In this lively, thought-provoking study, AnaLouise Keating writes in the traditions of radical U.S. women-of-color feminist/womanist thought and queer studies, inviting us to transform how we think about identity, difference, social justice and social change, metaphysics, reading, and teaching. Through detailed investigations of women of color theories and writings, indigenous thought, and her own personal and pedagogical experiences, Keating develops transformative modes of engagement that move through oppositional approaches to embrace interconnectivity as a framework for identity formation, theorizing, social change, and the possibility of planetary citizenship. Speaking to many dimensions of contemporary scholarship, activism, and social justice work, Transformation Now! calls for and enacts innovative, radically inclusionary ways of reading, teaching, and communicating.
|Publisher:||University of Illinois Press|
|Edition description:||1st Edition|
|Product dimensions:||6.10(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
AnaLouise Keating is a professor of women's studies at Texas Woman's University and the author of Teaching Transformation: Transcultural Classroom Dialogues and other books.
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Toward a Post-oppositional Politics of Change
By AnaLouise Keating
UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESSCopyright © 2013 AnaLouise Keating
All rights reserved.
Theorizing Interconnectivity with/in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color
Every generation that reads This Bridge Called My Back rewrites it.
Gloria Anzaldúa, "Preface: (Un)natural bridges, (Un)safe spaces"
Much like the language of diversity, the language of intersectionality, its very invocation, it seems, largely substitutes for intersectional analysis itself.
Jasbir K. Puar, "'I would rather be a cyborg than a goddess'"
First published in 1981, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color has become a classic of sorts, a frequently cited text in feminist scholarship, histories of U.S. feminism, and women's studies curriculum. Co-edited by Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, this multigenre collection brought together twenty-nine U.S. feminists from diverse ethnic/racial, economic, sexual, religious, and national backgrounds. I underscore the contributors' feminist politics: This Bridge Called My Back reminded readers that feminism was not—and never has been—a 'white'-raced movement. In addition to enacting this more accurate, expansive definition of feminism, This Bridge invited women of colors to develop new alliances with one another while, simultaneously, challenging 'white'-identified middle-class women feminists to recognize and rectify their racism, classism, and other biases. In so doing, This Bridge Called My Back broke new ground and was instrumental in introducing intersectionality into mainstream feminist discourse. But This Bridge Called My Back is even more innovative and visionary than this list would suggest: intersectionality is not only introduced and enacted within its pages; it's also superceded. As I explain later in this chapter, several Bridge contributors moved beyond intersectionality to offer complex relational perspectives on identity formation and alliance-making—perspectives that feminists and other social-justice scholars have not yet adequately acknowledged or explored.
During the past thirty years, This Bridge Called My Back has served as a lifeline for many U.S. women of colors—myself included. I encountered This Bridge in a used bookstore back in 1990, near the end of my graduate school education, at a time in my life when I was foundering in a sea of unacknowledged-yet-all-encompassing 'whiteness.' Reading This Bridge changed my life, initiating me into a conversion experience of sorts. This Bridge Called My Back introduced me, simultaneously and serendipitously, to feminism and to threshold theories; it opened a doorway into a community of like-minded people and spiritual activists—what Gloria Anzaldúa describes as almas afines or Toni Cade Bambara calls "potent networks of all the daughters of the ancient mother cultures" (vi). This Bridge Called My Back gave me permission to acknowledge and explore both my ancestral heritage and my metaphysical longings and beliefs. More importantly, though, This Bridge Called My Back offered me a new way of thinking and a new framework; even as it introduced me to intersectionality, it invited me to move through the intersections, to reach beyond intersectionality and into a metaphysics of interconnectedness.
Building on this framework of radical interconnectedness, in this chapter I argue that This Bridge Called My Back contains important lessons for all social-justice actors (scholars, activists, students, and more)—no matter how we identify. While these lessons are, themselves, intersectional, they also point to intersectionality's limitations. Just as This Bridge was ahead of its time in illustrating and enacting intersectionality, so can we look at This Bridge to find an early enactment of what I call a politics of interconnectivity. This politics, which moves from interconnectivity to inter-relationality, offers a radically inclusionary approach.
