “the extent to which
the Geto Boys album glamorizes and possibly endorses violence, racism, and misogyny compels us to
encourage Def American (the group’s label) to select a distributor with a greater affinity for this
musical expression.” Greg Ket, No Sale, Citing Explicit Lyrics, Distributor Backs Away From Geto
Boys Album, Chicago Trib., Sept. 13, 1990, ? 5, at 9. Geffen apparently has a greater affinity for the
likes of Andrew Dice Clay and Guns ‘N Roses, non-Black acts which have come under fire for racist
and sexist comments. Despite criticism of Guns ‘N Roses for lyrics which include “niggers” and
Clay’s “joke” about Native Americans (see note 150 infra), Geffen continued to distribute their
recordings. Id.

149. See Derrick Z. Jackson, Why Must Only Rappers Take the Rap?, Boston Globe, June 17,
1990, at A17.

July 1991] 1285

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Well-known for his racist “humor,” Clay is also comparable to 2 Live Crew
in sexual explicitness and misogyny. In his show, for example, Clay offers,
“Eenie, meenie, minee, mo / Suck my [expletive] and swallow slow,” and
“Lose the bra, bitch.”’50 Moreover, graphic sexual images-many of them
violent-were widely available in Broward County where the performance
and trial took place. According to the testimony of a Broward County vice
detective, “nude dance shows and adult bookstores are scattered throughout
the county where 2 Live Crew performed.”’51 Given the availability of
other forms of sexually explicit “entertainment” in Broward County, Flor-
ida, one might wonder how 2 Live Crew could have been seen as uniquely
obscene by the lights of the “community standards” of the county.’52 After
all, patrons of certain Broward County clubs “can see women dancing with
at least their breasts exposed,” and bookstore patrons can “view and
purchase films and magazines that depict vaginal, oral and anal sex, homo-
sexual sex and group sex.”153 In arriving at its finding of obscenity, the
court placed little weight on the available range of films, magazines, and live
shows as evidence of the community’s sensibilities. Instead, the court appar-
ently accepted the sheriffs testimony that the decision to single out Nasty
was based on the number of complaints against 2 Live Crew “communicated
by telephone calls, anonymous messages, or letters to the police.” 54

Evidence of this popular outcry was never substantiated. But even if it

150. Id. at A20. Not only does Clay exhibit sexism comparable to, if not greater than, that of 2
Live Crew, he also intensifies the level of hatred by flaunting racism: ” ‘Indians, bright people, huh?
They’re still livin’ in [expletive] tepees. They deserved it. They’re dumb as [expletive].’ ” Id. (quot-
ing Clay).

One commentator asked, “What separates Andrew Dice Clay and 2 Live Crew? Answer: Foul-
mouthed Andrew Dice Clay is being chased by the producers of ‘Saturday Night Live.’ Foul-
mouthed 2 Live Crew are being chased by the police.” Id. at A17. When Clay did appear on
Saturday Night Live, a controversy was sparked because cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest
Sinead O’Connor refused to appear. Jean Seligmann, Dicey Problem, NEWSWEEK, May 21, 1990, at

151. Jane Sutton, Untitled, 2 Live Crew, UPI, Oct. 18, 1990.

152. Prosecuting 2 Live Crew but not Clay might be justified by the argument that there is a
distinction between “obscenity,” defined as expressions of prurient interests, and “pornography” or
“racist speech,” defined as expressions of misogyny and race hatred, respectively. 2 Live Crew’s
prurient expressions could be prosecuted as constitutionally unprotected obscenity while Clay’s pro-
tected racist and misogynistic expressions could not. Such a distinction has been subjected to critical
analysis. See Catharine A. MacKinnon, Not A Moral Issue, 2 YALE L. & POL’Y REV. 321 (1984).
The distinction does not explain why other expressions which appeal more directly to “prurient
interests” are not prosecuted. Further, 2 Live Crew’s prurient appeal is produced, at least in part,
through the degradation of women. Accordingly, there can be no compelling distinction between
the appeal Clay makes and that of 2 Live Crew.

153. Sutton, supra note 151.
154. Skywalker Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 739 F. Supp. 578, 589 (S.D. Fla 1990). The court

rejected the defendants’ argument that “admission of other sexually explicit works” is entitled to
great weight in determining community standards and held that “this type of evidence does not even
have to be considered even if the comparable works have been found to be nonobscene.” Id. (citing
Hamling v. United States, 418 U.S. 82, 126-27 (1974)). Although the court gave “some weight” to
sexually explicit writings in books and magazines, Eddie Murphy’s audio tape of Raw, and Andrew
Dice Clay’s tape recording, it did not explain why these verbal messages “analogous to the format in
the Nasty recording” were not obscene as well. Id.


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were, the case for selectivity would remain.155 The history of social repres-
sion of Black male sexuality is long, often violent, and all too familiar.’56
Negative reactions to the sexual conduct of Black men have traditionally
had racist overtones, especially where that conduct threatens to “cross over”
into the mainstream community.157 So even if the decision to prosecute did
reflect a widespread community perception of the purely prurient character
of 2 Live Crew’s music, that perception itself might reflect an established
pattern of vigilante attitudes directed toward the sexual expression of Black
men.158 In short, the appeal to community standards does not undercut a

155. One report suggested that the complaint came from a lawyer, Jack Thompson. Thomp-
son has continued his campaign, expanding his net to include rap artists the Geto Boys and Too
Short. Sara Rimer, Obscenity or Art? Trial on Rap Lyrics Opens, N.Y. Times, Oct. 17, 1990, at Al.
Despite the appearance of selective enforcement, it is doubtful that any court would be persuaded
that the requisite racial motivation was proved. Even evidence of racial disparity in the heaviest of
criminal penalties-the death sentence-is insufficient to warrant relief absent specific evidence of
discrimination in the defendant’s case. See McClesky v. Kemp, 481 U. S. 279 (1987).

