In honor of the Women’s March this past weekend (and the continued strength and resilience of women domestically and internationally), I have decided to review my favorite feminist read This Bridge Called My Back!
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color deals with countless crucial themes in the lives of many women of color including identity and self-love, validation, spiritual activism, and theory of the flesh. Cherríe Moraga, Gloria Anzaldúa and all of the women they chose to include highlight the importance of recognizing the way systems of oppressions communicate with and construct the everyday lives of women. They explore the experiences of women, not from a theoretical standpoint, but from a personal one to create a useable lens through which we are can examine how those systems of oppression influence how we are treated and perceived.
Although This Bridge Called My Back is missing the voices of trans women, I think it still manages to reinforce the need for third world, oppressed, and vulnerable women to reach out across the actual and perceived divide between us to help and understand each other. The book asserts that we can draw strength and understanding from our differences and can use them to fuel the vehicle of our joint revolution.This outreach works not only to help us confront and celebrate difference but also to create a world where being an outsider is far less dangerous and more acceptable.
That idea resonates so strongly with me. As a bisexual African-American woman, I am all too familiar with the ways homophobia, sexism and racism can steam together to make a pretty potent oppression cocktail.
This Bridge Called My Back as a whole spoke to many of the realities I have always had to face in my life. It spoke to the discrimination, subtle and overt hostility, and isolation that I have personally experienced and exercised unknowingly on others. It was such an amazing feeling, to have the “otherness” that has separated me from the people around me validated and acknowledged.
In life it is easy to feel like you are alone in your pain, that you are the only one dealing with situations and attitudes outside of your control. But This Bridge was a tangible testament to all of the nameless, faceless women who may not ever have a platform to express their experiences, thoughts, emotions, and anger about the society women as a whole, but specifically women of color, are thrust into the second we are born. This Bridge explores race and class and sex and sexuality, culture, ethnicity, and spirituality in a way that I’ve never seen done before in any of the other books I’ve read about feminism.
Although I also thoroughly enjoyed Cherríe Moraga’s “La Guera,” Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” and Kate Rushin’s poems “The Bridge” and “To Be Continued,” my favorite piece in This Bridge Called My Back was Gloria Anzaldúa’s “La Prieta.”
La Prieta spoke to parts of myself that I had intentionally left undisturbed. My first reading of it left me in tears. It addressed a lot of the self-loathing and shame that often accompanies the isolation of being different, of not fitting neatly into any particular category, of not belonging to any group fully. It also mentions El Mundo Zurdo, a concept that I find so appealing. I loved Anzaldúa’s statments, “I belong to myself and not to any one people,” and “only your labels split me.” Before reading this not fitting in was always what I have been taught is the worst case scenario. That if you don’t fit in, you are not only a threat, but you can’t have a support system and are doomed to constantly be in opposition with others and completely alone.
La Prieta, along with some of the other pieces from Anzaldúa in the book, also made me aware of the shitwork I still need to do. So often I have read books that demand that we all go out and take our cause to the front line, but more than anything La Prieta and This Bridge Called My Back cautions that doing that work before confronting the individual work that needs to be done will only spell disaster. I don’t like to acknowledge the ways growing up and living every day in this racist, classist, capitalist, heteronormative society has warped and skewed my attitudes, even as I actively fight against it.
Unlearning a lot of the self-hate, shame and hostility toward myself and others is a process but it is a necessary one for everyone. Loving and understanding myself in a society that treats me like a threat or a disease is one of the hardest things I’ve had to undertake but it’s a fight that is important and ongoing.
That battle has shaped me in a lot of meaningful ways. At least I hope it has. The spiritual activism This Bridge talks about both directly and indirectly is the only way to cleanse the rot in the system from the roots. Everyone has to be involved and everyone has to do their own shitwork.
I took so much away from La Prieta and am still trying to “make peace between what has happened to me, what the world is, and what it should be” (pg.208) as Anzaldúa discusses. I still have a lot of shitwork to do. I really wish I had come in contact with This Bridge Called My Back in middle school. I think it would have been helpful and would have prepared and armored me for the world. But I am so glad to have read it and will pass it on to every woman I know.
5/5 would highly recommend!