Rape is not…

6 11 2007

Rape is not an occupational hazard

Rape is not “theft of services”

Rape is not justified by the way a woman keeps food on the table as a single mother

Rape is violent

Rape is a community problem

Rape is not inevitable

Rape is something you can help to stop

Sex workers are not expendable people

Sex workers are not less entitled to make decisions about their own bodies than anyone else

Sex workers are not less human than you

Sex workers are particularly targeted by rape culture

Sex workers are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and precious loved-ones

Sex workers are speaking bravely in solidarity with Our Sister Survivor in Philadelphia

Sex workers deserve peace and justice, even if Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni thinks otherwise

People you know are sex workers

People you know are survivors of sexual violence

People you know are targets of sexual violence even now

What are you going to do about it?

Find out more here:


Thursday November 1, 2007


Outside Municipal Court (Criminal Justice Center)

1301 Filbert St, Philadelphia

Monday October 29, 2007

To the Editor:

We were appalled to learn that on Oct 4 Municipal Judge Teresa Carr Deni dropped all rape and assault charges in the case of a woman gang-raped at gunpoint. Because the woman was working as a prostitute, Judge Deni decided that she could not have been raped and changed the charge to “theft of services.” Deni later said that this case “minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped.”

As groups organizing against rape and in support of victims, we could not disagree more. All women have the right to protection from violence. The idea that any woman is “asking for it” is a lie that we fought for decades to destroy. It is especially offensive to see it revived by a female judge, who reached her position as a result of the women’s movement and is now using her power to deny justice to the most vulnerable women.

Deni told Daily News columnist Jill Porter that the victim met another client before reporting the rape. We have learned that this is completely untrue; the transcript of the hearing proves it. For a judge to make a false (and self-serving) accusation against a victim in the press, in addition to her prejudiced and reckless contempt for women’s safety, confirms that she is unfit to serve. The outcry following Deni‘s decision shows how out of step with public opinion she is and that most people believe that prostitute women deserve the same protection from violence that we all have a right to expect.

No woman is safe when prostitute women aren’t safe. Serial rapists and murderers often target prostitute women knowing that they are more likely to get away with it. Labeled criminals by the prostitution laws, women are less likely to report violence for fear of arrest themselves. When sex workers do report, the violence is often dismissed. Here, the same man and his friends gang-raped another woman four days later. Decisions like Deni‘s are a green light for further attacks.

The victim in this case was a Black single mother with a young child. In Philadelphia, where one in four people lives in poverty and welfare has been almost completely dismantled, many women have been forced into prostitution to survive. This should not make them fair game for rapists.

We are glad that the District Attorney is pursuing the original rape charges. The public can make our voices heard in the November 6 election: vote “No” on the retention of Teresa Carr Deni as Judge of the Municipal Court of Philadelphia.

Mary Kalyna

On behalf of

Global Women’s Strike

Philadelphia, PA


Women Against Rape

US PROStitutes Collective

Black Women’s Rape Action Project (BWRAP)

Legal Action for Women

Every Mother is a Working Mother Network

Wages Due Lesbians

Payday Men’s Network

Posted on November 2, 2007 by staceyswimme

For immediate release

Contact: 877-776-2004 info@DesireeAlliance.orgRape is NOT an Occupational Hazard!

Sex Workers Join Women’s Groups and Sexual Assault Survivors’ Groups to Urge PA Voters to Vote ‘No’ on the Retention of Judge Teresa Carr Deni

Judge Teresa Carr Deni spawned outrage from all directions after ruling on October 4th that a sex worker that was raped at gunpoint by multiple men was NOT sexually assaulted, rather she was just robbed. Deni commented in an Oct. 12th interview that this case “minimizes true rape cases and demeans women who are really raped.”

Grassroots activists around the country, including nationwide sex worker-led organizations such as the Desiree Alliance and regional advocacy groups from coast to coast responded with anger and disgust for Deni’s disregard of the basic human rights of the rape victim in this case. “Deni’s decision in this case sends a message that sex workers can be targeted for violence with impunity. Rape of sex workers is common, alarmingly under-reported, and rarely taken seriously by authorities,” Kitten Infinite of Sex Workers’ Outreach Project said. “Violence against sex workers is perpetuated by the state through discriminatory laws and judicial rulings such as this.”