156. See notes 101-104 supra and accompanying text.
157. Some critics speculate that the prosecution of 2 Live Crew has less to do with obscenity

than with the traditional policing of Black males, especially as it relates to sexuality. Questioning
whether 2 Live Crew is more obscene than Andrew Dice Clay, Gates states, “Clearly, this rap group
is seen as more threatening than others that are just as sexually explicit. Can this be completely
unrelated to the specter of the young black male as a figure of sexual and social disruption, the very
stereotypes that 2 Live Crew seems determined to undermine?” Gates, supra note 142. Clarence
Page makes a similar point, speculating that “2 Live Crew has become the scapegoat for widespread
frustration shared by many blacks and whites over a broad range of social problems that seem to
have gotten out of control.” Clarence Page, Culture, Taste and Standard-Setting, Chicago Trib.,
Oct. 7, 1990, ? 4, at 3. Page implies, however, that this explanation is something more than or
different from racism. “Could it be (drumroll, please) racism? Or could it be fear?” Id. (emphasis
added). Page’s definition of racism apparently does not include the possibility that it is racist to
attach one’s societal fears and discomforts to a subordinated and highly stigmatized “other.” In
other words, scapegoating, at least in this country, has traditionally been, and still is, considered
racist, whatever the source of the fear.

158. Even in the current era, this vigilantism is sometimes tragically expressed. Yusef Haw-
kins became a victim of it in New York on August 23, 1989, when he was killed by a mob of white
men who believed themselves to be protecting “their” women from being taken by Black men. UPI,
May 18, 1990. Jesse Jackson called Hawkins’s slaying a “racially and sexually motivated lynching”
and compared it to the 1955 murder of black Mississippi youth Emmett Till, who was killed by men
who thought he whistled at a white woman. Id. Even those who denied the racial overtones of
Hawkins’s murder produced alternative explanations that were part of the same historical narrative.
Articles about the Hawkins incident focused on Gina Feliciano as the cause of the incident, attack-
ing her credibility. See, e.g., Lorrin Anderson, Cracks in the Mosaic, NAT’L REV., June 25, 1990, at
36. “Gina instigated the trouble …. Gina used drugs and apparently still does. She dropped out of
a rehabilitation program before testifying for the prosecution at trial” and was later picked up by the
police and “charged with possession of cocaine-15 vials of crack fell out of her purse, police said,
and she had a crack pipe in her bra.” Id. at 37. At trial, defense attorney Stephen Murphy claimed
that Feliciano “lied, . . . perjured herself …. She divides, polarizes eight million people …. It’s
despicable what she did, making this a racial incident.” Id. (quoting Murphy). But feminists at-
tacked the “scapegoating” of Feliciano, one stating, “Not only are women the victims of male vio-
lence, they’re blamed for it.” Alexis Jetter, Protesters Blast Scapegoat Tactics, Newsday, Apr. 3,
1990, at 29 (quoting Francoise Jacobsohn, president of the New York chapter of the National Or-
ganization for Women). According to Merle Hoffman, founder of the New York Pro-Choice Coali-
tion, “Gina’s personal life has nothing to do with the crime, . . . [b]ut rest assured, they’ll go into her
sexual history …. It’s all part of the ‘she made me do it’ idea.” Id. (quoting Hoffman). And New
York columnist Ilene Barth observed that

Gender . . . has a role in New York’s race war. Fingers were pointed in Bensonhurst
last week at a teenage girl . . . [who] never harmed anyone …. Word of her invitation
offended local studs, sprouting macho-freaks determined to own local turf and the young

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concern about racism; rather, it underscores that concern.

A second troubling dimension of the case brought against 2 Live Crew
was the court’s apparent disregard for the culturally rooted aspects of 2 Live
Crew’s music. Such disregard was essential to a finding of obscenity given
the third prong of the Miller test requiring that material judged obscene
must, taken as a whole, lack literary, artistic, or political value.159 2 Live
Crew argued that this criterion of the Miller test was not met in the case of
Nasty since the recording exemplified such African-American cultural
modes as “playing the dozens,” “call and response,” and “signifying.”160
The court denied each of the group’s claims of cultural specificity,
recharacterizing in more generic terms what 2 Live Crew contended was
distinctly African American. According to the court, “playing the dozens”
is “commonly seen in adolescents, especially boys, of all ages”; “boasting”
appears to be “part of the universal human condition”; and the cultural ori-
gins of “call and response”-featured in a song on Nasty about fellatio in
which competing groups chanted “less filling” and “tastes great”-were to
be found in a Miller beer commercial, not in African-American cultural tra-
dition.161 The possibility that the Miller beer commercial may have itself
evolved from an African-American cultural tradition was apparently lost on
the court.

In disregarding the arguments made on behalf of 2 Live Crew, the court
denied that the form and style of Nasty and, by implication, rap music in
general had any artistic merit. This disturbing dismissal of the cultural at-
tributes of rap and the effort to universalize African-American modes of ex-
pression are a form of colorblindness that presumes to level all significant
racial and ethnic differences in order to pass judgment on intergroup con-
flicts. The court’s analysis here also manifests a frequently encountered
strategy of cultural appropriation. African-American contributions that
have been accepted by the mainstream culture are eventually absorbed as

females in their ethnic group …. [W]omen have not made the headlines as part of ma-
rauding bands intent on racial assault. But they number among their victims.”

Ilene Barth, Let the Women of Bensonhurst Lead Us in a Prayer Vigil, Newsday, Sept. 3, 1989, at 10.
159. The Supreme Court articulated its standard for obscenity in Miller v. California, 413 U.S.

15 (1973), reh’g denied, 414 U.S. 881 (1973). The Court held that the basic guidelines for the trier of
fact were (a) “whether the ‘average person, applying contemporary community standards’ would
find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest”; (b) “whether the work depicts
or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state
law”; and (c) “whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scien-
tific value.” Id. at 24 (citations omitted).

