Police oppression, brutality, and murder of black Americans has been a constant and well-known reality for centuries, with the term ‘police brutality’ reportedly first being used in 1872. The recent viral circulation of a video showing the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer has devastated the world into collective action and protest. Similar police murders of black men are not uncommon, and media attention has been increasing. Reports of police murders of black women, however, has undeniably been received with comparatively weaker media attention. American university professor, lawyer and civil rights advocate Kimberlé Crenshaw has attributed this to the invisibility that is created when levels of prejudice acting on a person, in this case race and gender, overlap.
Crenshaw coined the term ‘intersectionality’ to describe this issue. This came about after her encountering the legal case of Emma DeGraffenreid against a local car manufacturing plant, from which she wished to seek employment. DeGraffenreid believed that her being black and a woman was the reason for her rejection from the firm. The court dismissed her claim as this company employed women and also employed black people. The issue that Crenshaw eventually came to recognise was that all the women that were employed by the firm were white, and all the black people were men.
Intersectionality is predicated on the metaphor of a crossroads: the individual roads being the avenues of prejudice such as race and gender. DeGraffenreid being both black and female was positioned where those roads overlapped and thus experienced the simultaneous oppression from both angles. Her hiring firm, in the same way as public media in our current moment, was only equipped to deal with oppression on one level, i.e. race or gender.
In light of the recent murder of George Floyd, it is certainly worth considering the impact of intersecting lines of oppression like race and gender on a population in terms of media coverage. Crenshaw states that: ‘without frames that allow us to see how social problems impact all the members of a targeted group, many will fall through the cracks in our movements, left to suffer in virtual isolation’.
The comparative journalistic silence in response to female deaths exposes the resonance of intersectionality in 2020. In the past ten years, African American girls as young as seven-year-old Aiyana Mo’nay Stanley Jones and women as old as Grandmother Pearlie Golden, who was 93 at her time of death, have been murdered by the police. Speaking in a podcast called ‘Letters and Politics’, Crenshaw highlights that the March 2020 police murder of Breonna Taylor ‘has not been frequently listed [by the media] in this particular moment’, and attributes this to her being a black female. Taylor was shot eight times by Louisville police in a botched raid, during which the police that were ‘unmarked and out of uniform’ mistakenly entered the wrong house. Crenshaw states this works to affirm a cultural acceptance of the received notion that ‘black lives are seen as expendable, essential but expendable’.
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