As the lights came up and Kimberlé Crenshaw exited the stage, the raucous applause from a packed house at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium was a reliable indicator of the power and insight contained in the speech she’d just delivered. “That’s what happens when you bring it,” said UC Santa Cruz professor David Anthony, who hosted the annual UC Santa Cruz Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation on Thursday night.
Crenshaw, a professor at UCLA and Columbia Law School known for the development of intersectional theory, was the keynote speaker for the event and framed the majority of her speech as an imagined dialogue between the ghost of King and contemporary feminist civil rights leader Barbara Arnwine, both of whom are chagrined at the current state of affairs in the United States.
“It’s a challenge to speak about the legacy of Dr. King in the midst of what is probably the most profound unraveling of the racial justice agenda that we’ve seen since the end of Reconstruction,” Crenshaw said in her prefatory remarks.
Her half-hour address was full of force and imagination, but Crenshaw didn’t shy from offering a stinging critique of King and his movement, and what she deemed its “intersectional failures.”
At times reading like a play, Crenshaw used the voice of Arnwine to channel her own frustration with the limitations of the 1960s civil rights movement, the Obama era, and their combined inability to incorporate the perspectives and voices of women.
“These intersectional failures set the stage for the weakened position that we are in today,” Crenshaw said. “Then, as well as now, the consequence of this male-exclusive focus on racial justice was to naturalize patriarchy as the point of departure for racial equity.”
Crenshaw criticized King’s position that a better future for black children in America relied on the promulgation of …