160. See Gates, supra note 142.
161. Skywalker Records, Inc., v. Navarro, 739 F. Supp. 578, 595 (S.D. Fla. 1990). The com-

mercial appropriation of rap is readily apparent in pop culture. Soft drink and fast food commercials
now feature rap even though the style is sometimes presented without its racial/cultural face. Danc-
ing McDonald’s french fries and the Pillsbury Doughboy have gotten into the rap act. The crossover
of rap is not the problem; instead, it is the tendency, represented in Skywalker, to reject the cultural
origins of language and practices which are disturbing. This is part of an overall pattern of cultural
appropriation that predates the rap controversy. Most starkly illustrated in music and dance, cul-
tural trailblazers like Little Richard and James Brown have been squeezed out of their place in
popular consciousness to make room for Elvis Presley, Mick Jagger, and others. The meteoric rise
of white rapper Vanilla Ice is a contemporary example.

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simply “American” or found to be “universal.” Other modes associated
with African-American culture that resist absorption remain distinctive and
are either neglected or dismissed as “deviant.”

The court apparently rejected as well the possibility that even the most
misogynistic rap may have political value as a discourse of resistance. The
element of resistance found in some rap is in making people uncomfortable,
thereby challenging received habits of thought and action. Such challenges
are potentially political, as are more subversive attempts to contest tradi-
tional rules by becoming what is most feared.162 Against a historical back-
drop in which the Black male as social outlaw is a prominent theme,
“gangsta’ rap” might be taken as a rejection of a conciliatory stance aimed at
undermining fear through reassurance, in favor of a more subversive form of
opposition that attempts to challenge the rules precisely by becoming the
very social outlaw that society fears and attempts to proscribe. Rap repre-
sentations celebrating an aggressive Black male sexuality can be easily con-
strued as discomforting and oppositional. Not only does reading rap in this
way preclude a finding that Nasty lacks political value, it also defeats the
court’s assumption that the group’s intent was to appeal solely to prurient
interests. To be sure, these considerations carry greater force in the case of
other rap artists, such as N.W.A., Too Short, Ice Cube, and The Geto Boys,
all of whose standard fare includes depictions of violent assault, rape, rape-
murder, and mutilation.163 In fact, had these other groups been targeted
rather than the comparatively less offensive 2 Live Crew, they might have
successfully defeated prosecution. The graphic violence in their representa-
tions militate against a finding of obscenity by suggesting an intent not to
appeal to prurient interests but instead to more expressly political ones. So
long as violence is seen as distinct from sexuality, the prurient interest re-
quirement may provide a shield for the more violent rap artists. However,
even this somewhat formalistic dichotomy may provide little solace to such
rap artists given the historical linkages that have been made between Black

162. Gates argues that 2 Live Crew is undermining the “specter of the young black male as a
figure of sexual and social disruption.” Gates, supra note 142. Faced with “racist stereotypes about
black sexuality,” he explains, “you can do one of two things: you can disavow them or explode them
with exaggeration.” Id. 2 Live Crew, Gates suggests, has chosen to burst the myth by parodying
exaggerations of the “oversexed black female and male.” Id.

163. Other rap acts that have been singled out for their violent lyrics include Ice Cube, the
Geto Boys, and Too Short. See, e.g., ICE CUBE, KILL AT WILL (Gangsta Boogie Music (ASCAP)/
UJAMA Music, Inc. 1990); GETO BOYS, THE GETO BOYS (N-The-Water Music, Inc. (ASCAP)
1989); Too SHORT, SHORT DOG’S IN THE HOUSE (RCA Records 1990). Not all rap lyrics are
misogynist. Moreover, even misogynist acts also express a political world view. The differences
among rap groups and the artistic value of the medium is sometimes overlooked by mainstream
critics. See, e.g., Jerry Adler, The Rap Attitude, NEWSWEEK, Mar. 19, 1990, at 56, 57 (labeling rap
as a “bombastic, self-aggrandizing” by-product of the growing “Culture of Attitude”). Adler’s treat-
ment of rap set off a storm of responses. See, e.g., Patrick Goldstein, Pop Eye: Rappers Don’t Have
Time For Newsweek’s Attitude, L.A. Times, Mar. 25, 1990, at 90 (Magazine). Said Russell Simmons,
chairman of Def-Jam Records, rap’s most successful label, “Surely the moral outrage in [Adler’s]
piece would be better applied to contemporary American crises in health care, education, homeless-
ness …. Blaming the victims-in this case America’s black working class and underclass-is never
a very useful approach to problem-solving.” Id. (quoting Simmons).

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male sexuality and violence. Indeed, it has been the specter of violence that
surrounds images of Black male sexuality that presented 2 Live Crew as an
acceptable target of an obscenity prosecution in a field that included Andrew
Dice Clay and countless others.

The point here is not that the distinction between sex and violence
should be rigorously maintained in determining what is obscene or, more
specifically, that rap artists whose standard fare is more violent ought to be
protected. To the contrary, these more violent groups should be much more
troubling than 2 Live Crew. My point instead is to suggest that obscenity
prosecutions of rap artists do nothing to protect the interests of those most
directly implicated in rap-Black women. On the one hand, prevailing no-
tions of obscenity separate out sexuality from violence, which has the effect
of shielding the more violently misogynistic groups from prosecution; on the
other, historical linkages between images of Black male sexuality and vio-
lence permit the singling out of “lightweight” rappers for prosecution among
all other purveyors of explicit sexual imagery.