Sex workers in the US and abroad are organizing and becoming more vocal about the violence and discrimination that they face. “Because prostitution is criminalized, our human rights and our boundaries are clearly not respected,” Mariko Passion, a board member from the Desiree Alliance commented, she continues, “…forcing or manipulating sexual intercourse by fraud, fear or coercion is rape.” On Oct 30th, after considerable pressure from sex workers and feminists around the country, the PA Bar Association issued a statement condemning Deni’s action, stating that, “The victim has been brutalized twice in this case: first by the assailants, and now by the court.”

The Desiree Alliance applauds Association Chancellor Jane Dalton’s review of the matter and we find some satisfaction in the fact that the District Attorney’s office has re-filed rape charges against the perpetrator of this despicable crime. However, we still call on voters to vote ‘No’ on retaining Deni in the election on November 6th. The Desiree Alliance will hold a virtual press conference and rally on Monday, November 5th at 5pm Eastern for sex workers and allies to comment publicly about this case and how to prevent further discrimination against sex workers.

Who: Desiree Alliance and Affiliates

What: “Rape is NOT an Occupational Hazard!” Virtual rally

Why: Judge Teresa Carr Deni should not be retained as a Municipal Court Judge in Philadelphia

When: Monday, November 5, 2007 5pm Eastern, 2pm Pacific

Where: http://www.BoundNotGagged.com

By Sudy!

6 11 2007


NEW!: “NO!” Study Guide

14 10 2007

Unveiling the Silence: NO! The Rape Documentary Study Guide

Created by Salamishah Tillet, Ph.D. and Rachel Afi Quinn

With the Creative and Editorial Direction of Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Producer, Writer, and Director of NO!The Rape Documentary

Graphic Design by Kavita Rajanna & NO! Logo Design by Traci McKindra

Funded by the Ford Foundation

NO! The Rape Documentary Study Guide  (available as for free as a downloadable pdf in its entirety and in sections; and for purchase)

A tool for educators and workshop facilitators. This study guide may be used within a workshop, class session, or semester-long course. You may decide to screen the documentary film in its entirety or use segments integrated into a broader course addressing race, gender, and sexuality. Viewing the film in segments allows for discussion related to themed sections. You may choose to work through the study guide chapter by chapter, or use it as a jumping off point for student-led exercises or longer activities.

A tool for everyone. Our hope is that this study guide will be used as a companion to the film NO! by all individuals who are taking action in their communities to educate themselves and each other about rape and sexual assault. The film will get conversations going in your communities and on your campuses. You might host a screening of the film as a one-time event in your dorm, classroom, church, mosque, rape crisis center, shelter, correctional facility, living room, or in a community space, and facilitate a group discussion immediately following the screening or in the days following.

This 100-page guide includes:

• Producer/Director Statement

• Summaries of the different DVD chapters of NO! The Rape Documentary

• Excerpts from the transcribed testimonies of rape survivors and quotes from the documentary to spark discussion

• Myths and facts about rape and sexual assault so participants in discussions have relevant information regarding the truth about sexual violence and its impact

• A glossary of terms useful for talking about sexual assault in the African-American community

• Discussion questions about the subject of sexual assault to promote positive and informative conversations for participants

• Worksheets and handouts for participants to use to reflect on what they think they know about rape and sexual violence in their communities

• Additional essays on the role of religion in violence against women and the role of dance in healing sexual violence

• Production stills from the documentary.

• A bibliography of books, journals and articles on sexual violence

• A detailed listing of national organizations that address all forms of sexual violence



“A Song for New Orleans” featuring Monica Dillon

Check out the most recent media coverage on Aishah and NO! (The Rape Documentary) http://www.notherapedocumentary.org/reviews_press.html

“I have seen a lot of documentaries about sexual violence in my 15 years as a film programmer, and ‘NO!’ is by far the most well made, riveting, and poignant… The strength of ‘NO!’ in reaching its viewers is significant, it’s scope and ability to compel are astounding- all women can relate to this film.”
KJ Mohr, Film & Media Arts Programmer, National Museum of Women in the Arts

“If the Black community in the Americas and in the world would heal itself, it must complete the work [NO!] begins.”
Alice Walker, Pulitzer Prize Winning Author, The Color Purple

How Do ‘We’ Keep A Social Movement Alive?

