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Critique Essay Humanities Law/Legal Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Pauli Murray’s Peter Panic: Perspectives from the Margins of Gender and Race in Jim Crow America

By Simon D. Elin Fisher, 2016

This article investigates the history of intersectional feminism and demonstrates that the theory is grounded in a trans-of-color analysis of the racial caste system known as “Jim Crow.” In 1944, Pauli Murray, an African American activist, journalist, and lawyer, coined the term Jane Crow, which critiqued the simultaneous structural and affective impacts of white supremacy and male supremacy. These hegemonies divided individuals into binary categories of race and gender, categories that were naturalized and violently upheld. Murray lived on the margins of these classifications as a light-skinned African American who expressed a trans gender and desired medical transition. S/he was read as a variety of genders and races and observed others’ attempts to discern her/his “true” identity. From this perspective, Murray scrutinized this quotidian yet fundamental process of categorization, analyzed the operations of race and gender subjectification, and crafted an intersectional feminist analysis s/he called “Jane Crow.” Keywords: intersectionality, Civil Rights movement, transgender history, passing, Pauli Murray

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