I have wanted to review This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color forever and figured this review would be a great way to end Latinx History Month with a bang!
For those that may not know, TBCMB is a collection of essays, letters, and poems of various women of color and it is edited Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua. Composed in the early 80s, the writers are considered Third World Feminists. They are women of color, feminists, fighting against the oppression of poverty, racism, sexism, and xenophobia. It’s a really incredible collection of voices that resonated with me even though the pieces were written before I was born. It’s an important collection because it’s one of the first books that showcases women of color discussing their daily lives and struggles–women who are often missing from the picture when we discuss feminism and the experiences of women in the U.S.
And it is important to showcase those different experience. With what is incredible timing, First Lady Michelle Obama described the universal feelings women experience at the violence or threat of violence by men in her speech. We all can agree that as women there are certain “milestones” of male violence we all experience. This book discusses that but goes beyond—it describes so many forms of oppression with vibrancy and familiarity, not only the fight against the patriarchy, but how as women we also fight against racism, heteronormative oppression, and xenophobia. It’s just such a great book.
While I overwhelmingly like the book, I will admit that some parts were hard to connect with because of the composition–mainly the poems. I’m much more cerebral than artistic, and I say that as a negative factor about me because it really is hard for me to be moved by most art. I wish it wasn’t the case, but pieces that are supposed to invoke emotions through prose just don’t often do it for me. I guess this is a good time to admit that I much prefer lecture courses over any type of interactive thing. I don’t mean to be so cold, but that’s just the way I prefer to process information. So, the poems were so-so for me and I much more preferred the analytical pieces.
Many of the authors also identify as lesbian or queer, which I am not and there were some problems I could not connect with, but that’s really the beauty of this book–it exposes the reader to thoughts, people, issues that are often ignored. I may not identify with the exact same identities as the writers, but I can appreciate their experiences—and appreciate being exposed to new issues, solutions, and viewpoints.
In fact, the essays by women who are very different from me were still the most moving pieces. Specifically, I loved Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance by Cheryl Clarke. The piece is incredible. It discusses how lesbians have been able to ultimately decolonize their bodies from men. She describes the oppression women face and compares the oppression blacks face from white. How we are taught that men must “take care” of us which is really another form of control–they control our work, our bodies, or sexuality, or finances, our home, etc etc. According to Clarke, the act of lesbianism is a way to fight back and gain a bit of freedom that women in heterosexual relationships don’t necessarily experience. There is a great critique against the patriarchy and the systems of oppression that men and capitalism impose on us. And while I can’t just flip a switch and “be” a lesbian, I can intellectually understand her argument and can see how there is a sense of freedom when we’re able to break our bodies away from the patriarchy. There may be some who get in their feelings by the idea that those of us in heteronormative relationships are in coercive relationships because it doesn’t feel that way—our male partners may seem to very well treat us as equals—but I think the argument is beyond our daily lives and the overall experience we have as women in sexual relationships. It’s a complex topic, but I really loved this piece.
More generally there are fantastic themes throughout the book. A big focus is on how assimilation kills. Forcing us to upend our culture, traditions, and assimilate to White culture is often something we decide to do as women of color as a form of survival, but we end up losing who we are and our connection to our past. The writers showcase a constant longing to not lose who we are, but also struggles to attempt to survive in these systems of power.
There is also discussions on how White women can help or alleviate our oppression. There is desire for White women to see us; recognize us; feel our strife; and be willing to fight for us the way we fight for everyone else. The onus is on those women who are catered to by systems of power and are more favored to acknowledge us and use that power to help us. White feminists need to look into the systems they work in and asks: where are the women of color? And ultimately, it is necessary for all of us to view our situations through various lenses to ensure we are as inclusive as possible.
Finally, the discussion on how the trauma and the violence of poverty impacts our ability to live and progress is so on point. It’s especially an important read for many of us who have climbed up the socioeconomic level after we obtained our law degrees. The pressure to assimilate, to let go, to disavow our past is so strong. And I’ll be honest, it’s easy to fall in love with the comparably easy life of wealth and just move on with your life believing certain struggles are no longer your own. But the plea from these radical women is for us to resist the urge to completely give up our identities and in turn push back; stand up against oppression and question the pull to change who you are.
Overall, imo, the book is required reading for any woman that identifies as feminist. And if you’re a woman of color who has hesitated to use the label of feminist because you question whether there is space for you then this is especially required reading because you may just find the voices of sisters decrying and describing the emotions and oppression we face as women of color.