24 09 2007

from: Fal25

How Do We Keep A Social Movement Alive

This movie documents the silence surrounding Megan Williams’ torture and rape in Logan and the gang rape of several Black women in West Palm Beach Florida.

The purpose of this movie is to document the silences within our relationships, within our homes, within our families, within our communities, within our jobs, within our schools, within our churches, temples, and synagogues, within our governments, and within our world. We want you to share with the world all your stories of injustice. Stories that the media, elected leaders, self appointed leaders, associations, and organizations choose to ignore and not speak out on. We want to document so many silences that the silences become uncensored uninhibited noise.

Important New Blog: Black and Missing But Not Forgotten

14 08 2007

This blog is dedicated to all the missing black women in America. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr once said “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” If the media doesn’t step up – who will? Let these ladies know that we did not forget about them.

Deidre, “just a concerned Black woman,” has stepped up where mainstream media left off – by loving black women enough to notice when we disappear.  Many thanks to her for her work, and for her demonstration of what can be done, and must be done, for ourselves.  Stop by and support her today!


Welcome! As stated in my title, this blog is dedicated to all the missing black women of America. A couple of weeks ago I was reading a blog about a missing black woman named Stepha Henry. I did not know who she was [and was very embarrassed that I didn’t] but once I did more research on her – it was sad to see that she did not get the coverage she needed in the media because of the Paris Hilton case. [See next post for more info on Stepha Henry]

After I did my research on Henry, I tried googling “black missing females” and other variations of it to see if I can find a website or a blog just like this one. Unfortunately after a couple of hours I found little results. A couple days later I finally hit jackpot and found over 200 missing black females from the month of Jan 2007 until June 2007. Most of them we probably never heard of either because of lack of media attention or not enough exposure for them to be found.

So why am I doing this? Very simple. If I don’t do it who will? The media? Why wait for the media to do something like this when all it take is time, research and most of all dedication? Anybody can do this. Why not now? I think the families of these girls deserve for their loved ones to come home. This is just a small step towards making that happen. 🙂

In These Times: “Stories of Survival”

6 08 2007

original article located here

Features > June 29, 2007

Stories of Survival

NO! explores rape within the African-American community and fights society’s instinct to focus on the racism outside while turning a deaf ear to gender violence within

By Cynthia Greenlee-Donnell

The documentary NO! chips away at the myths and silence surrounding sexual assault it he black community

Filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons didn’t miss a beat when a white, female student told her at a 2003 Boston College screening of her documentary NO!, “Until I saw your film, I didn’t know that black women could be raped.” Simmons, a Philadelphia resident, calmly asked the young woman why she believed such a thing. The student replied that she didn’t think black women, simultaneously praised and pilloried for their strength, would stand for such a violation—as if sexual-violence victims are able to negotiate with attackers or deter them with a hefty serving of attitude.That wasn’t the case with Simmons, now 38, who was sexually assaulted in 1989, when she was a 19-year-old Temple University sophomore on a foreign exchange program to Mexico. A clandestine date—outside the dorm and the curfew hours—turned into a rape that left her pregnant and so devastated that she dropped out of college. Nor was that the case with the women whose stories Simmons has included in NO!, which explores rape within the African-American community.

Among them is a woman who was raped by her mentor, the university’s highest ranking black administrator; another whose fraternity boyfriend wouldn’t take no for an answer; and yet another who struggles with bulimia decades after her first boyfriend beat and raped her after she refused to have sex outside.

For Simmons, NO! has been a labor of love to make the film she wanted, regardless of how long it took. Simmons began filming interviews in 1994 with co-producer Tamara Xavier, but the documentary wasn’t released until 2006, largely because of the struggle to find $300,000 in necessary funding.

With NO!, Simmons hopes to chip away at the myths and disquieting silence surrounding sexual assault in the black community, which has traditionally been so attuned to racism outside that it has largely turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to gender violence within.

“There’s this notion,” says Simmons, “that when black women come forward [and say they’ve been raped], that we’re a traitor to the race. I wanted to show these women, their faces, their names. I understand privacy and shame, but shame should be on the perpetrators.”

