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Breaking Down Patriarchy - Amy McPhie Allebest EPISODE 41, 20th July 2021
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, by Cherrie Moraga
00:00:00 01:28:36

This Bridge Called My Back: Writings By Radical Women of Color, by Cherrie Moraga

Amy: Welcome to Breaking Down Patriarchy! I’m Amy McPhie Allebest. Today’s book is This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color. It’s an anthology of essays, letters, and poetry by Black, Native American, Asian American, and Latina women, some of whom identify as lesbian. It was edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, and published in 1981. I had never read a book like this before, and because all the essays are written in the first-person, and based on their real lives and thoughts and feelings and hopes and anger and grief, I had the sense of sitting next to them or reading their diaries - which was sometimes uncomfortable. And I am sooo grateful for that discomfort because it pushed out and expanded the borders of my understanding and helped me think about some things differently, and it increased my empathy. And I’m not someone who has lived in a bubble - I’ve lived abroad in several different countries, I speak Spanish and have many close friends in South America, I am lucky to have a circle of friends that includes lots of different backgrounds. And yet with this book, I found myself constantly pushed to learn, to consider new points of view, and my heart and mind grew so much. So I highly recommend reading this book in its entirety! And I’m so excited to discuss it with my reading partner today, Jenn Lee Smith. Hi, Jenn!

Jenn: Hi, Amy!


Amy: Jenn and I have tons of mutual friends in California, and our daughters know each other as well, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that she and I went on a few walks together and discovered that we have a ton in common and should have been getting together for years. Also, some listeners may be familiar with Jenn’s work: she is a producer behind the award-winning films, “Faithful,” which is about “two women in love with each other and their religion,” and “Jane and Emma,” which is about the friendship between Joseph Smith’s wife Emma Smith and a Black convert named Jane Manning James. 


Jenn, I’m so grateful that you agreed to read this book with me - I know you had read it before - in fact I think you were the one who suggested putting it on the reading list, right?


I remember when you were first building up your reading list, I was missing the books that helped define my feminist identity in grad school. I had read This Bridge Called My Back and Sister Outsider and declared myself a Third Wave / Transnational Feminist. Lol. Roxane Gay - Bad Feminist - realized I was better at being a Bad Feminist.  


Introduce yourself - tell who you are, where you’re from, and what perspective you bring to the discussion.



Jenn: Bio 


I was born on an island called Taiwan and most Taiwanese would like it to be recognized as a country, however, China claims it is a province. Regardless, Taiwan is a friendly, vibrant, democratic “place” and the first to legalize same-sex marriage in Asia in 2019. I was five when I immigrated to the U.S. growing up in UT and CA. I studied international relations for my undergrad in Utah and then started a PhD in Feminist and Human Geography at UCLA, which I never finished because I discovered screenwriting and film producing classes, instead. 


But I did earn a Masters in Geography, which is useful in the film producing of mostly documentaries. I welcome opportunities to be a part of film and writing projects that explore underrepresented stories particularly at complicated intersections. For example, I started my producing career focused on films at the intersection of religion and sexual orientation. One of those films will be out on Netflix in August. It’s called Pray Away. Another film is called Dilemma of Desire about the gender politics around not recognizing female sexual desire - it’s rooted in Audre Lorde’s essay Uses of the Erotic (from Sister Outsider, which is the next book in the podcast?). 


Right now I’m collaborating on a film on indigenous knowledge of fire to heal our lands, a film on a black woman in her 70s and her passion for more inclusion in tennis, and a feature-length sports doc on an Asian female basketball player. (black, indigenous, poc)


Also I am co-editing an upcoming book titled I Spoke to You with Silence: Essays from Queer Mormons of Marginalized Genders. It is a book I would have liked to read when I first realized in my mid-20s that I was also attracted to women. Fortunately, I did get to read Professor Lisa Diamond’s research on female sexuality and it’s an honor that she’s written the Foreword to the book, published by University of Utah Press out in 6-8 months. 




Amy: And then could you tell us about your interest in Breaking Down Patriarchy? What interested you in doing this project with me?


Jenn: First of all, I am so happy that this podcast exists and that you are the one to do it. You and I both gravitate to the fault lines - I’m borrowing your words - and I’m wondering if it’s because we notice that people are better to each other when they do the hard work of learning about categories of difference and how most of them are made-up, socially constructed. From my experience, I first need to do the work of listening and learning and diving into questions of difference before arriving at the understanding that I have more in common with people than I first thought. This podcast is doing the work of breaking down notions of hierarchy, where these ideas come from, how they became embedded into our culture and systems, and then discussing whether or not these notions are still useful. 


I also decided a while back that my activism interests are too broad and so I tend to focus on gender and spectrums of gender. While recognizing the artificiality of binaries, it does feel like in this anthropocene era (the geologic age of the human species making the biggest impact on the environment), the earth is out of balance with too much of the masculine energy which is accessible regardless of one’s gender.






Amy:

Ok, and a bit about this book and its editors. 


Cherríe Moraga was born September 25, 1952 in Los Angeles, CA, and is a Chicana writer, feminist activist, poet, essayist, and playwright. I’m going to throw in here that the term “Chicana” is the femnine form of “Chicano,” and it specifically refers to a US citizen of Mexican descent. She attended Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles, gaining a graduated bachelor's degree in English in 1974. Soon after attending, she enrolled in a writing class at the Women's Building and produced her first lesbian poems. In 1977 she moved to San Francisco where she supported herself as a waitress, became politically active as a burgeoning feminist, and discovered the feminism of women of color. She earned her master's degree in Feminist Writings from San Francisco State University in 1980, and she is part of the faculty at the University of California, Santa Barbara in the Department of English. Moraga is also a founding member of the social justice activist group La Red Chicana Indígena which is an organization of Chicanas fighting for education, culture rights, and Indigenous Rights. 


Gloria Anzaldúa, born on September 26, 1942 in South Texas. was an American scholar of Chicana cultural theory, feminist theory, and queer theory. She graduated as valedictorian of her high school, and in 1968, she received a B.A. in English, Art, and Secondary Education from University of Texas–Pan American. She then earned an M.A. in English and Education from the University of Texas at Austin. She loosely based her best-known book, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, on her life growing up on the Mexico–Texas border and incorporated her lifelong experiences of social and cultural marginalization into her work. She also developed theories about the marginal, in-between, and mixed cultures that develop along borders. 


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And a bit about this book: This Bridge Called My Back  was a major event in Women’s Studies, and it is considered critical reading in many universities’ curricula. It is even described as being responsible for starting the third wave of feminism. Cherrie Moraga wrote a bit about the authors of the book in the introduction: 


“The women in whose hands This Bridge Called My Back was wrought identify as Third World women and/or women of color. Each woman considers herself a feminist, but draws her feminism from the culturue in which they grew. Most of the women appearing in this book are first-generation writers. Some of us do not see ourselves as writers, but pull the pen across the page anyway or speak with the power of poets. 


