Colorblind Intersectionality

Devon W. Carbado

University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law

July 9, 2013

38 Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, No. 4 Summer 2013
UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 13-19

In 1989, Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw published "Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics." Because Crenshaw’s intervention focused on highlighting how Black women are structurally disadvantaged in both law and civil rights discourses, some scholars have marginalized intersectionality by assuming that the theory concerns only Black women, or only race and gender, and by arguing that intersectionality conceptualizes those social categories in fixed and static ways. These interpretations both misdescribe Crenshaw’s articulation of intersectionality and conflate the work a general theory of intersectionality might perform with the specific work Crenshaw mobilized her theory to do.

To challenge these narrow readings of intersectionality, this essay examines how law and civil rights advocacy produce racialized modes of gender normativity. More specifically, I employ intersectionality to engage men, masculinity, whiteness, and sexual orientation — social categories that are ostensibly beyond the theoretical reach and normative concern of intersectionality. My aim is to show the ways in which formal equality frameworks in law and civil rights advocacy produce and entrench normative gender identities. Colorblindness and masculinity are deeply implicated in this. I introduce two concepts — colorblind intersectionality and gender-blind intersectionality — to illustrate how. Colorblind intersectionality refers to instances in which whiteness helps to produce and is part of a cognizable social category but is invisible or unarticulated as an intersectional subject position. For example, white heterosexual men constitute a cognizable social category whose whiteness is rarely seen or expressed in intersectional terms. Gender-blind intersectionality describes a similar intersectional elision with respect to gender. By linking intersectionality to a critique of formal equality, colorblindness, and gender normativity, this essay relocates intersectionality as both a product and an articulation of critical race theory.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 42

Keywords: Critical race theory, race, gender, masculinity, whiteness, sexual orientation, colorblind intersectionality

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Date posted: July 10, 2013  

Suggested Citation

Carbado, Devon W., Colorblind Intersectionality (July 9, 2013). 38 Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, No. 4 Summer 2013; UCLA School of Law Research Paper No. 13-19. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2291680

Contact Information

Devon W. Carbado (Contact Author)
University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) - School of Law ( email )
385 Charles E. Young Dr. East
Room 1242
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States
310-825-3365 (Phone)
310-825-6023 (Fax)
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