This Bridge Called My Back's challenge to status-quo stories
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Colors has the potential to alter the psychic landscape of twentieth- and twenty-first-century U.S. feminist thought. Drawing on her personal experiences as a witness to the birth of This Bridge Called My Back, Chela Sandoval makes a similar point, noting that
This Bridge was constructed as a mechanism meant to call up and recognize experiences—and to make them matter differently. In 1981, this mechanism changed the authors themselves, who became the very warriors they swore to become through the publication of their words. Bridge effected this affirmative transformation in writers and readers alike in much the same way that a contract assures, confirms, promises. The writing or reading of Bridge incurred a debt of honor: Its narrative worked in perception in much the same way as a vow, an action that requires a heightened moral consciousness by persons performing it. Through this vow—which was performed as litany, promise, covenant, or guarantee—"radical feminists of color" became women of words, speaking, writing, commanding, directing, giving meaning to silence and, as Anzaldúa writes, ... transcending the word through code: a password: "I act with my heart in my hand," she explains. We disputed the Logos even as we were after the word. The post word. ("Foreword" 22)
As Sandoval suggests, This Bridge Called My Back can activate language's performative power, offering new tools and visions for transformation on multiple levels—ranging from individual authors and readers to larger concepts of meaning, or what Sandoval here calls "the Logos." And yet, so much of this "affirmative transformation" remains inert.
Despite scholars' frequent references to This Bridge Called My Back, the book's impact on the development and interpretation of twentieth-century feminist scholarship has been much less extensive than its iconic status would suggest. While the book is referenced in order to illustrate a shift in mainstream feminism, it is not used to theorize or to further develop these alterations. As Norma Alarcón observed in 1990, although mainstream feminists often paid reverential respect toward This Bridge Called My Back and used it to acknowledge women's diversity, these acknowledgments were casual and superficial, masking a continued focus on gender defined in overly simplified, monolithic terms. Chela Sandoval makes a similar point: "The publication of This Bridge Called My Back in 1981 made the singular presence of U.S. third world feminism impossible to ignore on the same terms as it had been throughout the 1970s. But soon the writings and theoretical challenges by such feminists of color were marginalized into the category of what Allison Jaggar characterized in 1983 as mere 'description,' and their essays deferred to what Hester Eisenstein in 1985 called 'the special force of poetry,' while the shift in paradigm ... represented in the praxis of U.S. third world feminism, was bypassed and ignored" (Methodology 47). In short, during the first two decades of This Bridge Called My Back's life, Bridge contributors' important theoretical innovations were almost entirely ignored as mainstream feminist scholars reduced This Bridge to eloquent descriptions of the status quo. But what about now? Have things changed in the twenty-first century? Has feminist theorizing (finally!) learned from the book's challenges? Do contemporary feminist theorists (of all colors) integrate contributors' most radical lessons into their own lives and build on the book's invitation to consider identity issues in more complex terms?
My desire to explore these questions, coupled with my alienation both from feminist theory and from the academic feminists in my life at that time, compelled me, in the late 1990s, to ask Gloria Anzaldúa if she'd be willing to revisit This Bridge Called My Back and co-edit, with me, a follow-up book that we would publish in 2001 to mark This Bridge's twentieth anniversary. I knew, from my previous work with Anzaldúa, that she had been somewhat disappointed both with This Bridge Called My Back and with its scholarly reception, that she had envisioned a more transgressive and provocative book.
As Anzaldúa and I envisioned it, our new collection (eventually titled this bridge we call home: radical visions for transformation) would not just celebrate This Bridge Called My Back. Nor would it be oppositional, condemning the limitations in mainstream scholars' lack of serious critical engagement with the book. Instead, we would take a relational, performative approach and build on earlier work. Our collection would assess feminist progress and invite readers of all colors to develop Bridge contributors' insights by creating additional theories and practices designed to enact transformation. In the words of Max Wolf Valerio, a contributor to our book and to the original Bridge, we wanted to encourage (and prod!) "feminism ... [to] stretch toward an unseen place" (252).