C. Addressing the Intersectionality

Although Black women’s interests were quite obviously irrelevant in the
2 Live Crew obscenity judgment, their images figured prominently in the
public case supporting the prosecution. George Will’s Newsweek essay pro-
vides a striking example of how Black women’s bodies were appropriated
and deployed in the broader attack against 2 Live Crew. Commenting on
“America’s Slide into the Sewers,” Will laments that

America today is capable of terrific intolerance about smoking, or toxic
waste that threatens trout. But only a deeply confused society is more con-
cerned about protecting lungs than minds, trout than black women. We
legislate against smoking in restaurants; singing “Me So Horny” is a consti-
tutional right. Secondary smoke is carcinogenic; celebration of torn vaginas
is “mere words.”164

Lest one be misled into thinking that Will has become an ally of Black
women, Will’s real concern is suggested by his repeated references to the
Central Park jogger assault. Will writes, “Her face was so disfigured a friend
took 15 minutes to identify her. ‘I recognized her ring.’ Do you recognize
the relevance of 2 Live Crew?”165 While the connection between the threat

of 2 Live Crew and the image of the Black male rapist was suggested subtly
in the public debate, it is blatant throughout Will’s discussion. Indeed, it
bids to be the central theme of the essay. “Fact: Some members of a partic-
ular age and societal cohort-the one making 2 Live Crew rich-stomped
and raped the jogger to the razor edge of death, for the fun of it.”166 Will
directly indicts 2 Live Crew in the Central Park jogger rape through a fic-
tional dialogue between himself and the defendants. Responding to one de-

164. See Will, supra note 140.
165. Id.

166. Id.

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fendant’s alleged confession that the rape was fun, Will asks, “Where can
you get the idea that sexual violence against women is fun? From a music
store, through Walkman earphones, from boom boxes blaring forth the rap
lyrics of 2 Live Crew.”167 Since the rapists were young Black males and
Nasty presents Black men celebrating sexual violence, 2 Live Crew was in
Central Park that night, providing the underlying accompaniment to a vi-
cious assault. Ironically, Will rejected precisely this kind of argument in the
context of racist speech on the ground that efforts to link racist speech to
racist violence presume that those who hear racist speech will mindlessly act
on what they hear.l68 Apparently, the certain “social cohort” that produces
and consumes racist speech is fundamentally different from the one that pro-
duces and consumes rap music.

Will invokes Black women-twice-as victims of this music. But if he

were really concerned with the threat of 2 Live Crew to Black women, why
does the Central Park jogger figure so prominently in his argument? Why
not the Black woman in Brooklyn who was gang-raped and then thrown
down an airshaft? In fact, Will fails even to mention Black victims of sexual
violence, which suggests that Black women simply function for Will as
stand-ins for white women. Will’s use of the Black female body to press the
case against 2 Live Crew recalls the strategy of the prosecutor in Richard
Wright’s novel Native Son. Bigger Thomas, Wright’s Black male protago-
nist, is on trial for killing Mary Dalton, a white woman. Because Bigger
burned her body, it cannot be established whether Bigger had sexually as-
saulted her, so the prosecutor brings in the body of Bessie, a Black woman
raped by Bigger and left to die, in order to establish that Bigger had raped
Mary Dalton.169

These considerations about selectivity, about the denial of cultural speci-
ficity, and about the manipulation of Black women’s bodies convince me that
race played a significant, if not determining, role in the shaping of the case
against 2 Live Crew. While using antisexist rhetoric to suggest a concern for
women, the attack on 2 Live Crew simultaneously endorses traditional read-
ings of Black male sexuality. The fact that the objects of these violent sexual
images are Black women becomes irrelevant in the representation of the
threat in terms of the Black rapist/white victim dyad. The Black male be-
comes the agent of sexual violence and the white community becomes his
potential victim. The subtext of the 2 Live Crew prosecution thus becomes a
re-reading of the sexualized racial politics of the past.

167. Id.

168. See George F. Will, On Campuses, Liberals Would Gag Free Speech, Newsday, Nov. 6,
1989, at 62.

169. RICHARD WRIGHT, NATIVE SON 305-08 (Perennial Library ed. 1989) (1940). Wright

Though he had killed a black girl and a white girl, he knew that it would be for the death of
the white girl that he would be punished. The black girl was merely “evidence.” And
under it all he knew that white people did not really care about Bessie’s being killed. White
people never searched for Negroes who killed other Negroes.

Id. at 306-07.

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While concerns about racism fuel my opposition to the obscenity prose-
cution of 2 Live Crew, the uncritical support for, and indeed celebration of,
2 Live Crew by other opponents of the prosecution is extremely troubling as
well. If the rhetoric of antisexism provided an occasion for racism, so, too,
the rhetoric of antiracism provided an occasion for defending the misogyny
of 2 Live Crew. That defense took two forms, one political, the other cul-
tural, both advanced prominently by Henry Louis Gates. Gates’s political
defense argues that 2 Live Crew advances the antiracist agenda by exagger-
ating stereotypes of Black male sexuality “to show how ridiculous [they]
are.”170 The defense contends that by highlighting to the extreme the sex-
ism, misogyny, and violence stereotypically associated with Black male sexu-
ality, 2 Live Crew represents a postmodern effort to “liberate” us from the
racism that perpetuates these stereotypes.171

Gates is right to contend that the reactions of Will and others confirm
that the racial stereotypes still exist, but even if 2 Live Crew intended to
explode these stereotypes, their strategy was misguided. Certainly, the
group wholly miscalculated the reaction of their white audience, as Will’s
polemic amply illustrates. Rather than exploding stereotypes, as Gates sug-
gests, 2 Live Crew, it seems most reasonable to argue, was simply (and un-
successfully) trying to be funny. After all, trading in sexual stereotypes has
long been a means to a cheap laugh, and Gates’s cultural defense of 2 Live
Crew recognizes as much in arguing the identification of the group with a
distinctly African-American cultural tradition of the “dozens” and other
forms of verbal boasting, raunchy jokes, and insinuations of sexual prowess,
all of which were meant to be laughed at and to gain for the speaker respect
for his word wizardry, and not to disrupt conventional myths of Black sexu-
ality.172 Gates’s cultural defense of 2 Live Crew, however, recalls similar
efforts on behalf of racist humor, which has sometimes been defended as
antiracist-an effort to poke fun at or to show the ridiculousness of racism.