Simmons followed the case of Desiree Washington, the beauty queen who accused boxer Mike Tyson of raping her in 1991 in his hotel room. (Tyson served three years in prison.) Then came the campaign to “save” Tyson and discredit Washington—complete with T-shirts proclaiming his innocence. In NO!, Simmons includes footage of Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan asking what Washington expected when she went to Tyson’s room as other faith leaders cackle in agreement.

Simmons wondered why those leaders and others never acknowledged that rape isn’t typically a crime committed by a stranger and that, for most black women, the perpetrator is an acquaintance who looks like them. The lack of critical reaction from the black community in the wake of the Washington case, combined with a 1994 trip to South Africa, where she met activists working on issues of sexual assault, galvanized her to make NO!. It is estimated that as many as half of all South African women will be raped in their lifetimes.

American women are also vulnerable to sexual assault. According to a study by the National Institute of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, one in every six U.S. women will be subjected to sexual assault or an attempted assault during her lifetime. The organization’s “Prevalence, Incidence and Consequences of Violence Against Women Survey” estimates that 18.8 percent of black women will survive a rape or attempted rape—making them only slightly more likely than the general population (17.6 percent) and white women (17.7 percent) to experience such a crime, but much less likely to be raped than Native Americans.

Numbers alone don’t express the full extent of rape or sexual assault in the black community—a topic that has probably been discussed more extensively in novels such as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple than in real life. Black women must deal with competing interests—protecting one’s self versus protecting the image of black men in a society where black men are the usual suspects of sexual crimes, facing the distrust of the police versus the need for personal security—that reduce the chance they will report rape.

With the help of anthropologist and former Spelman College President Johnnetta Cole, historian Beverly Guy-Sheftall and former Black Panther Elaine Brown, NO! examines the historical forces that foster sexual violence—and suppress dialogue about it—in black communities. In a country built on slavery, which was predicated on control of black labor and reproduction, black women have been regarded as perpetually sexually available or “unrapeable.” They have never fit easily into the “good girl” mold.

“I realized that I couldn’t talk about sexual assault in the African-American community without talking about slavery,” says Simmons. “If somebody owns you, how do you have the right to consent?”

NO! is generating discussion within the black community. In 2003, writer Kevin Powell (who is black) showed an unfinished cut to a crowd of hundreds—including many African-American men—on a wintry Friday night in Harlem. Men are a vital part of the solution, says Nia Wilson, the associate director of Spirit House, an arts and cultural nonprofit in Durham, N.C. “This is not about going after black men,” she says. “This is about uncovering something we need to address, and we need to address it together. Men are the only ones who can stop rape, no matter what we say, no matter how much light we shine on it.”

Wilson, who is black and a sexual-violence survivor, is also a member of UBUNTU, a coalition that combats racism and violence. Simmons allowed UBUNTU to use NO! to foster dialogue around North Carolina. Wilson recalls a screening for a white audience that was disengaged from the topic. All of the reactions Wilson had learned to expect—tears, outrage, personal testimonies—didn’t happen. The audience members acknowledged the violence, but their comments and lack of emotion told her that they couldn’t relate to this type of violence.

Wilson told the audience, “I can watch a Lifetime movie with a cast full of white people and cry because I’m conditioned to relate to you. But you are not conditioned to relate to me. You, especially this group who thinks you’re so politically correct, you cannot watch a movie with people with brown skin and see yourself.”

Bryan Proffitt, a 28-year-old white schoolteacher and UBUNTU member, says that talking about rape and race requires starting from a framework that acknowledges a history of interracial violence, white supremacy, male domination and myths that need debunking. “There’s always a good bit of anxiety about how white folks are going to see this film. ‘Oh, look, black guys are rapists. We knew that.’ We’ve always tried to be careful of framing this film beforehand because we recognize that white people come in with that particular narrative and we want to challenge that before they see it.”

Before each screening, the UBUNTU facilitator reads a statement that lists 27 reasons the film is being shown, including: “Because the stories of survivors of sexual assault are powerful and sacred.” “Because there are survivors here.” “Because this film holds us all accountable for the world that we comply with and perpetuate.”

