Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Racial Alliances: Differences Can't Be Ignored and Don't Have to Be Divisive

Magazine article Colorlines Magazine

Racial Alliances: Differences Can't Be Ignored and Don't Have to Be Divisive

Article excerpt

SHARING EXPERIENCES of oppression, in one form or another, provides the foundation for alliance-building between people of color. But, as the late and beloved Gloria Anzaldua said in her book Making Face, Making Soul/Haciendo Caras, "shared oppression by itself does not override the forces that keep us apart."


Working in a group of women that combines different racial or national origins, we should assume problems will develop and strategize how to address them. It helps to think about those problems as rooted in differences of class, race, color (and other physical characteristics), nationality, culture, sexuality and age. Disability is also an issue; failure to recognize it can generate a sense of apartness, of isolation and indifference. All of these "differences" are linked to historical experience. All are interconnected and cannot be discussed in isolation from each other.

We should think in terms of building not only coalitions but also alliances. In a coalition, separate groups come together to address a common, usually immediate, single problem or set of related problems. Coalitions are often necessary and even vital. They have potentially great immediate impact and can pave the way for alliance-building.

Alliances should be broader in their focus, more profound, and more long-range, and more lasting. The forces of white supremacy and imperialism are too strong for us to battle separately. Strong alliances make it possible for us to dream of someday seeing a global women-of-color movement to create a more just global society.

Dealing with our differences and divisions cannot be left to casual concern or spontaneous resolution. It has to be one of our organizational priorities, a clear-cut part of the program.

For women of color all over the world, the most common and destructive experiences of violence have come from war. In modern times, at least, war has consistently left more women and children dead than soldiers. Here in the United States, we find that women of color have been subjected to racist violence in both similar and different ways.

The similarities and differences in historical experience of racism mean that women of color have different collective memories of violence and therefore they may relate differently to each other without always realizing it or knowing why. Dissimilar sources of pain may keep us focused on what separates rather than unites. For example, a Black woman may associate state violence with her color, while a Mexican/Latina will associate it with her language or accent.

As people of color in the United States, our experiences have all served as foundation stones of the United States as a nation: invasion and genocide, slavery, imperialist expansion, colonization and capitalist exploitation. White supremacy was imposed on all of us. Our experiences are different in the particularities of each group. The similarities, however, carry a powerful message: not forming alliances can only perpetuate our oppression and that of our children for generations to come.

In addressing these and other challenges, each group of women of color could put together its own list of Do's and Don't's based on real-life experiences of what helps us deal with the challenges and expand our strengths. Some will be very general and far-ranging, like the need to understand the different "herstories" and cultures of each racial group. Other very specific rules and procedures can be drawn up centered on establishing mutual respect. …

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