The selections in this anthology range from extemporaneous stream of consciousness journal entries to well thought-out theoretical statements, from intimate letters to friends to full-scale public addresses. In addition, the book includes poems and transcripts, personal conversations and interviews. The works combined reflect a diversity of perspectives, linguistic styles, and cultural tongues.” (xlv)


So let’s dive in! Jenn and I each selected a few writings, and we’re going to share passages and then talk about our impressions and what we learned. I’d like to start with the very first piece in the book, “The Bridge Poem,” by Kate Rushin, which inspired the title of the book and is considered iconic in studies of intersectionality.


Jenn reads: The Bridge Poem


By Kate Rushin, Black (b. 1951) (pronounced Russian)


I’ve had enough 

I’m sick of seeing and touching

Both sides of things

Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody


Nobody

Can talk to anybody 

Without me

Right?


I explain my mother to my father and my father to my little sister

My little sister to my brother to the white feminists

The white feminists to the Black church folks the Black church folks

To the ex-hippies the ex-hippies to the Black separatists the 

Black separatists to the artists the artists to my friends’ parents…


Then

I’ve got to explain myself

To everybody


I do more translating 

Than the Gawdamn UN


Forget it

I’m sick of it


I’m sick of filling in your gaps


Sick of being your insurance against

The isolation of your self-imposed limitations

Sick of being the crazy at your holiday dinners

Sick of being the odd one at your Sunday Brunches

Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people


Find another connection to the rest of the world

Find something else to make you legitimate

Find some other way to be political and hip


I will not be the bridge to your womanhood

Your manhood

Your human-ness


I’m sick of reminding you not to 

Close off too tight for too long


I’m sick of mediating with your worst self

On behalf of your better selves


I am sick 

Of having to remind you 

To breathe

Before you suffocate 

Your own fool self


Forget it

Stretch or drown

Evolve or die


The bridge I must be

Is the bridge to my own power

I must translate 

My own fears

Mediate 

My own weaknesses


I must be the bridge to nowhere

But my true self 

And then 

I will be useful. 


---

Amy your reflection….


What are your thoughts, Jenn?


  •  My shoulders are tensing up in memory of a very long period of my life when I thought it was my burden to carry the weight of representation. 
  • When I first read Rushin’s poem like 14 years ago I read it with the eyes of someone who frequently went out of her way to protect the feelings of white people. I didn’t have various kinds of safety within my immigrant family, so a Church community that was predominantly white became my pseudo- family. So when I read these passages, I immediately felt uncomfortable and an urge to protect my Church family. I thought it was my duty and role to be the token person of color/Asian at any given event, to be a bridge between my culture and the white culture - one of my projects at Brigham Young University in Utah was titled Building Bridges Across the Pacific. 



And then adding to the bridge metaphor, there’s a short passage by Cherrie Moraga on the next page:


“A Bridge Gets Walked Over”


“...Another meeting. Again walking into a room filled with white women, a splattering of women of color around the room. The issue on the table, Racism. The dread and terror in the room lay like a thick immovable paste above all our shoulders, white and colored, alike. We, Third World women in the room, thinking - back to square one again.

How can we - this time - not use our bodies to be thrown over a river of tormented history to bridge the gap? Barbara says last night: “A bridge gets walked over.” Yes, over and over and over again. ...I cannot continue to use my body to be walked over to make a connection. Feeling every joint in my body tense this morning, used.” (xxxvii)


What do you think of that poem and that passage, Jenn?


  • I’ve been in rooms as Cherrie Moraga has described where I consciously or unconsciously volunteer myself as a bridge to be walked over.  Over time, the frustration and fatigue builds from mediating, teaching, and filling in the gaps because others won’t do the work for themselves. At many social functions, I am the only person of color. Until very recently, I thought it was my role to explain, for example, that when you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression (quoting Wayne Reid). It doesn’t matter what I say or how I say it. If folx choose to feel like victims in an increasingly diverse and inclusive world; if somehow queer, trans, poor, disabled, people of color feeling safe to speak their own truths is an affront to cis, white, hetero people, that is their choice and I cannot be useful. 


Kate Rushin’s closing lines reminds me that


The bridge I must be

Is the bridge to my own power

I must translate 

My own fears

Mediate 

My own weaknesses


I must be the bridge to nowhere

But my true self 

And then 

I will be useful.


These words set me free to explore my own privileged place in this world - my own suppositions and prejudices. I believe we each must be a bridge to our own power. 



Amy


I’d like to start with this one because it’s shockingly subversive and breaks open the conversation into some potentially uncomfortable places for white liberal women listeners. It will then be followed by my choice of a poem about wanting to be white --  


The Pathology of Racism: A Conversation with Third World Wimmin, by doris davenport 


If I were a white feminist and somebody called me a racist, I’d probably feel insulted (especially if I knew it was at least partially true). It’s like saying someone has a slimy and incurable disease. Naturally, I would be reactionary and take out my ...liberal credentials, to prove I was clean.” (81)


If we …(even accidentally) mention something particular to the experience of black wimmin, we are seen as threatening, hostile, and subversive to their interests. ...Because of their one-dimensional and bigoted ideas, we are not respected as feminists or wimmin. Their perverse perceptions of black wimmin mean that they continue to see us as “inferior” to them, and therefore, treat us accordingly. Instead of alleviating the problems of black wimmin, they add to them. (82)


[some black women] have at least three distinct areas of aversion to white wimmin which affect how we perceive and deal with them: aesthetic, cultural, and social/political. Aesthetically (and physically) we frequently find white wimmin repulsive. That is, their skin colors are unaesthetic (ugly, to some people). Their hair, stringy and straight, is unattractive. Their bodies: rather like misshapen lumps of whitish clay or dough, that somebody forgot to mold in certain areas. Furthermore, they have strange body odor. 


Culturally, we see them as limited and bigoted. They can’t dance. Their music is essentially undanceable too, and unpleasant. Plus, they are totally saturated in western or white American culture with little knowledge or respect for the cultures of third world people. (That is, unless they intend to exploit it.) The bland food of white folks is legendary. What they call partying is too low keyed to even be a wake. 


Socially, white people seem rather juvenile and tasteless. Politically, they are, especially the feminists, naive and myopic. Then too, it has always been hard for us (black folk) to believe that whites will transcend color to make political alliances with us, for any reason. (The women’s movement illustrates this point.) 


This can be read in a few different ways:


  • It can be read as humor, in which case it is funny - I can laugh at myself!!
  • Even if it is partly comedic, it is also serious criticism. So we can choose how to take that criticism - defensively or with humility to ask ourselves if she’s right about any of it (and not just about being doughy lumps of clay)
  • For me, I felt really uncomfortable when I read it - it did kind of hurt my feelings and trigger some insecurities. I sat with that feeling and it dawned on me that I had never, ever read someone talk about white people like that. Having strange body odor. Looking weird. Having weird hair. Being unappealing socially and politically and culturally. And I realized, I have heard sooooooo many of those stereotypes and insults about people of color throughout my whole life. Even if I haven’t said them, even if I haven’t believed them, I have heard them all the time. And I have never heard them about white people. So I looked at that passage and saw that it was an act of power for her to place herself in the position where she was central, she was primary, and from that higher ground, she got  to criticize and make a declaration about the “other”. And feeling myself as the other gave me greater empathy and it was a powerful exercise for me to reverse the dynamic. 
  • And the last point I want to make is that it does make me sad whenever a human being sees another human being uncharitably about traits they can’t change, like skin color or hair texture or body shape or sexual orientation or the family they were born into. So I’m not at all saying that I support or condone anyone bullying or shaming or just being mean to someone else on the basis of race. 

