The Marginalization of Harriet’s Daughters

Perpetual Crisis, Misdirected Blame, and the Enduring Urgency of Intersectionality


  • Kimberlé Crenshaw



Donald Trump’s ascension to the presidency has plunged the already demoralized advocates for racial and gender justice into a state of near-perpetual crisis. In the midst of never-ending war, both at home and abroad, it is almost impossible to recapture the sense of hope, or the buoyant celebration of American exceptionalism, that accompanied the election of the first African American president. It was just a decade ago that pundits and neoliberal celebrants of that landmark moment declared the advent of a new moment in US history—one to which the hopeful term “postracial” was attached.

For most of us who casually follow the day-to-day course of our country’s political life, it seems impossible to understand how quickly and fully this reversal has taken place. Yet this very lack of understanding is what we must reckon with as a baseline condition for gearing up for the fight ahead. Buried beneath this cacophonous discourse—the celebration of the unexpected that soured into the profound retrenchment currently underway—are the dangerously compromised and uninterrogated baseline assumptions that would ultimately metastasize, via the well-documented alchemy of strategically repressed demands for justice, into the Trumpian moment. These intersectional failures of our movement set the stage for the weakened position that we are in today.

If it is true that the lessons of history are bound to be repeated until they are learned, there is good reason to think that a full understanding of events today is subject to the same logic. But achieving such an understanding presents a difficult moment of reckoning—an internal confrontation with ourselves.