Our hunch, as we began editing the new bridge collection, was that feminist, queer, and other social-justice theories were, in many ways, stuck—circling around a few contentious issues, locked into several theoretical ruts, trapped by their oppositional thinking. We wanted to shake up feminist theorizing and create a radically inclusionary, groundbreaking volume. Key to this desire was our inclusive stance: While This Bridge was a product of the mid-twentieth century and thus intentionally and necessarily focused exclusively on women of colors' writings, we wanted to open the gates, so to speak, and invite contributions from a wide array of people—anyone who had been impacted by the ideas in This Bridge. We did not view our inclusive invitation as a betrayal or a diminishment of women-of-colors work but rather as an evolutionary development, an infusion of women-of-colors theorizing and perspectives across a broad spectrum of issues, concerns, and peoples. As in This Bridge Called My Back, writings by and about women of colors would be foundational. The process of editing our book both challenged and confirmed our hunch that we (U.S. feminist and other social-justice scholars-activists of all colors/sexualities/ genders/etc.) have made only limited progress since the early 1980s. Or, as Anzaldúa puts it in her preface to our book, we realized "how much has shifted in the last twenty years, but also how little has changed" ("Preface" 3).
The shifts Anzaldúa refers to are important but not sufficient. To be sure, feminist scholarship and consciousness have experienced remarkable growth since the 1981 publication of This Bridge Called My Back. When I see the awareness of intersectional issues expressed by some of my own graduate students or read the powerful assertions of twenty-first-century feminists such as Indigo Violet or Aimee Carrillo Rowe, I have great hope for the future of women's studies and academic feminism more generally. As Violet asserts, describing her own experiences as well as those of her peers, "This Bridge Called My Back awakened deep truths for a generation, ... A new generation of people are taking these lessons to heart, sharing stories with each other, ... and recognizing the entwined nature of our histories and our existence in America" (486). In her writing and activism, Violet builds on Bridge insights to enact new forms of alliance-making that go beyond, without ignoring, conventional social-identity-based boundaries. Thus she describes her coalition of activists, called together in 1997 to challenge the "racism, sexism, and economic exploitation" at the New School for Social Research, as a collection of
radical women of color, pro-feminist men, and whites. We have been fundamentally transformed by the work of feminists of color who insist that we must contend with the intersections of race, class, gender, sexuality, and nation, teaching us that the personal is inherently political, and that our politics must be holistic—rooted in the erotic, in a sense of the divine. Women-of-color feminism offers models for building radical solidarity, working vigorously with difference to create coalitional identities of resistance. U.S. Third World feminism has proposed that we find wholeness in our contradictions and connection where there is seemingly disconnection. We've been inspired to mobilize an intuitive, practical, and intellectual knowledge that our togetherness can transport us to new worlds. (486)
Violet and her colleagues create new alliances based on a shared appreciation of and transformation by women-of-colors feminisms. Without ignoring the many differences among us, these inclusionary alliances insist on commonalities, or what Violet here describes as "coalitional identities" and "wholeness in our contradictions."
Similarly, in Power Lines: On the Subject of Feminist Alliances, Carrillo Rowe draws on This Bridge Called My Back and other women-of-colors and mainstream feminist scholarship to develop a theory and practice of "transracial feminist alliances," or what she calls "bridge methodology." This relational bridge method facilitates new forms of antiracist, multicultural alliances between women of colors and 'white'-raced women. Like Violet and some of the original Bridge contributors, Carrillo Rowe pays careful attention to "the intersections and overlaps between our own oppression/privilege and the conditions of those with whom we seek alliance." Through attentive listening and studious self-reflection, she explores the similarities and differences between "feminists of privilege" and women-of-colors feminists. While acknowledging the many differences between these two groups, as well as the internal distinctions within each group, Carrillo Rowe also—simultaneously—works to create complex commonalities.
However, these thoughtful inclusionary approaches are not yet the norm. At the conferences I attend, in some of the classes I teach, on the Listservs to which I subscribe, and in most of the publications I read, I still encounter similar (or, sometimes, the very same!) issues to those exposed in This Bridge Called My Back. I still experience the same types of oppositional energies and tactics: the angry, jumping-to-conclusions debates; the unthinking, knee-jerk judgments and accusations; the rigid, embattled self-naming; the stereotyping; the hierarchical rankings and "I-am-more-feminist-than-you" positionings; the restrictive identity politics expressed with unthinking regularity. All too often, self-identified feminists—no matter how they self-define (whether "of color" or "white"; whether male, female, or trans; whether lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, homosexual, or gay)—continue to judge one another based on appearance and identity labels, and condemn one another without adequately listening or (apparently) trying to understand others' perspectives. It exhausts me! Despite the book's status and its impact on some readers, its most innovative theoretical insights have not been adequately explored and applied. In fact, as I suggest later in this chapter, by ignoring This Bridge Called My Back's approach to intersectionality, we miss out on its most transformative lessons and radical challenges.