HOWEVER, I do think it’s important to say that individual meanness - while still hurtful!! - cannot be equated to the systemic, legally-sanctioned oppression that people of color have endured in our country and other countries for hundreds of years. One example that comes to mind: imagine if a Black kid in Mississippi told a white kid “I don’t want you to come to my school.” That might hurt that child’s feelings. But imagine a white kid saying to a Black kid “I don’t want you to come to my school.” That Black child’s own grandparents grew up during Jim Crow. That historical context matters. And that’s just one example. So it drives me crazy when I hear people say “one kind of mean comment is just as bad as the other!” That’s false equivalency. It’s like a huge bully beating up a kid over and over and over, and knowing that their parents beat up their parents and their grandparents beat up their grandparents, and then that bullied kid finally loses it and punches the bully. Should anyone punch anyone, ever? That’s an important discussion, and I don’t like punching. But I think we can agree that those two punches don’t have equal moral weight.



Jenn

On the other hand I can relate to Nellie Wong’s poem about longing to be white, poem titled, “When I Was Growing Up”: 


“I know now that I once longed to be white, how you ask? Let me tell you the ways

When I was growing up, people told me I was dark and I believed my own darkness

In the mirror, in my soul, my own narrow vision…


When I was growing up I read magazines

And saw movies, blonde movie stars, white skin, 

Sensuous lips and to be elevated, to become

A woman, a desirable woman, I began to wear

Imaginary pale skin


When I was growing up, I felt dirty.

I thought that god made white people clean

And no matter how much I bathed,

I could not change, I could not shed

My skin in the gray water.


I KNOW now that once I longed to be white.

How many more ways? You ask.

Haven’t I told you enough. 



In addition to movies, magazines, television, a global economy centered on the appetites of the white American and European markets, there exists the remnants of colonizing religions in normalizing a racial hierarchy. I believed this completely as a fact and absolute truth. My skin color put me somewhere in the middle of the ladder. The people who raised me also believed this and of course, they did. 


Even as an adult, I wasn’t fully aware that I carried the pain and fear from years of racial violence starting at the age of 9. It is a tough age for any kid but I learned a particularly long and painful lesson that I would never be fully accepted, but still I kept trying to... To learn swing dancing


Nellie didn’t reference religion here, at least not overtly. Religion was huge part of my growing up years and well into adulthood. The message from the Judeo-Christian traditions, in many holy books and words from the prophets made clear that when people sinned, it affected their skin color. 


Amy, your thoughts?

-Devastated. So many cultures plagued by colorism. Story of the mom at my kids’ school who shared with us that her parents used to say about her “we found her in a dumpster” because her skin was darker than her sisters’. She’s in her 40’s and she cried when she said it. It’s so unbelievably damaging. And then as you said… I can only imagine that the worst damage of all is to associate it with spiritual impurity because then it means even God - the parent of your soul, the being who created you - thinks you’re less than His other children (like God saying “this one is my favorite child. This one, we found in the dumpster.”) ??



Amy:

FromAsian Pacific American Women and Feminism”,  by Mistuye Yamada


“As a child of immigrant parents, as a woman of color in a white society, and as a woman in patriarchal society, what is personal to me is political. These are the connections we expected our white sisters to see. It should not be too difficult, we feel, for them to see why being a feminist activist is more dangerous for women of color. They should be able to see that political views held by women of color are often misconstrued as being personal rather than ideological. Views critical of the system held by a person in an “out group” are often seen as expressions of personal anger against the dominant society. (If they hate it so much here, why don’t they go back?) (71)


Remembering the blatant acts of selective racism in the past three decades in our country, our white sisters should be able to see how tenuous our position in this country is. Many of us are third and fourth generation Americans, but this makes no difference; periodic conflicts involving Third World peoples can abruptly change white Americans’ attitudes toward us. This was clearly demonstrated in 1941 to Japanese Americans…. We found our status as true-blooded Americans was only an illusion in 1942 when we were singled out to be imprisoned for the duration of the war by our own government. (72)


What are your thoughts on this, Jenn?


Tenuous is the right word - For over 60 years, Chinese laborers were banned from immigrating to the U.S. In the 1800s Chinatowns were frequently set on fire, mass lynchings were held, and Chinese along with Native Americans and Blacks were forbidden from testifying in court when crimes were committed against them. My father was told by a leader of our church congregation to go back to where he came from. Where he came from - he was imprisoned for speaking out against a non-democratic government, and he was lucky to be released and to live in this country that honors voices of dissent. I’ve met students from Hong Kong and Taiwan who understand our American constitution, rights, and liberties better than I do. 


Since the covid 19 pandemic began, there’s been a sharp increase of hate crimes committed against asian american / pacific islanders in America. Daily videos document violence and racial slurs inflicted on Asians, especially the elderly. In college once, I was with a Scandinavian international student who spoke English with an accent. A white female student asked where we were both from, assuming I also spoke with an accent. I said I’m from here, I’m an American. She asked why my English was so good. It was an honest question, but it further reinforced that a non-American white person will be viewed as more American than me, a citizen of the US. 


For a long time, I wasn’t aware that the Asian Americans as a model minority trope has roots in anti-black and brown racism as a justification for their continued marginalization. It’s also the result of the great American myth of meritocracy - that if Asians can make it on merit alone, why can’t other people of color in this country? First of all, “Asia” as a region of the world encompasses 4.1 billion people. Secondly, highly skilled workers from East Asia were the hand-picked success stories, thereby excluding the diversity of stories from other parts of Asia. 


Race is a social construct with no science behind it - it was written into colonizers’ legal system in the 17th century to justify white landowners at the top and black slaves at the bottom. It was also used to justify the mass killings of indigenous Americans. Which leads to…...



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Jenn

“Gee, You Don’t Seem Like an Indian From the Reservation,” by Barbara Cameron, Lakota Native American, b. 1954


By the age of five I had seen one Indian man gunned down in the back by the police and was a silent witness to a gang of white teenage boys beating up an elderly Indian man. I’d hear stories of Indian ranch hands being “accidentally” shot by white ranchers. 