170. Gates, supra note 142. Gates’s defense of 2 Live Crew portrayed the group as engaging in
postmodern guerrilla warfare against racist stereotypes of Black sexuality. Says Gates, “2 Live
Crew’s music exaggerates stereotypes of black men and women to show how ridiculous those por-
trayals are. One of the brilliant things about these songs is that they embrace the stereotypes ….
It’s ridiculous. That’s why we laugh about them. That is one of the things I noticed in the audi-
ence’s reaction. There is no undertone of violence. There’s laughter, there’s joy.” Id. Gates repeats
the celebratory theme elsewhere, linking 2 Live Crew to Eddie Murphy and other Black male per-
formers because

they’re saying all the things that we couldn’t say even in the 1960’s about our own excesses,
things we could only whisper in dark rooms. They’re saying we’re going to explode all
these sacred cows. It’s fascinating, and it’s upsetting everybody-not just white people but
black people. But it’s a liberating moment.

John Pareles, An Album is Judged Obscene; Rap: Slick, Violent, Nasty and, Maybe Hopeful, N. Y.
Times, June 17, 1990, at 1 (quoting Gates). For a cogent intersectional analysis of Eddie Murphy’s
popular appeal, see Herman Beavers, The Cool Pose: Intersectionality, Masculinity and Quiescence
in the Comedy and Films of Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy (unpublished manuscript) (on file
with the Stanford Law Review).

171. Gates and others who defend 2 Live Crew as postmodern comic heroes tend to dismiss or
downplay the misogyny represented in their rap. Said Gates, “Their sexism is so flagrant, however,
that it almost cancels itself out in a hyperbolic war between the sexes.” Gates, supra note 142.

172. See note 142 supra.

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More simply, racist humor has often been excused as “just joking”-even
racially motivated assaults have been defended as simple pranks. Thus the
racism of an Andrew Dice Clay could be defended in either mode as an
attempt to explode racist stereotypes or as simple humor not meant to be
taken seriously. Implicit in these defenses is the assumption that racist rep-
resentations are injurious only if they are intended to injure, or to be taken
literally, or are devoid of some other nonracist objective. It is highly un-
likely that this rationale would be accepted by Blacks as a persuasive defense
of Andrew Dice Clay. Indeed, the Black community’s historical and ongo-
ing criticism of such humor suggests widespread rejection of these

The claim that a representation is meant simply as a joke may be true,
but the joke functions as humor within a specific social context in which it
frequently reinforces patterns of social power. Though racial humor may
sometimes be intended to ridicule racism, the close relationship between the
stereotypes and the prevailing images of marginalized people complicates
this strategy. And certainly, the humorist’s positioning vis-a-vis a targeted
group colors how the group interprets a potentially derisive stereotype or
gesture. Although one could argue that Black comedians have broader li-
cense to market stereotypically racist images, that argument has no force
here. 2 Live Crew cannot claim an in-group privilege to perpetuate misogy-
nist humor against Black women: the members of 2 Live Crew are not
Black women, and more importantly, they enjoy a power relationship over

Humor in which women are objectified as packages of bodily parts to
serve whatever male-bonding/male-competition needs men please subordi-
nates women in much the same way that racist humor subordinates African
Americans. Claims that incidences of such humor are just jokes and are not
meant to injure or to be taken literally do little to blunt their demeaning
quality-nor, for that matter, does the fact that the jokes are told within an
intragroup cultural tradition.

The notion that sexism can serve antiracist ends has proponents ranging
from Eldridge Cleaver173 to Shahrazad Ali,174 all of whom seem to expect
Black women to serve as vehicles for the achievement of a “liberation” that

functions to perpetuate their own subordination.175 Claims of cultural speci-
ficity similarly fail to justify toleration of misogyny.176 While the cultural

173. See note 47 supra.
174. See notes 37-42 supra and accompanying text.
175. Gates occasionally claims that both Black male and Black female images are exploded by

2 Live Crew. Even if Gates’s view holds true for Black male images, the strategy does not work-
and was not meant to work-for Black women. Black women are not the actors in 2 Live Crew’s
strategy; they are acted upon. To challenge the images of Black women, Black women themselves
would have to embrace them, not simply permit Black men to “act out” on them. The only Black
female rap groups that might conceivably claim such a strategy are Bytches With Problems and
Hoes With Attitudes. Yet, having listened to the music of these Black female rap groups, I am not
sure that exploding racist images is either their intent or effect. This is not to say, of course, that all
Black female rap is without its strategies of resistance. See note 179 infra.

176. It is interesting that whether those judging the 2 Live Crew case came out for or against,

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defense of 2 Live Crew has the virtue of recognizing merit in a form of music
common to the Black community, something George Will and the court that
convicted 2 Live Crew were all too glib in dismissing, it does not eliminate
the need to question both the sexism within the tradition it defends and the
objectives to which the tradition has been pressed. The fact that playing the
dozens, say, is rooted in the Black cultural tradition, or that themes repre-
sented by mythic folk heroes such as “Stackolee” are African American does
not settle the question of whether such practices oppress Black women.177
Whether these practices are a distinctive part of the African-American cul-
tural tradition is decidedly beside the point. The real question is how subor-
dinating aspects of these practices play out in the lives of people in the
community, people who share the benefits as well as the burdens of a com-
mon culture. With regard to 2 Live Crew, while it may be true that the
Black community has accepted the cultural forms that have evolved into
rap, that acceptance should not preclude discussion of whether the misogyny
within rap is itself acceptable.

With respect to Gates’s political and cultural defenses of 2 Live Crew,
then, little turns on whether the “word play” performed by the Crew is a
postmodern challenge to racist sexual mythology or simply an internal
group practice that crossed over into mainstream America. Both defenses
are problematic because they require Black women to accept misogyny and
its attendant disrespect and exploitation in the service of some broader group
objective, whether it be pursuing an antiracist political agenda or maintain-
ing the cultural integrity of the Black community. Neither objective obli-
gates Black women to tolerate such misogyny.