This April, NO! was selected as a featured resource by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center. “Everywhere I’ve shown the film,” says Simmons, “someone comes up and discloses she’s a survivor. I could be the only black woman in the room—me and the women on the film—in Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, women stand up and say, ‘This is my story.’”

For more information on NO!, visit www.notherapedocumentary.org.

Beatriz Badikian-Gartler – I HEAR YOU SISTER: Women of Color Speak (to Each Other)

30 06 2007

I HEAR YOU SISTER: Women of Color Speak (to Each Other)
Beatriz Badikian-Gartler, Chicago
(2006) The International Fiction Review 33: 64-70



I first read the collection This Bridge Called My Back[i] in 1981 for a class I took on feminist philosophy. At that time, I let it wash over me, I let it enter me. It was one of several texts we had to read for the class. But soon, it became the only book that mattered. I read it, then discussed it in class and, when school was over, took it with me on a long journey through Europe. It became my friend and confidante during lonely nights in strange cities. I identified with the women and their writing; they became my compañeras who said the things I had been thinking of for years but had not been able to articulate. They showed me that what I had been and was feeling and thinking was not strange, unusual, crazy. They spoke for me and with me. Years later, in graduate school, I picked up This Bridge once again. It was for a class on African-American women writers and dialogics. And, when the professor spoke about Mae Henderson’s essay


Speaking in Tongues,”[ii] the proverbial light bulb flashed in my head. Anzaldua’s “Speaking in Tongues”[iii] came rushing out, flooding my mind with the connections between Latinas and African-American women, so obvious that I hadn’t seen them until then, so obvious to me now that I don’t understand why more work on this is not done.

Gloria Anzaldua’s “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” one of the essays in the collection, was written over a period of five days. The first section serves as an introduction to the problems that Third-World women writers face in the United States. The second section intersects Anzaldua’s privileged position as writer/teacher/publisher with her daily struggle against racism, sexism, and the Anglo-male-mainstream efforts to silence her. The third and final section offers readers a clear picture of the tasks at hand, the alternatives for the future.

This essay is a conversation between Anzaldua’s essay and the words of African-American women writers and scholars speaking through my elaborations and annotations. And, although dated, it is still relevant. Racism and sexism still live among us, still affect our daily lives. It is obviously a hypothetical conversation that needs to become a reality. For too long women of color in the United States have stayed in their communities, fought the same battles separately, and suffered similar casualties on their own. Yet, it is so transparently clear to me that we have much more in common than not. We are sisters in the struggle and must share the triumphs. Witness Anzaldua’s opening line: A Letter to 3rd World Women Writers: 21 mayo 80 Dear mujeres de color, companions in writing…. The epistolary form is always a dialogue, albeit one carried out in silence. It presumes a reader-or more than one. The use of the epistolary form by women of color, such as Alice Walker in The Color Purple, is explored in Mae Henderson’s essay “The Color Purple: Revisions and Redefinitions.”[iv]

Henderson posits this use as a subversion of the form created by men to write about women and, in the process, inscribe male control over literary images of women, a form later appropriated by white women writers as well. By choosing the epistolary style, Third-World women writers are “able to draw on a form which places [their] work in a tradition associated with women, allows a feminine narrative voice, and establishes a bond and intimacy between women.” Furthermore, Henderson


theorizes that “Walker’s use of the vernacular … has invested an old and somewhat rigid form with new life.”[v]

Similarly, Anzaldua’s use of Spanish functions as a vernacular: to breathe new life into an old body, subverting a traditional form with original and culturally specific forms, namely, the linguistic code switch between English and Spanish common in the Latino community. And Anzaldua continues: … I sit here naked in the sun typewriter against my knee trying to visualize you…. “What is at once characteristic and suggestive about black women’s writing is its interlocutory, or dialogic, character, reflecting not only a relationship with the ‘other(s),’ but an internal dialogue with the plural aspects of self that constitute the matrix of black female subjectivity,” writes Mae Henderson in her own “Speaking in Tongues.”[vi]

She envisions black women’s writing as, in the words of Bakhtin, “a unique collaboration with oneself,” claiming a dialogue with an imaginary other outside the self as well as with the varied aspects within herself. Similarly, Gloria Anzaldua imagines her companions while she writes: the Black woman who huddles over a desk in New York, the Chicana sitting on a porch in South Texas, the Indian woman walking to school, the Asian-American tugged in all directions by children and husband. These women are at once external to Anzaldua because of their racial, social, historical, and cultural variations and internal to her, representing “a dialectic of identity [of] those aspects of self shared with others.”[vii]