My hatred for the wasicu was solidly implanted by the time I entered first grade. Unfortunately in first grade I became teacher’s pet so my teacher had a fondness for hugging me which always repulsed me. I couldn’t stand the idea of a white person touching me. Eventually I realized that it wasn’t the whtie skin that I hated, but it was their culture of deceit, greed, racism, and violence. (41)


  • Barbara Cameron and her ancestors have endured acts of greed, deceit, violence, and racism for multiple generations with the influx of European migration to the Americas. 
  • I only learned this in the past few years, that there’s been an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women in this country. The uptick stems from industries extracting oil or some other resource, which result in large camps of temporary male workers who undermine tribal sovereign borders and when they commit a crime, the police and coroners and government officials turn a blind eye. 

During Halloween my friends and I went trick or treating. At one of the last stops, the mother knew all of the children except for me. She asked me to remove my mask so she could see who I was. After I removed my mask, she realized I was an Indian and quite cruelly told me so, refusing to give me the treats my friends had received. It was a stingingly painful experience. [Her mother went to that woman’s house afterward, left Barbara in the car] hearing the intensity of the anger and feeling very sad that my mother had to defend her child to someone who wasn’t worthy of her presence. 


During one year I went to funerals for four murder victims. ...Because of experiencing racial violence, I sometimes panic when I’m the only non-white in a roomful of whites, even if they are my closest friends; I wonder if I’ll leave the room alive. ...I feel disgust with myself for feeling distrustful of my white friends. (43)


  • I hear her pain from the lack of safety she had to endure for so long. I haven’t experienced this, not to that extent, but I do feel shame for not trusting people unless they prove trustworthy first. It comes from a place of fear, pain, and trauma. In recent years, there’s been a lot more research on trauma and after a lot of searching and effort, I’ve been fortunate to find good trauma-informed therapy and literature addressing specific racial traumas. 


Articulate. Articulate. I’ve heard that word used many times to describe third world people. White people seem so surprised to find brown people who can speak fluent english and are even perhaps educated. We then become “articulate.” ...Or as one person said to me a few years ago, “Gee, you don’t seem like an Indian from the reservation.” (43)


  • It seems just about every person of color in this country who has a good ear for “Americana” English has heard this expressed as a compliment, but it feels old and “othering.” 


Racism is not easy for me to write about because of my own racism toward other people of color, and because of a complex set of ‘racisms’ within the Indian community. At times animosity exists between half-breed, full-blood, light-skinned Indians, dark-skinned Indians, and non-Indians who attempt to pass as Indians. 

...Who can pinpoint exactly where racism comes from? ...We are all continually pumped with gross and inaccurate images of everyone else and we all pump it out. I don’t think there are easy answers or formulas. My personal attempts at eliminating my racism have to start at the base level of those mind-sets that inhibit my relationship with people. ...I’ve noticed that liberal, consciousness-raised white people tend to be incredibly polite to third world people at parties or other social situations. It's almost as if they make a point to SHAKE YOUR HAND or to introduce themselves and then run down all the latest right-on third world or Native American books they’ve just read. (44)


  • This is so true! It can’t feel very good when your behaviors don’t match your values. 



A few years ago, a white lesbian telephoned me requesting an interview, explaining that she was taking Native Amercian courses at a local university, and that she needed data for her paper on gay Native Americans. I agreed to the interview with the idea that I would be helping a “sister” and would also be able to educate her about Native American struggles. After we completed the interview, she began a diatribe on how sexist Native Americans are, followed by a questioning session in which I was to enlighten her mind about why Native Americans are so sexist. I attempted to rationally answer her inanely racist and insulting questions, although my inner response was to tell her to remove herself from my house. Later it became very clear how I had been manipulated as a sounding board for her ugly and distorted views about Native Americans. Her arrogance and disrespect were characteristic of the racist white people in South Dakota. If I tried to point it out, I’m sure she would have vehemently denied her racism. (46)


When I think of the most hurtful and racist things I’ve ever heard people say, if they are called on it they get furious and “vehemently deny their racism” - sometimes in tears, sometimes yelling. Very few people in this world would proudly admit to being racist; most people who hold racist views truly do not believe that they do. 


This is a theme in so many of these works in the book. These authors admit their own racism, and remind us of the tragic truth that prejudices and biases are hardwired into human brains, and the only way to deal with them is to admit to them so that we can deal with them honestly. In fact in another essay another author who is Latina says “for example, I am terribly racist toward Jewish people,” and then she writes the words that sometimes come to her head, unbidden, about Jewish people,” and reading them made me catch my breath, they were so shocking and hateful, and she says, “and some of my very closest friends are Jewish.” But she acknowledges that terrible voice in her brain and describes how she coaches it and pushes back against it. But she doesn’t deny it, and that enables her to actually do something about it.


  • As Barbara is speaking of a white lesbian in this citation, it’s worth noting that another example of non-listening comes from homophobia. I witnessed this where a friend upon finding out his daughter’s classmate was coming out as gay proceeded to say many hurtful and untrue things, one of which is what a terrible CHOICE that boy was making. About five years later, the topic came up about someone else in their community and I remember smiling when he commented “being gay is not a choice.” He at some point came to that conclusion on his own. Again, we are each on our own journey to understanding the other. 




Amy:

From “-But I Know You, American Woman,”, by Judit Moschkovich (Latina, Jewish)


“Many Hispanics have been in this country for more generations than Anglos. The Hispanic cultures in the West and Southwest were established long before their land was colonized by Anglos. The Hispanic people have as much right to their cultural heritage as any Anglo (if not more so, since they were here first).


I remember becoming really aware of that when we moved to California and Lindsay and Lucy were little and I remember them asking “why are all the street names in Spanish?” And I said “because this used to be part of Mexico!” And hearing myself say that I was like “Oh. Yikes.” So thinking of Mexican people as “outsiders” in a place where their own ancestors lived before mine came and took their land away… seemed really messed up. And then of course if you go back before the Spanish arrived, it was the Ohlone living in Northern California, and their land was literally stolen and their culture purposefully obliterated... And now Native Americans are seen as foreigners and totally marginal… in their own native land. It’s really not right. We’ll talk about this more in depth in a few weeks on our episode on the book The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions.



I believe that lack of knowledge about other cultures is one of the basis for cultural oppression. I do not hold any individual American woman responsible for the roots of this ignorance about other cultures; it is encouraged and supported by the American educational and political system, and by the American media. (73)

Note the lack of emphasis on learning other languages, and the lack of knowledge even about where other countries are located. Often, I am asked questions like “Is Argentina in Europe or Africa?” How can one feel guilt about screwing over someone/some country she knows nothing about? (74)


I do have a friend who is my age who literally did picture Argentina being in Europe until just a few years ago, and another friend who - again just a few years ago - asked “So Israel - is that where a lot of Jewish people live?” I was really shocked to hear those questions from my college-educated, adult friends, and it’s really true that if we don’t know anything about a place or a culture, we are easy prey for our government to use our tax dollars to pay for weapons in conflicts we don’t understand. We make ourselves easy prey for our religious institutions to use us as footsoldiers against people we don’t understand (as happened with California’s Prop 8, which we will talk about in a future episode). We may unthinkingly use slang that is hurtful, not realizing how it sounds to others’ ears and how much it hurts.


