When Cherríe Moraga spoke at Oregon State University on February 10, she captivated the packed room of audience members and reminded all of us why we strive for social justice and change. She spoke about gender and sexuality, growing up in a mixed-race family, and her own struggle with identity. She addressed the important influence writing, such as This Bridge Called My Back, has for people with intersectional identities. What stuck with me most: she spoke of the simultaneity of oppression and freedom and how it affects all of us.
Moraga is best known for the feminist anthology This Bridge Called My Back, which she edited with Gloria E. Anzaldúa in 1981 and first published through Persephone Press. This book became what Moraga calls “the Bible for women of color” (WOC) feminism, because nothing like it was available for women who truly needed it before. Its original mission was to find its way into every city and corner, and it certainly did. Intersectionality could no longer be ignored or denied. It allowed women, all kinds of women, to speak out and be heard. Upon discovering This Bridge Called My Back, “women of color feel their consciences catch fire,” Moraga said. Having felt out of place, unrecognized, unimportant, women of color were able to feel connected, to realize their power and value, through this book.
Moraga explained that the process of writing and publishing This Bridge Called My Back tore her up because the radical feminist WOC vision of change didn’t produce the results she and the other women hoped for. During the years after publication, she said there was a systematic breakdown of social justice movements politically and economically. Many of President Reagan’s policies were detrimental for women and nearly cast out people of color all together. Feminists struggled to keep momentum and conversations going, but they feared they would be drowned out. Luckily, this discourse is quickly re-emerging.
It’s strange to think of the 1990s as a time where anything happened, especially political or social turmoil, because I spent those years in such an ignorant bliss of childhood. But as an adult, I look back and realize that the years before and after my birth were harrowing times when women and people of color had to relentlessly lay the stone path to lead to where we are now. I am certainly grateful for activists such as Moraga who worked so hard for the change in which they believe.
This Bridge Called My Back was written by radical women of color during a time when their voices were muffled under the louder voices of white feminists and shut out completely by systems of power. These women sought to bring forth recognition of the importance of intersecting identities in this country, emphasizing race and class. This anthology brought together the many WOC voices into one powerful, unforgettable collection of experiences and ideas linking feminism, race, gender, sexuality, and class. This book allowed them to express to women the experiences that divide feminists in order to come together.
I have always known feminism to be about all identities, that we are yearning to bring equity and importance to everyone no matter their race, gender, sexuality, class, or ability. I recognize this has a lot to do with my generation and the way the movement has shifted. It is hard for me to imagine feminism as an exclusive movement, one that favored middle-class white women who had the privilege of being radical. Of course, this makes sense. How can we expect women to be outrageous and misbehave when oppression breathes down their necks, and their lives literally depend on staying in line?
One thing that struck me most in Moraga’s presentation was the idea that oppression is simultaneous. In movements of social justice, nobody should be asking, “What about me?” because, as Moraga made me realize, freedom of one group of people means freedom of all, because it means the breaking down of all systems of oppression. Nobody is free from oppression until we all are, until systems of power change fundamentally or topple entirely to allow equality for everyone.
To me, feminism (of all kinds) is a freedom movement. Freedom to unapologetically be who you are. Freedom to commit acts of resistance against the patriarchy on a global scale. Freedom to fight back. Feminism is a way to connect us all and give us the freedom to make change.
Books and collections like This Bridge Called My Back are invaluable to those of us who seek social justice and change in this world, and to those whose identities have not been given the importance and recognition deserved.
“We wrote this book for you,” Moraga said, “and the next generation, and the next after that.”
Kelsey Sutton | @kelsanne92