Likewise, the superficial efforts of the anti-2 Live Crew movement to link

all seemed to reject the notion that race has anything to do with their analysis. See Skywalker
Records, Inc. v. Navarro, 739 F. Supp. 578, 594-96 (S.D. Fla 1990) (rejecting defense contention
that 2 Live Crew’s Nasty had artistic value as Black cultural expression); see also Sara Rimer, Rap
Band Members Found Not Guilty in Obscenity Trial, N.Y. Times, Oct. 21, 1990, at A30 (“Jurors said
they did not agree with the defense’s assertion that the 2 Live Crew’s music had to be understood in
the context of black culture. They said they thought race had nothing to do with it.”). Clarence
Page also rejects the argument that 2 Live Crew’s NASTY must be valued as Black cultural expres-
sion: “I don’t think 2 Live Crew can be said to represent black culture any more than, say, Andrew
Dice Clay can be said to represent white culture. Rather, I think both represent a lack of culture.”
See Page, supra note 157.

177. Gay men are also targets of homophobic humor that might be defended as culturally
specific. Consider the homophobic humor of such comedians as Eddie Murphy, Arsenio Hall, and
Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier, the two actors who currently portray Black gay men on the
television show In Living Color. Critics have linked these homophobic representations of Black gay
men to patterns of subordination within the Black community. Black gay filmmaker Marlon Riggs
has argued that such caricatures discredit Black gay men’s claim to Black manhood, presenting them
as “game for play, to be used, joked about, put down, beaten, slapped, and bashed, not just by
illiterate homophobic thugs in the night, but by black American culture’s best and brightest.”
Marlon Riggs, Black Macho Revisited: Reflections of a SNAP! Queen, in BROTHER TO BROTHER:
NEW WRITINGS BY BLACK GAY MEN 253, 254 (Essex Hemphill ed. 1991); see also Blair Fell,
Gayface/Blackface: Parallels of Oppression, NYQ, Apr. 5, 1992, at 32 (drawing parallels between
gayface and blackface and arguing that “gayfaced contemporary comedy . . . serves as a tool to
soothe the guilty consciences and perpetuate the injustices of gay-bashing America. After all, laugh-
ing at something barely human is easier than dealing with flying bullets, split skulls, dying bodies
and demands for civil rights.”).

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the prosecution of the Crew to the victimization of Black women had little to
do with Black women’s lives. Those who deployed Black women in the ser-
vice of condemning 2 Live Crew’s misogynist representations did not do so
in the interest of empowering Black women; rather, they had other interests
in mind, the pursuit of which was racially subordinating. The implication
here is not that Black feminists should stand in solidarity with the support-
ers of 2 Live Crew. The spirited defense of 2 Live Crew was no more about
defending the entire Black community than the prosecution was about de-
fending Black women. After all, Black women whose very assault is the
subject of the representation can hardly regard the right to be represented as
bitches and whores as essential to their interest. Instead, the defense primar-
ily functions to protect 2 Live Crew’s prerogative to be as misogynistic as
they want to be.178

Within the African-American political community, Black women will
have to make it clear that patriarchy is a critical issue that negatively affects
the lives not only of Black women, but of Black men as well. Doing so
would help reshape traditional practices so that evidence of racism would
not constitute sufficient justification for uncritical rallying around misogynis-
tic politics and patriarchal values. Although collective opposition to racist
practice has been and continues to be crucially important in protecting Black
interests, an empowered Black feminist sensibility would require that the
terms of unity no longer reflect priorities premised upon the continued
marginalization of Black women.

178. Although much of the sexism that is voiced in rap pervades the industry, Black female
rappers have gained a foothold and have undertaken various strategies of resistance. For some, their
very presence in rap challenges prevailing assumptions that rap is a Black male tradition. See Tricia
Rose, One Queen, One Tribe, One Destiny, VILLAGE VOICE ROCK & ROLL QUARTERLY, Spring
1990, at 10 (profiling Queen Latifah, widely regarded as one of the best female rappers). Although
Latifah has eschewed the head-on approach, her rap and videos are often women-centered, as exem-
plified by her single, “Ladies First.” QUEEN LATIFAH, ALL HAIL THE QUEEN (Tommy Boy 1989).
The “Ladies First” video featured other female rappers, “showing a depth of women’s solidarity
never seen before.” Rose, supra, at 16. Rappers like Yo-Yo, “hip-hop’s first self-proclaimed feminist
activist,” take a more confrontational line; for example, Yo-Yo duels directly with rapper Ice Cube
in “It’s a Man’s World.” Joan Morgan, Throw the ‘F’ Village Voice, June 11, 1991, at 75.

Some female rappers, such as Bytches With Problems, have attempted to subvert the categories
of bitches and whores by taking on the appellations and infusing them with power. As Joan Morgan

It’s common practice for oppressed peoples to neutralize terms of disparagement by adopt-
ing and redefining them. Lyndah McCaskill and Tanisha Michelle Morgan’s decision to
define bitch “as a strong woman who doesn’t take crap from anyone, male or female” and
to encourage women to “wear the title as a badge of honor and keep getting yours” does
not differ significantly from blacks opting to use the word nigger or gays embracing queer.

Id. However in the case of the Bytches, Joan Morgan ultimately found the attempt unsuccessful, in
part because the subversion operated merely as an exception for the few (“Lynda and Tanisha
Michelle are the only B-Y-T-C-H’s here; all the other women they speak about, including the men-
strual accident, the woman whose boyfriend Lyndah screws, and anyone else who doesn’t like their
style, are B-I-T-C-H’s in the very male sense of the word”) and because ultimately, their world view
serves to reinscribe male power. Said Morgan, “It’s a tired female rendition of age-old sexist, patri-
archal thinking: the power is in the pistol or the penis.” Id.