I love how Judit Moskovich says she doesn’t hold any individual responsible for the roots of that ignorance. If our parents or teachers don’t teach us something and the only available media misinforms us, up until a point, we can’t be blamed for not knowing something. I want to give people the benefit of the doubt. 


Although tbh… this book was written in 1981, before there was Internet, when there were far fewer books available, and there were very very limited news sources back then. 


Now, there’s really no excuse. Once we realize we don’t know something, there’s really no reason why we can’t look it up, take some time out of something else you normally do, and instead read a book that exposes us to a different point of view. 


And that leads into my final takeaway, which I’ll share as we wrap up the discussion, and then I’d love for you to have the final word, Jenn. My takeaway is that I was profoundly impacted by the title, by these authors’ stories, by your stories, Jenn. Bridges do need to be built, bridges do need to be crossed, in order for us to understand each other and be able to care for each other and to build a better world than the one we inherited. And I want to invite any listeners who are white, who are straight, who are financially stable, who are able-bodied - if you find yourself with any of those advantages, please join me in saying “It’s my turn now. I  will build the bridge. I  will read a book, I will do the work of education, I  will do the work of trying to understand and meeting the other person where they are comfortable instead of always asking others to meet me where I am. I feel so humbled that these authors did the work of writing and publishing these powerful essays, and they made themselves vulnerable in sharing their  feelings. I feel honored to be “let in,” and I’m committed to making myself a bridge from now on. 


Amy: What is a takeaway for you, Jenn?


Jenn:  

  • QUOTING Maxine Hong Kingston - “I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” I’ve made so many mistakes - I’ve been racist, homophobic, ignorant to the plights of disabled and neurologically diverse persons. There have been interactions where my pain and trauma spoke to someone else’s pain and trauma. If I ask my body what it was carrying back then, it carried fear for lack of safety. Fear for not being understood. Fear for being exposed as an imperfect human. Paradoxes are frequent in my perfectly imperfect life. It’s been a struggle to make room for them, and I often feel like a failure in my attempts. 


And thank you again so very much, etc...


Jenn: (whatever you want to say) :)  Where male supremacy hurts all genders, white supremacy hurts all races


Amy: Next time on Breaking Down Patriarchy, we will be discussing Women, Race, and Class, by Angela Davis. This book was published the same year as TBCMB, in 1981, and its publication was a watershed moment in women’s studies and specifically Black Feminism. It looks at the history of the United States with Black women’s experience being central, and I was enthralled the whole time I read it and highly recommend it to listeners. Any public library should have it if you want to check it out, but it’s also available as an inexpensive paperback, so in true Angela Davis fashion, it’s available to everybody. So read it if you can, and then join us for the discussion of Angela Davis’ Women, Race, and Class, next time on BDP.

Notes we didn’t have room for:

La Guera, Cherrie Moraga


Time and time again, I have observed that the usual response among white women’s groups when the “racism issue” comes up is to deny the difference. I have heard comments like, “Well, we’re open to all women; why don’t they (women of color) come? You can only do so much…” But there is seldom any analysis of who the very nature and structure of the group itself may be founded on racists or classist assumptions. More important, so often the women seem to feel no loss, no lack, no absence when women of color are not involved; therefore there is little desire to change the situation. This has hurt me deeply. I have come to believe that the only reason women of a privileged class will dare to look at how it is that they oppress, is when they’ve come to know the meaning of their own oppression. And understand that the oppression of others hurts them personally.


The other side of the story is that women of color and working-class women often shrink from challenging white middle-class women. It is much easier to rank oppressions and set up a hierarchy, rather than take responsibility for changing our own lives. We have failed to demand that white women, particularly those who claim to be speaking for all women, be accountable for their racism. (28)


We need one another… We women need each other. Because my/your solitary, self-asserting… power is not enough. The real power, as you and I well know, is collective. I can’t afford to be afraid of you, nor you of men. If it takes head-on collisions, let’s do it: this polite timidity is killing us. (29) 


Invisibility Is an Unnatural Disaster: Reflections of an Asian American Woman, Mitsuye Yamada, (Japanese American, b. 1928)


[White students] …”understood” the anger expressed by the Black Americans and Chicanos and they “empathized” with the frustrations and sorrow expressed by the American Indian. But the Asian Americans??


Then finally, one student said it for all of them: “It makes me angry. Their anger made me angry, because I didn’t even know the asian Americans felt oppressed. I didn’t expect their anger.”


[Talks about when she pointed out a policy problem at the university where she taught]: They all seemed to exclaim, “We don’t understand this; this is so uncharacteristic of her; she seemed such a nice person, so polite, so obedient, so non-trouble-making.” 



It’s In My Blood, My Face - My Mother’s Voice, The Way I Sweat, by Anita Valerio 


Being an Indian… I didn’t even realize that’s what I was - an Indian - in fact I jumped up and down in protest “I’m not an Indian - I’m not an Indian” when my relatives would tell me I was. After all, Indians were the bad guys on T.V., and though we didn’t have running water that year or even telephones - yes- we did have television. Apparently, there were also times when I’d scream “I’m an Indian, I’m an Indian,” when my relatives would say I wasn’t… Such has been life. (37)


The weeping was all of our pain - a collective wound


I attended my first sweat when I was sixteen, it was high in the mountains. We went to a lodge afterward. This first sweat was so miraculous, so refreshing and so magical - it was as though God had appeared before me and walked about and danced. It reinstated my sense of the Marvelous, and also a sense of sacredness. I cried inside that sweat, it seemed as though I could never stop crying as though my heart was being tugged at and finally torn loose inside my chest. Other people cried too. So much emotion is expressed in the sweat and in the medicine lodge. And the weird thing about it is - you don’t really know what it is you’re crying about. The emotions seem to come out of some primeval cavity - some lonesome half-remembered place. It seems when I cried it was more than an individual pain. The weeping was all of our pain - acollective wound - it is larger than each individual. In the sweat it seems as though we all remember a past - a collective presence - our past as Native people before being colonized and culturally liquidated. 


Barrier between myself and my people


At age seven I had a wild crush on a girl a year younger than myself that lasted a whole year. I would stare at her picture in the second grade yearbook and cry. I drew her pictures of dragons and gave them to her. It seemed a bit odd to me, but I wanted to marry her. I felt as though I was the only girl who’d ever felt these things. Perhaps there had been a mistake. I decided it would be better to be a boy and I stayed awake at night praying to turn into one. If I was a boy it would be easier to be a superhero and to be president. Finally - I decided to remain a girl and make the best of it. (39)


More than anything because it is patriarhcal, women have a certain limited roeld (as do men), and I am gay. Perhaps in the old days, in some way or other I could have fit in there. But today, my lesbianism has become a barrier between myself and my people. What to say when my grandmother or aunt asks if I’ve met a boyfriend. The perennial lesbian problem - how to tell the folks and what to tell them. (39)


Five years ago I dreamt myself walking out of my home in Littleton adn out to a flat, long desert. There, beneath a shelter of poles nad sticks, an old Kainah woman sat, dressed in a kerchief and a long blue dress. Some strange looking pipes were being passed around, none of them were handed to me as none were quite right for me. The old lady looked at me a long time, then she said, “You will return to the Indian way.”


