Monday, March 16, 2009

Building Bridges

Following on from my recent reading of Gloria Anzaldua's Borderlands/La Frontera, I've been making my way through This Bridge Called My Back, a collection of 'writings by radical women of color'. It's a challenging and inspiring experience.

One part of the PhD experience is getting heavily into a few theoretical fields or issues. You read and read, trying to make sure that you know all the important authors and perspectives. All of the debates and struggles seem to be world-shaking. Then, you step outside the field for a second and realise that there are a whole range of perspectives that just aren't represented in that world-view. There are whole other worlds: worlds where black lesbians in South Africa face horrific violence,where 39% of Indigenous Australians still live in 'low resource' households, where the women who make the electronics we use every day work in horrific conditions.

Reading This Bridge Called My Back has been reminding me of other struggles, other perspectives, that need to be addressed. At times, the authors' claims that white women (including white feminists) are racist strike a nerve with me. Sometimes it's so easy to let race disappear, to stick with the concerns that are familiar to me from my own life.

Most of the authors in the collection are open to and value collaborations with white women, but they make the persistant demand that white women educate ourselves. They expressed frustration and disappointment that they, as token representatives of various third world 'minorities', were continually being asked to speak to white women at conferences and other events. Those who are in a position of (relative) privilege have a responsibility, and the resources, to find out more about others' struggles themselves.

I feel embarrassed, sometimes, that I know so little about the ways in which Indigenous Australians are trying to resist the racism they have faced, and about the alternatives that they may offer to dominant Australian politics. I want to know more about the work of movements in the South: women's movements, farmers' movements', movements of adivasis and queers and intellectual property activists.

As well as my own reading, I hope that the Bluestocking Institute will become another way to build bridges between different perspectives. Through projects like the Community Scholars program and VOICES we're trying to reach out across the gulfs that divide us. Along the way, I expect to learn as much as I teach.

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