On Monday 24 March 2014, Dr Nicola Rollock gave closing remarks to Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw who was speaking at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Below is a transcript of her speech.

I have been asked to say a few words of thanks to Professor Crenshaw for her time and contributions this evening.
My thanks in fact extend beyond this evening. They go back to 2010 when I attended the 4th Annual Critical Race Studies Symposium at UCLA. The event was organized and hosted by Professor Crenshaw and colleagues at UCLA’s Law School.

At the time I was carrying out an ESRC -funded study (Economic & Social Research Council report RES-062-23-1880) on the Black middle classes and education with colleagues, not too far from here at the Institute of Education.

That conference at UCLA was significant – formative – for me in so many ways. And I would like to share with you three key observations that I took home with me.

It was at that conference that I talked about White Supremacy and Whiteness for the first time. The conference offered me a space to talk race, to talk intersectionality in public with no fear or hesitation that I might be construed as a crazy Black academic.

And at that moment, in the seminar where I spoke those words I became almost hyper-aware of the ways in which I had been silenced - and silence myself - within the UK context and in the academy in particular. I became hyper-aware of the endless code words that are used to talk about identity: ‘diversity’ - when they really mean gender; ‘social mobility’ - which is only understood to mean resolving inequalities of class - which serves to lessen and silence my experiences and those of other people of colour.

My second observation concerned scholars of colour. They were everywhere! I was surrounded by countless scholars of colour – grad students, junior faculty, more senior or established Professors. Professors Cheryl Harris; Devon Carbado; Patricia Hill Collins to name but a few….all, irrespective of status, age, gender nodded or spoke as we passed one another in hallways or in breaks between sessions.

I became visible in that space.

However, it also highlighted the relative isolation I experience as a scholar of colour within the British academy both psychically and also physically:

In 2010 (at the time of the UCLA conference) there were 50 Black British Professors, accounting for 4% of Black academics. White Professors account for 11% of White academics. Today in 2014, there are 60 Black UK Professors (4.1%) compared with 13370 White Professors (11.6% of White academics) (Equality Challenge Unit (2013) Equality in higher education: statistical report 2013. Part 1: staff. London: ECU).

But just as we note and critique moments of invisibility or absence, we must also note spaces where we can be present. I note in particular:

  • Black & Asian Studies Association www.blackandasianstudies.org/ 
  • Black British Academics http://blackbritishacademics.co.uk/ 
  • Black British Studies Network (email group)

…. these groups continue to provide spaces to network, form alliances and, crucially, to rethink the boundaries of who we are as academics of colour. In other words, to retain visibility.

I also understood more clearly the differences in our struggle as people of colour - as women of colour - in the UK – a context where:
i) oppression is primarily understood in terms of social class and,
ii) where debates on gender tend to centre uncritically and unproblematically on the experiences of white women while not naming Whiteness.

And here I would like to give special recognition to the women of Black Feminists UK www.blackfeminists.org/ who have created a space – a safe space – for reflection, critique, discussion and, crucially, activism.

My third and final point centres on Professor Crenshaw herself, on the notion of humanity…and here I would like to share a story. After some reflection about whether I might come across as a starry-eyed fan, I timidly went up to Professor Crenshaw at the end of one of her presentations on the last day of that conference. I thanked her and told her how important the conference had been to me. And in response she gave me a hug saying words to the effect of ‘ah you are our colleague from England’.

And in that small act, that brief moment of verbal and physical connection – I understood my journey yes as different from but also connected to my African American counterparts in a way that somehow, at that moment, seemed to transcend the Atlantic divide.

And so - in closing - I ask you all to join with me in thanking Professor Crenshaw not just for her scholarship, not just for her activism but for the energy, the visibility and humanity that she brings to the field.

Thank you. 

Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw

B.A., Cornell, 1981; J.D., Harvard, 1984; LL.M., Wisconsin, 1985. Presently professor of law at UCLA and Columbia, Kimberlé Crenshaw has written in the areas of civil rights, black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law. Her work has appeared in the Harvard Law Review, the National Black Law Journal, the Stanford Law Review, and the Southern California Law Review. She was a founding coordinator of the Critical Race Theory workshop; coeditor of Critical Race Theory: Key Documents That Shaped the Movement. She has lectured nationally and internationally on race matters, addressing audiences throughout Europe, Africa, and South America and has facilitated workshops for civil rights activists in Brazil and in India, and for constitutional court judges in South Africa.

Her work on race and gender was influential in the drafting of the equality clause in the South African Constitution. In 2001, she authored the background paper on Race and Gender Discrimination for the United Nations' World Conference on Racism and helped facilitate the inclusion of gender in the WCAR Conference Declaration. In the domestic arena, she has served as a member of the National Science Foundation's committee to research violence against women and has assisted the legal team representing Anita Hill.

In 1996, she co-founded the African-American Policy Forum to highlight the centrality of gender in racial justice discourse. Professor Crenshaw is also a founding member of the Women's Media Initiative and writes for Ms. Magazine, the Nation and other print media and is a regular commentator on NPR's "The Tavis Smiley Show" and MSNBC. With the support of the Rockefeller Foundation, Crenshaw facilitates the Bellagio Project, an international network of scholars working in the field of social inclusion from five continents. She was twice named Professor of the Year at UCLA Law School and received the Lucy Terry Prince Unsung Heroine Award, presented by the Lawyers Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, for her path breaking work on black women and the law. She also received the ACLU Ira Glasser Racial Justice Fellowship in 2005-2007. She has researched and lectured widely in Brazil as the Fulbright Distinguished Chair for Latin America, and was the recipient of the 2008-2009 Alphonse Fletcher Fellowship. She was awarded with an in-residence fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Science at Stanford University in 2008-2009.