“Gee, You Don’t Seem Like an Indian From the Reservation,” by Barbara Cameron, Lakota Native American, b. 1954


By the age of five I had seen one Indian man gunned down in the back by the police and was a silent witness to a gang of white teenage boys beating up an elderly Indian man. I’d hear stories of Indian ranch hands being “accidentally” shot by white ranchers. 


My hatred for the asicu was solidly implanted by the time I entered first grade. Unfortunately in first grade I became teacher’s pet so my teacher had a fondness for hugging me which always repulsed me. I couldn’t stand the idea of a white person touching me. Eventually I realized that it wasn’t the whtie skin that I hated, but it was their culture of deceit, greed, racism, and violence. (41)


During Halloween my friends and I went trick or treating. At one of the last stops, the mother knew all of the children except for me. She asked me to remove my mask so she could see who I was. After I removed my mask, she realized I was an Indian and quite cruelly told me so, refusing to give me the treats my friends had received. It was a stingingly painful experience. [Her mother went to that woman’s house afterward, left Barbara in the car] hearing the intensity of the anger and feeling very sad that my mother had to defend her child to someone who wasn’t worthy of her presence. 


During one year I wen tto funerals for four murder victims. ...Because of experiencing racial violence, I sometimes panic when I’m the only non-white in a roomful of whites, even if they are my closest friends; I wonder if I’ll leave the room alive. ...I feel disgust with myself for feeling distrustful of my white friends. (43)


“Alienation” and “assimilation” are two common words used to describe contemporary Indian people. ...I generally mistrust words that are used to define Native Americans and Brown People. I don’t like being put under a magnifying glass and having cute liberal terms describe who I am. (43)


Articulate. Articulate. I’ve heard that word used many times to describe third world people. White people seem so surprised to find brown people who can speak fluent english and are even perhaps educated. We then become “articulate.” ...Or as one person said to me a few years ago, “Gee, you don’t seem like an Indian from the reservation.” (43)


Racism is not easy for me to write about because of my own racism toward other people of color, and because of a complex set of ‘racisms’ within the Indian community. At times animosity exists between half-breed, full-blood, light-skinned Indians, dark-skinned Indians, and non-Indians who attempt to pass as Indians. 

...Who can pinpoint exactly where racism comes from? ...We are all continually pumped with gross and inaccurate images of everyone else and we all pump it out. I don’t think there are easy answers or formulas. My personal attempts at eliminating my racism have to start at the base level of those mind-sets that inhibit my relationship with people. ...I’ve noticed that liberal, consciousness-raised white people tend to be incredibly polite to third world people at parties or other social situations. It's almost as if they make a point to SHAKE YOUR HAND or to introduce themselves and then run down all the latest right-on third world or Native American books they’ve just read. (44)


A few years ago, a white lesbian telephoned me requesting an interview, explaining that she was taking Native Amercian courses at a local uncveirsty, and that she needed data for her paper on gay Native Americans. I agreed to the interview with the idea that I would be helping a “sister” and would also be able to educate her about Native American struggles. After we completed the interview, she began a diatribe on how sexist Native Americans are, followed by a questioning session in which I was to enlighten her mind about why Native Americans are so sexist. I attempted to rationally answer her inanely racist and insulting questions, although my inner response was to tell her to remove herself from my house. Later it became very clear how I had been manipulated as a sounding board for her ugly and distorted views about Native Americans. Her arrogance and disrespect were characteristic of the racist white people in South Dakota. If I tried to point it out, I’m sure she would have vehemently denied her racism. (46)


When I think of the most hurtful and racist things I’ve ever heard people say, if they are called on it they get furious and “vehemently deny their racism” - sometimes in tears, sometimes yelling. Very few people in this world would proudly admit to being racist; most people who hold racist views truly do not believe that they do. 


This is a theme in so many of these works in the book. These authors admit their own racism, and remind us of the tragic truth that prejudices and biases are hardwired into human brains, and the only way to deal with them is to admit to them so that we can deal with them honestly. In fact in another essay another author who is Latina says “for example, I am terribly racist toward Jewish people,” and then she writes the words that sometimes come to her head, unbidden, about Jewish people,” and reading them made me catch my breath, they were so shocking and horrifying, and she says, “and some of my very closest friends are Jewish.” But she acknowledges that terrible voice in her brain and describes how she coaches it and pushes back against it. But she doesn’t deny it. 


So that’s something for us all to keep in mind. 


And When You Leave, Take Your Pictures With You, by Barbara Smith


The reason racism is a feminist issue is easily explained by the inherent definition of feminism. Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women. Anything less than this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement. (57)


Although the original intent of including a section in this anthology specifically about racism in the movement was to make a connection with white women, it feels now more like a separation. Things have gotten worse. In academic and cultural circles, Third World women have become the subject matter of many literary and artistic endeavors by white women, and yet we are refused access to the pen, the publishing house, the galleries, adn the classroom. (57)


Racism affects all of our lives, but it is only white women who can “afford” to remain oblivious to these effects.(58)


White middle-class women emerge among feminist ranks as the greatest propagators of racism in the movement. Rather than using the privilege they have to crumble the institutions that house the source of their own oppression - sexism, along with racism - they oftentimes deny their privilege in the form of “downward mobility,” or keep it intact in the form of guilt. Fear is a feeling - fear of losing one’s power, fear of being accused, fear of a loss of status, control, knowledge. Guilt is not a feeling. It is an intellectual mask to a feeling. Fear is real. Possibly this is the emotional, non-theoretical place from which serious anti-racist work among white feminists can begin. (58)


As women, we all know oppression on some level. We must use this knowledge, as Rosario Morales suggests, to ‘identify, understand, and feel with the oppressed as a way out of the morass of racism and guilt.’ For ‘we are all in the same boat.’ And it is sinking fast. (59)


I read that passage many times. I do feel a lot of guilt and shame about the way white people colonized and oppressed and slaughtered and enslaved and raped and continue to oppress and murder and rape people of color. I have been asking myself what Barbara Smith means by “keeping my privilege intact in the form of guilt.” Does she mean that if I feel sad about it, then I think that’s sufficient and I don’t need to do anything about it? 

Also, I know that I have seen other people behave with a lot of fear as they talk about race - I just overheard a phone conversation between my daughter Lucy and someone Lucy cares about… and I have heard that person say some very racially prejudiced things, and when Lucy was challenging her, she got nearly hysterical and was saying “I’m not a racist!!!” I have heard that person say some things that show that she is clearly afraid of losing her status in society, which Barbara Smith mentions - but in this conversation it was clear that she was very afraid of being accused. So now I’m trying to think - what am I afraid of? Are my fears blocking me from being a better ally to people of color? What purpose does my guilt serve? Could my guilt possibly be keeping my privilege intact and preventing me from doing work to create a more just society? Maybe if I read stories about persecution and they make me cry, I feel like I’ve done my part?


