Prof. Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw Wins Two Distinguished Fellowships

Obama Victory Called “No Panacea”

Columbia Law School Office of Public Affairs 212-854-2650/ [email protected]

December 16, 2008 (NEW YORK) – Professor Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a 2008 recipient of the distinguished Fletcher Fellowship, will accept the award on December 17 in San Francisco at a reception hosted by Alphonse Fletcher, Jr., Chairman and CEO of Fletcher Asset Management, Inc.  

Crenshaw, a nationally recognized professor at both Columbia Law School and UCLA, is also the cofounder of the African American Policy Forum, a think tank that works to promote effective social inclusion policies in a variety of institutional settings.  

Anticipating critics who point to Obama’s election as proof that race is yesterday’s news, Crenshaw countered, “I’m delighted that there is a new occupant in the Oval Office, but Obama’s election is no panacea or end game to our country’s racial drama. His groundbreaking accomplishment doesn’t represent the end of race as we know it any more than did the Emancipation Proclamation, the hiring of Jackie Robinson or the Supreme Court’s decision to end segregation.  All these were milestones along the journey, but they weren’t the destination.”  

As one of the principal architects of the Critical Race Theory Movement in the legal academy, Crenshaw teaches courses on Civil Rights, Advanced Constitutional Law and “Intersectionality” – a term she coined to draw attention to the multiple and sometimes overlapping causes of discrimination. Her signature concept has been adapted by advocates in the international human rights arena and by scholars in many countries around the world.   

Beyond the academy, Crenshaw also moderates the highly acclaimed Aspen Institute Racial Equity and Society Seminars. Targeted to senior social policy leaders in philanthropy, government, non-profit organizations, the business community, media and academia, the five-day seminars seek to reframe the challenge of racial inequality and to provide decision-makers with tools for promoting racial equity in their arenas of influence.

Fletcher created and endowed the Fellowship in 2004 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision that desegregated public schools in the United States.  

Crenshaw is joined by three other distinguished Fletcher Fellows this year: Claybourne Carson, history professor at Stanford University and founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute; Kellie Jones, associate professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University; and Stacy L. Leeds, a University of Kansas law professor and director of its Tribal Law and Government Center. Each of this year’s four Fletcher Fellows will receive a stipend for work that contributes to improving racial equality in American society.

Professor Henry Louis Gates, the director of Harvard’s DuBois Institute and chairman of the Fletcher Selection Committee, described Crenshaw as “one of our most powerful thinkers on race and its deployment on issues of law, public life and social justice.”

Crenshaw will use the Fellowship to challenge popular attitudes about race through a project titled “Shattering the Colorblind Ruse: Recapturing the Legacy of Brown.” Said Gates, “Her Fletcher project on what she calls ‘the colorblind ruse’ – in which nominally colorblind public policies have the actual effect of prohibiting critical analysis of ongoing patterns of racial inequality – contributes to the legacy of Brown v. Board. Her work insists that we address persistent inequalities rather than hide behind a distorted ideology that serves only to maintain the racial status quo.”

Crenshaw has also been awarded a fellowship at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University. The CASBS fellowship, one of the oldest and most prestigious in the academy, is awarded to approximately 45 scholars each year. At Stanford, Crenshaw will be working with colleagues from various disciplines to build “common sense” understandings of the way that race still matters in the United States.

Crenshaw will use both fellowships to address the continuing challenge of racial equity in American society.

Anne Kubisch, director of the program that convenes the Aspen Institute’s Racial Equity and Society Seminars, lauded Crenshaw’s “brilliance as an educator, communicator and public spokesperson for racial equity” and predicted the results of her work will reach a wide range of audiences.  “She combines a keen intellect with social, psychological and communicative skills to create a learning experience that many have said has changed the way they look at the world.”

Crenshaw acknowledged that many people are defensive in discussions about racial inequality because they assume that the dialogue centers on allegations of personal prejudice and moral blame. The key to effective dialogue, Crenshaw says, “is to move beyond rigid and old-fashioned understandings of race and racism to newer ideas that focus on how racial inequality is often the result of built-in advantages and unconscious preferences that many well-meaning people know nothing about.”   

Crenshaw is optimistic that the public engagement she champions will take root and that academics and leaders of all stripes will continue to seek effective solutions to racial inequality. “Once we understand how race is structured into our society, we can better understand that the need to dismantle it remains. That is the bold spirit of Brown that I hope to capture in my work and I am immensely grateful to both the Fletcher and the CASBS Fellowships for providing me with this timely opportunity to think creatively
about these issues.”

Past Fletcher recipients have included cultural critic Stanley Crouch, law professor Anita Hill and artist Anna Deveare Smith. Regarding the newest group of Fellows, Fletcher said, “As in former years, our selection committee has assembled a class of scholars, each preeminent in their individual field. Whether working from the discipline of art and cultural studies, history or law, each of this year’s Fellows approaches the historical and contemporary challenge of race relations through a project of current relevance.”

Since its founding in 1954, CASBS has provided fellowships to more than 3,000 distinguished scholars in the social and behavioral sciences. Following their residences at the center, 17 fellows have gone on to receive a Nobel Prize, eight received Pulitzer Prizes, 23 were selected as MacArthur Fellows, three received the John Bates Clark Medal, 11 received the Bancroft Prize, 10 received National Book Awards and 18 received the National Medal of Science.   

To read Columbia Law School’s July 2008 announcement of Crenshaw’s Fletcher Fellowship, click here.

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