Academic journal article Social Justice

Toward a Holistic Anti-Violence Agenda: Women of Color as Radical Bridge-Builders

Academic journal article Social Justice

Toward a Holistic Anti-Violence Agenda: Women of Color as Radical Bridge-Builders

Article excerpt

THE PUBLICATION OF THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION OF THIS BRIDGE CALLED MY Back was a cause for celebration and reflection among women of color in the U.S. (Moraga and Anzaldua, 2002). First printed in 1982, the bridge metaphor captured the challenges facing women of color as they negotiated the radical social movements of the 1970s and 1980s in the United States. Expected to act in feminist spaces (as if gender were the primary oppression structuring their lives) in radical movements of color (as if the struggle against white supremacy were the only meaningful engagement) and in leftist organizations (as if gender and race were distractions to the fight against capital), women of color struggled to generate a politics that could honor the complex intersections of race, class, and gender in their lives. Working with white women to challenge violence against women, and with men of color to defend their communities against police brutality and institutional racism, women of color frequently found themselves acting as the bridge between a multiplicity of social movements. Yet this role, while critically important as a basis for coalition-building, was also draining--as Kate Rushin (2002) succinctly communicated in "The Bridge Poem": "I'm sick of seeing and touching/Both sides of things/Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody.... I explain ... 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/I do more translating/Than the Gawdamn U.N." Women of color who identified as feminists or addressed gender issues in communities of color risked being labeled "traitors," "lesbians," or "white-identified." If they challenged racism or admitted working alongside men of color in feminist spaces, they risked being labeled "male-identified" or "divisive."

Twenty years later, much has changed. The intersectional politics elaborated by women in This Bridge, once a marginal and controversial perspective, have been mainstreamed and there are even textbooks to explain them to the beginner (Anderson and Collins, 2001). Women writers of color, who once were limited to small radical publishers like Kitchen Table Press, are now published by mainstream imprints that expect to sell significant quantities to women's studies programs across the country. Anti-racist white feminists and pro-feminist men of color have joined women of color in critiquing racism in the women's movement and sexism in the anti-racist movement. Yet, the Critical Resistance-Incite! Statement (see below) is testimony to the living legacy of women of color as bridge builders.

In the post-September 11 era, many women of color have tired of seeking to transform liberal identity-based movements that claim to represent all "women" or "African Americans," for example, but remain entrenched in the politics of imperial feminism or patriarchal and heterosexist rights for black men. Instead, many of us have focused our attention in two complementary directions: building our own organizations based on an intersectional analysis of violence, and participating in and building coalitions within issue-based movements, such as the antiwar, prison abolitionist, political prisoner, police brutality, racial profiling, and domestic violence and sexual assault (DVSA) movements.

Walking in the footsteps of the contributors to This Bridge, activists from the prison abolitionist and DVSA movements have come together to write the Critical Resistance-Incite! statement below. The seeds of the statement were sown at the first Critical Resistance conference, which took place in Berkeley, California, in fall 1998. Among the organizers of that conference were women of color who had been active in both the prison abolitionist and DVSA movements. The conference brought together 3,500 activists, students, academics, former prisoners and their families, former political prisoners, and cultural workers to launch a new broad-based abolitionist movement based on a critique of the prison-industrial complex. …

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