I Don’t Understand Those Who Have Turned Away From Me, by Chrystos (Menominee, “two spirit” (non-binary) b. 1946)


I think about all the white women I knew in San Francisco. Women with Master’s degrees from Stanford University and cars that daddy bought, women with straight white teeth and clear skins from thousands of years of proper nutrition   They chose to be poor    They were quite convincing in their role of oppressed victim   I want to tell them to go down to Fillmore & Haight & tell somebody about it Tell Jim my old landlord who picked cotton since he was 6 moved here for a better life lost his hearing & his teeth & his hair from working int he shipyards for 35 years The constant vibration of his drill on the metal literally shook his teeth out He went bald from always wearing a safety helmet He can’t hear after years of that racket He worked so hard for 35 years & he is still poor ...


Jane commented when I first met her that she didn’t care for most lesbians because they didn’t like women don’t like themselves Of course it is extremely difficult to like oneself in a culture which thinks you are a disease...


I left the women’s movement utterly drained I have no interest in returning My dreams of crossing barriers to true understanding were false Most of the white women I thought I was close to want nothing to do with me now Perhaps white women are so rarely loyal because they do not have to be There are thousands of them to pick up & discard No responsibility to others The bathing beauties They want the status of reality & respect without labor Respect us simply because we exist Give us what we want now My bitterness distorts my words

I don’t understand those who turned away from me


Asian Pacific American Women and Feminism,  by Mistuye Yamada


Women’s organizations tell us they would like to have us “join” them and give them “input.” These are the better ones; at least they know we exist and feel we might possibly have something to say of interest to them.


When Third World women are asked to speak representing our racial or ethnic group, we are expected to move, charm or entertain, but not to educate in ways that are threatening to our audiences. We speak to audiences that sift out those parts of our speech (if what we say does not fit the image they have of us), come up to shake our hands with “That was lovely my dear, just lovely,” and go home with the same mind set they come in with. No matter what we say or do, the stereotype still hangs on. I am weary of starting from scratch each time I speak or write, as if there were no history behind us, of hearing that among the women of color, Asian women are the least political, or the least oppressed, or the most polite. It is too bad not many people remember that one of the two persons in Seattle who stood up to contest the constitutionality of the Evacuation Order in 1942 was a young Japanese American woman. (68)


At a Workshop for Third World women in San Francisco, Cherrie Moraga exploded with “What each of us needs to do about what we don’t know is to go look for it.” I felt like standing up and cheering her. She was speaking at the Women’s Building to a group of white sisters who were saying, in essence, “It is your responsibility as Third World women to teach us.” If the majority culture knows so little about us, it must be our problem, they seem to be telling us; the burden of teaching is on us. I do not want to be unfair; I know individual women and some women’s groups that have taken on the responsibility of teaching themselves through reaching out to women of color, but such gestures by the majority of women’s groups are still tentatively made because of the sometimes touchy reaction of women who are always begin asked to be “tokens” at readings and workshops.


We all believed in equality for women. We agreed that it is important for each of us to know what it means to be a woman in our society, to know the historical and psychological forces that have shaped and are shaping our thoughts which in turn determine the directions of our lives. We agreed that feminism means a commitment to making changes in our own lives and a conviction that as women we have the equipment to do so. One by one, as we sat around the table and talked (we women of all ages ranging from our early twenties to mid-fifties, single and married, mothers and lovers, straight women and lesbians), we knew what it was we wanted out of feminism, ...For women to achieve equality in our society, we agreed, we must continue to work for a common goal. (69)


A movement that fights sexism in the social structure must deal with racism, and we had hoped the leaders in the women’s movement would be able to see the parallels in the lives of the women of color and themselves, and would “join” us in our struggle and give us “input.” 

This doesn’t mean that we have placed our loyalties on the side of ethnicity over womanhood. The two are not at war with one another; we shouldn’t have to sign a “loyalty oath” favoring one over the other. However, women of color are often made to feel that we must make a choice between the two.” (70)


As a child of immigrant parents, as a woman of color in a white society, and as a woman in patriarchal society, what is personal to me is political. These are the connections we expected our white sisters to see. It should not be too difficult, we feel, for them to see why beign a feminist activist is more dangerous for women of color. They should be able to see that political views held by women of color are often misconstrued as being personal rather than ideological. Views critical of the system held by a person in an “out group” are often seen as expressions of personal anger against the dominant society. (If they hate it so much here, why don’t they go back?) (71)


Remembering the blatant acts of selective racism in the past three decades in our country, our white sisters should be able to see how tenuous our position in this country is. Many of us are third and fourth generation Americans, but this makes no difference; periodic conflicts involving Third World peoples can abruptly change white Americans’ attitudes toward us. This was clearly demonstrated in 1941 to Japanese Americans…. We found our status as true-blooded Americans was only an illusion in 1942 when we were singled out to be imprisoned for the duration of the war by our own government. (72)

This is especially true of Americans from Muslim-majority countries right now. But true for all racial minorities in our country - I have dear friends who have been treated despicably simply because of what they look like. And then I sometimes hear my white friends deny that racism exists in America. They sometimes say “well I’ve never seen racist behavior,” and I say, “why would you? It’s not directed at you!!” I remember walking around San Francisco when I was about 22, with a Chinese-American friend, and we passed several graffiti scrawls of “Go home, Asain racial slur.” I was SHOCKED. And it also reminds me of the episode that I did on this podcast with my friend Rayna, who was one of two Black women that I knew in college, and she told me how hard college was for her, and also how someone had banged on her car and yelled “Heil Trump” at her and gotten really scary and aggressive. I should know by now that my friends of color have to encounter that all the time, but it still took me by surprise.


“-But I Know You, American Woman,”, by Judit Moschkovich (Latina, Jewish)


I believe that lack of knowledge about other cultures is one of the basis for cultural oppression. I do not hold any individual American woman responsible for the roots of this ignorance about other cultures; it is encouraged and supported by the American educational and political system, and by the American media. (73)

Note the lack of emphasis on learning other languages, and the lack of knowledge even about where other countries are located. Often, I am asked questions like “Is Argentina in Europe or Africa?” How can one feel guilt about screwing over someone/some country she knows nothing about? (74)


Think of it in terms of men’s and women’s cultures: women live in male systems, know male rules, speak male language when around men, et.c But what do men really know about women? Only screwed up myths concocted to perpetuate the power imbalance. It is the same situation when it comes to dominant and non-dominant or colonizing and colonized cultures/countries/people. As a bilingual/bicultural woman whose native culture is not American, I live in an American system, abide by American rules of conduct, speak English when around English speakers, etc, only to be confronted with utter ignorance or concocted myths and stereotypes about my own culture. (74)


We’ve all heard it before: it is not the duty of the oppressed to educate the oppressor. (73)

I would say, “we’ve not all heard it before.” I had, sadly, and to my great embarrassment, never heard that phrase until this past year. So I want to repeat it and to amplify that message, in case any of my listeners are learning it right now. As white women, it is our responsibility to educate ourselves. To utilize the resources that have already been created for our education by brave and generous people who have taken it upon themselves to educate us. Here are some wonderful books:


This book! :)

Sister, Outsider, by Audre Lorde, which we will read next time.

Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race, by Debby Irving 

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, by Robin DiAngelo and Michael Eric Dyson

So You Want to Talk About Race, by Ijeoma Oluo 

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (National Book Award Winner) by Ibram X. Kendi 

How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi 

The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America, by Richard Rothstein 

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, by Mikki Kendall 

White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind, by Koa Beck

White Tears/Brown Scars: How White Feminism Betrays Women of Color, by Ruby Hamad 



 

Let Latina women tell you what’s going on, the good and the bad. I’ve lived there and I damn well know what it’s like. Listen to what I have to say about my culture, rather than believe hearsay, myths or racist stereotypes. (75)


No one ever talks about… the cut-throat competition instilled by American culture, or the lack of warmth and physical contact in Anglo culture. These are all destructive aspects of Anglo culture, and they cannot be ignored. 


Why is everyone so willing to accept the very male view of Latin American culture as consisting simply of macho males and Chatolic priests? There are scores of strong women living in Latin America today and our history is full of famous and lesser known strong women. Are they to be ignored as women have always been ignored? (76)


[She points out in the footnotes] “Many Hispanics have been in this country for more generations than Anglos. The Hispanic cultures in the West and Southwest were established long before their land was colonized by Anglos. The Hispanic people have as much right to their cultural heritage as any Anglo (if not more so, since they were here first).


I remember becoming really aware of that when we moved to California and Lindsay and Lucy were little and I remember them asking “why are all the street names in Spanish?” And I said “because this used to be part of Mexico!” And hearing myself say that I was like “Oh. Yikes.” So thinking of Mexican people as “outsiders” in land that their own ancestors lived seemed really messed up, and then of course if you go back before the Spanish arrived, it was the Ohlone living in Northern California. And now Native Americans are seen as foreigners and totally marginal… in their own native land. It’s really not right. 


The Pathology of Racism: A Conversation with Third World Wimmin, by doris davenport 


If I were a white feminist and somebody called me a racist, I’d probably feel insulted (especially if I knew it was at least partially true). It’s like saying someone has a slimy and incurable disease. Naturally, I would be reactionary and take out my ...liberal credentials, to prove I was clean.” (81)


If we …(even accidentally) mention something particular to the experience of black wimmin, we are seen as threatening, hostile, and subversive to their interests. ...Because of their one-dimensional and bigoted ideas, we are not respected as feminists or wimmin. Their perverse perceptions of black wimmin mean that they continue to see us as “inferior” to them, and therefore, treat us accordingly. Instead of alleviating the problems of black wimmin, they add to them. (82)


[some black women] have at least three distinct areas of aversion to white wimmin which affect how we perceive and deal with them: aesthetic, cultural, and social/political. Aesthetically (and physically) we frequently find white wimmin repulsive. That is, their skin colors are unaesthetic (ugly, to some people). Their hair, stringy and straight, is unattractive. Their bodies: rather like misshapen lumps of whitish clay or dough, that somebody forgot to mold in certain areas. Furthermore, they have strange body odor. 


Culturally, we see them as limited and bigoted. They can’t dance. Their music is essentially undanceable too, and unpleasant. Plus, they are totally saturated in western or white American culture with little knowledge or respect for the cultures of third world people. (That is, unless they intend to exploit it.) The bland food of white folks is legendary. What they call partying is too low keyed to even be a wake. 


Socially, white people seem rather juvenile and tasteless. Politically, they are, especially the feminists, naive and myopic. Then too, it has always been hard for us (black folk) to believe that whites will transcend color to make political alliances with us, for any reason. (The women’s movement illustrates this point.) 


This can be read in a few different ways:


  • It can be read as humor, in which case it is funny - I can laugh at myself!!
  • Even if it is partly comedic, it is also serious criticism. So we can choose how to take that criticism - defensively or with humility to ask ourselves if she’s right (and not just about being doughy lumps of clay)
  • Most importantly, I realized as I read this that I had never, ever read someone talk about white people like that. Having strange body odor. Looking weird. Having weird hair. Being unappealing socially and politically and culturally. And I realized, I have heard sooooooo many of those stereotypes and insults about people of color throughout my whole life. Even if I haven’t said them, even if I haven’t believed them, I have heard them all the time. And I have never heard them about white people. So it was an act of power for her to presume to be in a position to criticize and make a declaration about the majority/in power population. It gave me greater empathy and it was powerful for me to reverse the dynamic. 


Just as a macho male uses wimmin to define himself or to be sure he exists, white feminists use wimmin of color to prove their existence in the world. (84)


I remembered that part of “A Room of One’s Own” where Virginia Woolf says that men need women to carry a mirror that makes men look twice their size so that they (the men) can feel good about themselves. Do white women then turn around and do that to women of color?? 


The fact is, white wimmin are oppressed; they have been ‘colonized’ by white boys, just as third world people have. Even when white wimmin ‘belonged’ to white boys they had no reality. They belonged as objects, and were treated as such. (As someone else has noted, the original model for colonization was the treatment of white wimmin.) She might be referring to Gerda Lerner there.

Their situation is the real pits. (84)


So this is my contribution to the conversation. The cause of racism in white feminists is their bizarre oppression (and suppression). This, I contend, is what lies beneath the surface. This pathological condition is what they have to admit and deal with, and what we should start to consider and act on. Too often, we discuss their economic freedom while ignoring other aspects of life. We sometimes dwell at length on their color, forgetting that they are still wimmin in a misogynist culture. They have been seriously mutated as a result. (85)


Feminism either addresses itself to all wimmin, or it becomes even more so just another elitist, prurient white organization, defeating its own purposes. [Rachel Cargle calls it “white supremacy in heels.”] 


As a partial solution to some of the above, and to begin to end some of the colossal ignorance that white feminists have about us, we (black and white feminists) could engage in consciousness raising conversations about and with each other. If done with a sense of honesty, and a sense of humor, we might accomplish something. If overcoming our differences were made a priority, instead of the back-burner issue that it usually is, we might resolve some of our problems. (85)


I honestly see our trying to “break into” the white feminist movement as almost equivalent to the old, outdated philosophy of integration and assimilation. It is time we stopped this approach. We know we have no desire to be white. ...So sisters, we might as well give up on them, except in rare and individual cases where the person or group is deliberately and obviously more evolved mentally and spiritually. We should stop wasting our time and energy, until these wimmin evolve. (85)



We’re All in the Same Boat, Rosario Morales


November, 1979

I am not white. I am not middle class.

I am white skinned and puertorican. I was born into the working class and married into the middle class. I object to the label white and middle class both because they don’t include my working class life and my puertoricanness, but also because “white and middle class” stands for a kind of politics. Color and class don’t define people or politics. (87)