This “simultaneity of discourse,”[viii] as posited by Henderson, becomes a literal simultaneity when Anzaldua visualizes the women sitting down, attempting to write as if they were in the same room with her, sharing her struggle, almost becoming her. And then Anzaldua says: It is not easy writing this letter. It began as a poem, a long poem. I tried to turn it into an essay but the result was wooden, cold…. How to begin. How to approximate the intimacy and immediacy I want. What form? A letter, of course…. The African-American scholar Joyce Ann Joyce compares Black poststructuralist critics to their white counterparts in their adoption of an alienating discourse that speaks only “to a small, isolated audience,” calling their language “pseudoscientific.”[ix]


This need to communicate directly and deeply drives Anzaldua to the epistolary form, privileging it over other genres and styles. Later Anzaldua writes: … My dear hermanas, the dangers we face as women writers of color are not the same as those of white women though we have many in common…. We can’t transcend the dangers, can’t rise above them…. In describing the struggle of the Black creative writer, Joyce points out her need to “establish a connection between the self and many people outside that self”[xi] through language, sharing experiences that bond the women with the strongest possible ties. Anzaldua’s greeting as hermanas (sisters) declares one of the strongest bonds between women, second only to the bond between mothers and daughters. United by the dangers we face every day and unable to avoid them, we struggle together, creating alliances, useful in future struggles. Drawing the battle lines clearly, Anzaldua’s positioning allows all women writers of color to enter the conversation and, in the process, become visible. She writes: … Unlikely to be friends of people in high literary places, the beginning writer woman of color is invisible both in the white male mainstream world and in the white women’s feminist world, though in the latter this is gradually changing. The lesbian of color is not only invisible, she doesn’t even exist. Our speech, too, is inaudible. She calls this speech “speaking in tongues” and prefigures Henderson’s trope for the simultaneous “plurality of voices” and “multiplicity of discourses” present in the writings of African-American women.[xii]

Then Anzaldua adds: We speak in tongues like the outcast and the insane…. Although her attribution of this speech to the outcast and insane appears to deprivilege it, her own use of the language in her writing contradicts the superficially negative characterization. When her attention turns to white women, her position seems more ambivalent since they enjoy certain privileges in racial and ethnic terms yet struggle because of their gender. In the paragraphs that follow, Anzaldua addresses her teachers who did not allow her to speak her Spanish language, much less teach it, the language that reflects “our culture, our spirit.” When Alice Walker speaks of the creativity of black women in her essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” she offers the examples of numerous mothers and grandmothers, women who were not allowed to express their creativity in traditional forms and had to resort to gardening, cooking, sewing, in order to allow the creative spark to flourish.

Anzaldua’s indictment of the status quo continues in a poem that functions as a dialogue on three different levels: on a superficial level, the poem is addressed to the mainstream’s preconceived ideas about Third-World women based on their use of a different language; on a genre level, its inclusion in the essay becomes a


dialogue between creative writing and nonfiction writing; and finally, on a textual level, the figure of the “mother” in the poem, whose voice in the distance she cannot understand, connects her to Walker’s mother and grandmothers who “knew what we / must know / without knowing a page / of it / themselves”[xiii]

Anzaldua continues, by questioning her right to choose to become a writer, to believe she has something to contribute when everything and everyone around her seems to deny that. Her response: …I think, yes, perhaps if we go to the university…. They convince us that we must cultivate art for art’s sake…. Achieve in order to win the coveted title “literary writer” … above all do not be simple, direct, nor immediate…. In her essay “The Race for Theory,” African-American scholar Barbara Christian presents her critique of what she calls the “academic hegemony” and its language, which she describes as alienating, unnecessarily complicated, and just plain ugly.[xiv]

Anzaldua prefigures Christian’s position, stating that this type of abstract theoretical language only serves to isolate the writer/scholar from the masses. Simultaneously, however, Christian observes that theoretical and creative writing can serve as a political tool if they are rooted in practice, avoiding the pitfalls of elitism and exclusivity. By problematizing feminist theories that “do not take into account … that women are of many races and ethnic backgrounds,” theories that collapse all women of color into one single, monolithic category, ignoring distinctions,[xv]