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This article has presented intersectionality as a way of framing the vari-
ous interactions of race and gender in the context of violence against women
of color. Yet intersectionality might be more broadly useful as a way of
mediating the tension between assertions of multiple identity and the ongo-
ing necessity of group politics. It is helpful in this regard to distinguish in-
tersectionality from the closely related perspective of antiessentialism, from
which women of color have critically engaged white feminism for the ab-
sence of women of color on the one hand, and for speaking for women of
color on the other. One rendition of this antiessentialist critique-that femi-
nism essentializes the category woman-owes a great deal to the
postmodernist idea that categories we consider natural or merely representa-
tional are actually socially constructed in a linguistic economy of differ-
ence.179 While the descriptive project of postmodernism of questioning the
ways in which meaning is socially constructed is generally sound, this cri-
tique sometimes misreads the meaning of social construction and distorts its
political relevance.

One version of antiessentialism, embodying what might be called the vul-
garized social construction thesis, is that since all categories are socially con-
structed, there is no such thing as, say, Blacks or women, and thus it makes
no sense to continue reproducing those categories by organizing around
them.180 Even the Supreme Court has gotten into this act. In Metro Broad-
casting, Inc. v. FCC, 81 the Court conservatives, in rhetoric that oozes vulgar
constructionist smugness, proclaimed that any set-aside designed to increase
the voices of minorities on the air waves was itself based on a racist assump-
tion that skin color is in some way connected to the likely content of one’s
broadcast. 182

But to say that a category such as race or gender is socially constructed is
not to say that that category has no significance in our world. On the con-
trary, a large and continuing project for subordinated people-and indeed,
one of the projects for which postmodern theories have been very helpful-is

179. I follow the practice of others in linking antiessentialism to postmodernism. See generally

180. I do not mean to imply that all theorists who have made antiessentialist critiques have
lasped into vulgar constructionism. Indeed, antiessentialists avoid making these troubling moves
and would no doubt be receptive to much of the critique set forth herein. I use the term vulgar
constructionism to distinguish between those antiessentialist critiques that leave room for identity
politics and those that do not.

181. 110 S. Ct. 2997 (1990).

The FCC’s choice to employ a racial criterion embodies the related notions that a particu-
lar and distinct viewpoint inheres in certain racial groups and that a particular applicant,
by virtue of race or ethnicity alone, is more valued than other applicants because the appli-
cant is “likely to provide [that] distinct perspective.” The policies directly equate race with
belief and behavior, for they establish race as a necessary and sufficient condition of secur-
ing the preference…. The policies impermissibly value individuals because they presume
that persons think in a manner associated with their race.

Id. at 3037 (O’Connor, J., joined by Rehnquist, C.J., and Scalia and Kennedy, J.J., dissenting) (inter-
nal citations omitted).

1296 [Vol. 43:1241

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thinking about the way power has clustered around certain categories and is
exercised against others. This project attempts to unveil the processes of
subordination and the various ways those processes are experienced by peo-
ple who are subordinated and people who are privileged by them. It is, then,
a project that presumes that categories have meaning and consequences.
And this project’s most pressing problem, in many if not most cases, is not
the existence of the categories, but rather the particular values attached to
them and the way those values foster and create social hierarchies.

This is not to deny that the process of categorization is itself an exercise
of power, but the story is much more complicated and nuanced than that.
First, the process of categorizing-or, in identity terms, naming-is not uni-
lateral. Subordinated people can and do participate, sometimes even sub-
verting the naming process in empowering ways. One need only think about
the historical subversion of the category “Black” or the current transforma-
tion of “queer” to understand that categorization is not a one-way street.
Clearly, there is unequal power, but there is nonetheless some degree of
agency that people can and do exert in the politics of naming. And it is
important to note that identity continues to be a site of resistance for mem-
bers of different subordinated groups. We all can recognize the distinction
between the claims “I am Black” and the claim “I am a person who happens
to be Black.” “I am Black” takes the socially imposed identity and empow-
ers it as an anchor of subjectivity. “I am Black” becomes not simply a state-
ment of resistance but also a positive discourse of self-identification,
intimately linked to celebratory statements like the Black nationalist “Black
is beautiful.” “I am a person who happens to be Black,” on the other hand,
achieves self-identification by straining for a certain universality (in effect, “I
am first a person”) and for a concommitant dismissal of the imposed cate-
gory (“Black”) as contingent, circumstantial, nondeterminant. There is
truth in both characterizations, of course, but they function quite differently
depending on the political context. At this point in history, a strong case
can be made that the most critical resistance strategy for disempowered
groups is to occupy and defend a politics of social location rather than to
vacate and destroy it.

Vulgar constructionism thus distorts the possibilities for meaningful
identity politics by conflating at least two separate but closely linked mani-
festations of power. One is the power exercised simply through the process
of categorization; the other, the power to cause that categorization to have
social and material consequences. While the former power facilitates the
latter, the political implications of challenging one over the other matter
greatly. We can look at debates over racial subordination throughout his-
tory and see that in each instance, there was a possibility of challenging
either the construction of identity or the system of subordination based on
that identity. Consider, for example, the segregation system in Plessy v. Fer-
guson.183 At issue were multiple dimensions of domination, including cate-

183. 163 U.S. 537 (1896).

July 1991] 1297

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gorization, the sign of race, and the subordination of those so labeled. There
were at least two targets for Plessy to challenge: the construction of identity
(“What is a Black?”), and the system of subordination based on that identity
(“Can Blacks and whites sit together on a train?”). Plessy actually made
both arguments, one against the coherence of race as a category, the other
against the subordination of those deemed to be Black. In his attack on the
former, Plessy argued that the segregation statute’s application to him, given
his mixed race status, was inappropriate. The Court refused to see this as an
attack on the coherence of the race system and instead responded in a way
that simply reproduced the Black/white dichotomy that Plessy was chal-
lenging. As we know, Plessy’s challenge to the segregation system was not
successful either. In evaluating various resistance strategies today, it is use-
ful to ask which of Plessy’s challenges would have been best for him to have
won-the challenge against the coherence of the racial categorization system
or the challenge to the practice of segregation?