These oversights stem at least partially from and thus speak to a more widespread limitation in much progressive scholarship: All too often, feminist and other social-justice scholars remain trapped in what I call "status-quo stories": worldviews that normalize and naturalize the existing social system, values, and standards so entirely that they prevent us from imagining the possibility of change. Status-quo stories contain "core beliefs" about reality—beliefs that shape our world, though we rarely (if ever) acknowledge this creative role. I borrow the term "core beliefs" from Critical Race theorist Reginald Robinson, who in turn borrowed it from psychic and author Jane Roberts. As Robinson explains, "A core belief flows from feelings and imaginations, and ordinary people reinforce this belief through words and deeds. From this core belief, ordinary people co-create their experiences and realities. Core beliefs, experiences, and realities are concentric circles, overlapping and indistinguishable" ("Human Agency" 1370). Generally, we don't even recognize the tentative nature of these core beliefs; we have become entirely convinced that they offer accurate factual statements about all aspects of our reality—ranging from the very small (ourselves and our personal lives) to the very large (other human and nonhuman beings, the planet, the cosmos). Status-quo stories innoculate us into believing that the way things are is the way they always have been and the way they must be. This belief becomes self-fulfilling: We do not try to make change because we believe that change is impossible to make. Status-quo stories both rely on and reinforce a separatist framework and a metaphysics of negative difference. Status-quo stories are divisive, teaching us to break the world into parts and label each piece. These labels solidify, and we read them as natural descriptions about reality.
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Table of Contents
Giving Thanks xiii
Introduction. Post-Oppositional Resistance? Threshold Theories Defined and Enacted 1
But what's so bad about oppositional consciousness? 5
Threshold theorizing … defined and enacted 10
Becoming nepantleras: forging complex commonalities, making new connections 18
Tying up a few loose ends: chapter overviews and text selection 20
Postscript and invitation: A few words about my writing style, methods, and aspirations 25
1 Beyond Intersectionality: Theorizing Interconnectivity with/in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color 29
This Bridge Called My Back's challenge to status-quo stories 31
Intersectionality and status-quo thinking 37
Bridge Lesson 1 Making connections through differences, seeking commonalities 38
Bridge Lesson 2 Positing our radical interrelatedness 46
Bridge Lesson 3 The importance of listening with raw openness 52
Listening with raw openness, diving into nepantla? 56
2 "American" individualism, Variations on a Theme; or, Self-Reliance, Transformed! 60
Multiculturalisms (re) defined 63
Individualism (re) defined 67
Dialogic readings, Luxocratic visions 71
Transformed thresholds 87
3 "I am your other I": Transformational Identity Politics 89
Conventional identity politics: definitions and limitations 92
Tactical (re)naming, creating commonalities 98
Differential subject formation… becoming you, becoming myself 106
4 "There is no arcane place for return": Revisionist Mythmaking with a Difference 111
Back to the mother? Post- structuralist critiques of revisionist mythmaking 113
Language matters, poet-shaman aesthetics 118
Mythic women and redefined selves 128
Transcultural universals 136
A redemptive myth 142
5 From Self-Help to Womanist Self-Recovery; or, How Paula Gunn Allen Changed My Mind 145
Womanist self-recovery, defined 150
Six attributes of womanist self-recovery texts 152
Womanist self-recovery and (as) visionary pragmatism 165
6 Pedagogies of Invitation: From Status-Quo Stories to Cosmic Connections 167
Self-enclosed individualism and the status quo 171
New stories for transformation: planetary citizenship 175
Pedagogies of invitation… three premises 182
Open invitation to readers 187
1 Abridged Syllabus for a U.S. Women of Colors Course Reanae McNeal 189
2 Guidelines for a Workshop on Our Spoken Word: Poetry for Self and Community Erica Granados De La Rosa 203
Works Cited and Consulted 233