- Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality by Jennifer Nash
When Jennifer Nash returns to the state at the conclusion of her potent Black Feminism Reimagined: After Intersectionality, it feels, as she notes: “risky” (117). “Against the grain of the moment,” writes Nash, hailing the state’s diurnal renewal of anti-Black violence, “I suggest that the juridical might be precisely where black feminists need to root our loving practice” (115). Beyond mere redress, Nash advocates an orientation to radical politics that dispenses with a presumptive antistate imperative. “What if the disavowed deathly archive of law is reimagined as a home for black feminism’s loving practice?” (113).
Nash’s project throughout the book is to excavate the “largely forgotten connections” of law to the ubiquitous sign of intersectionality—a Black feminist theoretic that has come to frame shorthand considerations of the interlocking structures of domination (114). The term’s most frequently cited source is legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw’s exacta box of articles, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex” (1989) and “Mapping the Margins” (1991), in which a metaphorical traffic intersection is deployed as an analogue for US antidiscrimination law that submits Black women to converging biases. From these coordinates, Nash produces an intellectual history of the term’s evolution and attendant applications. Citing figures like Anna Julia Cooper, Frances Beale, and the Combahee River Collective, Nash reveals the durational warp and weft of Black feminist intellectual labor. Rather than positioning intersectionality as a singular emergence, Nash reveals it as part of a “cohort of terms” that multivocal Black feminists have long cultivated for a sophisticated analysis of oppression’s interconnected mechanizations (6).
While Nash acknowledges its mainstream migrations—untethered from the analytic’s history—it is with intersectionality’s atonic institutional life that Black Feminism Reimagined is most concerned. Nash identifies intersectionality as the primary program-building initiative of women’s studies, which has rendered it as a disciplinary corrective to a racist and wholly gender-focused field, but often as an implicit equivalency with Black feminism, Black feminists, and “the body that haunts the analytic,” Black women (2). This positions Black feminists as salvific “disciplinarians who quite literally whip the field into shape” on the one hand, and heavies who usher in the demise of a fictitiously coherent field on the other (13). Nash reflects on intersectionality’s co-optation by the neoliberal university’s “diversity and inclusion complex,” where equity initiatives shift inclusion from remedial affirmative action ideals to the logic of students of color offering pedagogical value-added for an increasingly global white work force (22). She analyzes the freighted deployments of “intersectional scholar” ads in the ever-diminishing [End Page 95] academic job market and pulses the term’s nefarious liaisons with “interdisciplinary” labor. Highly mobile, adaptable, “filled with promise and emptied of specific meaning” (2), intersectionality has been claimed by various and vying factions of the academy.
The book traces the frustration, territoriality, and exhaustion that adhere to these migrations of a term constituted by Black feminism—a tradition whose ideas and actors have long been abused, disavowed, and erased by the academy. Nash diagnoses these imbricated feelings as “a posture of defensiveness.” One compelling illustration is of a conference panelist who quotes Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf while ruminating on intersectionality’s institutional promiscuity: “Somebody almost walked off wid alla my stuff.” Nash’s recognizes this sense of possession and loss as the Black feminist affect that appends to intersectionality’s circulations. “What does it mean,” Nash queries, “when an anticaptivity project like black feminist theory claims ownership as a primary model for conducting black feminist inquiry?” (26). As critic and acolyte, Nash plumbs “the felt life of black feminism” (28).
She charts “the intersectionality wars”—the discursive, political, and theoretical battles that seem to be waged over intersectionality’s vexed origin stories, appropriations, and criticisms. These persuasive narratives suggest that intersectionality requires a robust defense from usurpers and critics, and demands scholars to position themselves as either for or against the...