The same question can be posed for Brown v. Board of Education.184
Which of two possible arguments was politically more empowering-that
segregation was unconstitutional because the racial categorization system on
which it was based was incoherent, or that segregation was unconstitutional
because it was injurious to Black children and oppressive to their communi-
ties? While it might strike some as a difficult question, for the most part, the
dimension of racial domination that has been most vexing to African Ameri-
cans has not been the social categorization as such, but the myriad ways in
which those of us so defined have been systematically subordinated. With
particular regard to problems confronting women of color, when identity
politics fail us, as they frequently do, it is not primarily because those politics
take as natural certain categories that are socially constructed but rather
because the descriptive content of those categories and the narratives on
which they are based have privileged some experiences and excluded others.

Along these lines, consider the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill controversy.
During the Senate hearings for the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the
Supreme Court, Anita Hill, in bringing allegations of sexual harassment
against Thomas, was rhetorically disempowered in part because she fell be-
tween the dominant interpretations of feminism and antiracism. Caught be-
tween the competing narrative tropes of rape (advanced by feminists) on the
one hand and lynching (advanced by Thomas and his antiracist supporters)
on the other, the race and gender dimensions of her position could not be
told. This dilemma could be described as the consequence of antiracism’s
essentializing Blackness and feminism’s essentializing womanhood. But rec-
ognizing as much does not take us far enough, for the problem is not simply
linguistic or philosophical in nature. It is specifically political: the narra-
tives of gender are based on the experience of white, middle-class women,
and the narratives of race are based on the experience of Black men. The
solution does not merely entail arguing for the multiplicity of identities or

184. 397 U.S. 483 (1954).

1298 [Vol. 43:1241

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challenging essentialism generally. Instead, in Hill’s case, for example, it
would have been necessary to assert those crucial aspects of her location that
were erased, even by many of her advocates-that is, to state what difference
her difference made.

If, as this analysis asserts, history and context determine the utility of
identity politics, how then do we understand identity politics today, espe-
cially in light of our recognition of multiple dimensions of identity? More
specifically, what does it mean to argue that gender identities have been ob-
scured in antiracist discourses, just as race identities have been obscured in
feminist discourses? Does that mean we cannot talk about identity? Or in-
stead, that any discourse about identity has to acknowledge how our identi-
ties are constructed through the intersection of multiple dimensions? A
beginning response to these questions requires that we first recognize that
the organized identity groups in which we find ourselves in are in fact coali-
tions, or at least potential coalitions waiting to be formed.

In the context of antiracism, recognizing the ways in which the intersec-
tional experiences of women of color are marginalized in prevailing concep-
tions of identity politics does not require that we give up attempts to
organize as communities of color. Rather, intersectionality provides a basis
for reconceptualizing race as a coalition between men and women of color.
For example, in the area of rape, intersectionality provides a way of explain-
ing why women of color have to abandon the general argument that the
interests of the community require the suppression of any confrontation
around intraracial rape. Intersectionality may provide the means for dealing
with other marginalizations as well. For example, race can also be a coali-
tion of straight and gay people of color, and thus serve as a basis for critique
of churches and other cultural institutions that reproduce heterosexism.

With identity thus reconceptualized, it may be easier to understand the
need for and to summon the courage to challenge groups that are after all, in
one sense, “home” to us, in the name of the parts of us that are not made at
home. This takes a great deal of energy and arouses intense anxiety. The
most one could expect is that we will dare to speak against internal exclu-
sions and marginalizations, that we might call attention to how the identity
of “the group” has been centered on the intersectional identities of a few.
Recognizing that identity politics takes place at the site where categories
intersect thus seems more fruitful than challenging the possibility of talking
about categories at all. Through an awareness of intersectionality, we can
better acknowledge and ground the differences among us and negotiate the
means by which these differences will find expression in constructing group

July 1991] 1299

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  • Contents
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  • Issue Table of Contents
    • Stanford Law Review, Vol. 43, No. 6, Jul., 1991
      • Volume Information [pp. i – xiii]
      • Front Matter
      • President’s Page
      • In Memoriam
        • Carl Bernhardt Spaeth 1907-1991 [pp. 1171 – 1174]
      • Women of Color at the Center. Selections from the Third National Conference of Women of Color and the Law
        • Keynote Address [pp. 1175 – 1181]
        • Beside My Sister, Facing the Enemy: Legal Theory out of Coalition [pp. 1183 – 1192]
        • Understanding Coalition [pp. 1193 – 1196]
        • Coalition-Building between Natives and Non-Natives [pp. 1197 – 1213]
        • Women of Color and Public Policy: A Case Study of the Women’s Business Ownership Act [pp. 1215 – 1239]
        • Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color [pp. 1241 – 1299]
        • Violence against Women of Color [pp. 1301 – 1309]
        • A Question of Culture: Cultural Approval of Violence against Women in the Pacific-Asian Community and the Cultural Defense [pp. 1311 – 1326]
        • Reordering Western Civ [pp. 1327 – 1332]
        • Cleaning Up/Kept down: A Historical Perspective on Racial Inequality in “Women’s Work” [pp. 1333 – 1356]
        • Women of Color and Health: Issues of Gender, Community, and Power [pp. 1357 – 1368]
      • Notes
        • Unconstitutional Conditions: The Crossroads of Substantive Rights and Equal Protection [pp. 1369 – 1415]
        • Myth, Empiricism, and America’s Competitive Edge: The Intellectual Property Antitrust Protection Act [pp. 1417 – 1445]
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