Christian parallels Anzaldua’s stereotypical images of passive Black, Chinese, Chicana, and Indian women who know how to treat a man. Yet these women revolt: … When you come knocking on our doors with your rubber stamps to brand our faces … when you come with your branding irons to burn MY PROPERTY on our buttocks, we will vomit the guilt … we are tired of being your scapegoats…. Anzaldua’s image here mirrors Shirley Williams’s protagonist Dessa Rose; those identifying Rs branded on her thigh and hip by the slave owner constitute an act of discursive domination over Dessa’s body and relegate her to the status of object. Struggling to gain her subjectivity, Anzaldua questions her compelling need to write. Her answer: … Because the writing saves me …. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive…. In another mirroring effect, Barbara Christian declares, “what I write and how I write is done in order to save my own life.”[xvi]

The need to exist and to


affirm that existence drives both women to write. Furthermore, Anzaldua insists on being the one to write her own stories; to make myself (169), she adds, just like Sula does in Toni Morrison’s eponymous novel, who declares her need to make herself and not anyone else when confronted with the issue of marriage. Sula’s characteristic outspokenness and disregard for the objections of the community about her behavior complement Anzaldua’s need to write about the unmentionables (169), disregarding the outrage of censors and audience alike. Writing represents an act of resistance in Anzaldua’s life. Imposed definitions must be fought. The need to survive is stronger than the fear of surrendering: I’m scared of writing but I’m more scared of not writing (169), she proclaims in one line, yet in the next she questions herself on her merits, her qualifications. Her answer: … The act of writing is the act of making soul…. It is the quest for the self, for the center of the self, which we women of color have come to think as other – the dark, the feminine … we knew we were different, set apart, exiled… (169).

Anzaldua’s use of the metaphor of making soul not only echoes the by now familiar use of this image by African-American people but also foreshadows the next collection edited by Gloria Anzaldua, titled Making Face, Making Soul. Elaborating on this act of making soul, Anzaldua offers the images of “other,” “quest for self,” and “exile,” also by now familiar tropes in the writings of African-American women. Characters such as Sula, Janie, Celie, and others exemplify this quest for acceptance by the world outside and the world inside.

Their own communities, where they often return in search of solace and acceptance, are not always welcoming. Writing seems to be the answer for Anzaldua as well as for many of the Black women writers who, through their protagonists and in a dialectical fashion, attempt to uncover and discover the sites of oppression and repression while, simultaneously, creating a safe space for themselves. A few days later, in the section that follows, Gloria Anzaldua exhorts the women of color to write no matter what the difficulties may be. Situating herself in a relatively privileged position where she can “lie in bed” and write all day, her attention turns to those who should write while riding the bus or waiting in the welfare line, during meals or before going to sleep. “While you wash the floor … listen to the words chanting in your body” (170), she suggests, because writing is essential to survival. Finally, the concluding letter addresses the tasks at hand and places responsibility squarely on the women’s shoulders. Quoting Alice Walker’s words from “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Anzaldua questions the fate of all the women who throughout history were not allowed to express their creativity, speculating that if they had been, they would have achieved the power required to defeat oppression.


 Writing that brings on change in the lives of poor children, women, people of color; writing that is born from real human beings and returns to them liberatory and useful: this is Anzaldua’s solution for what she and Barbara Christian and Joyce Ann Joyce see as the problem with detached, objective writing. In the last few lines, Anzaldua introduces the trope of the howl, “a form of speaking in tongues and a linguistic disruption that serves as the precondition for Sula’s entry into language” (33). This sound allows Sula’s expression of her subjectivity as a Black female, just as Anzaldua demands that women of color appropriate that howl and transform it into words, into a language that will free us materially, emotionally, and intellectually.

Gloria Anzaldua speaks to numerous interlocutors, on a multitude of levels, in several tongues. The African-American women respond-through my reading of their words-on a number of levels. Letters, poems, and journal entries included in the epistolary essay constitute a dialogue between genres. English is not the only tongue of choice; Spanish takes its rightful place in the writing. In this way, genres and languages meet and speak to each other as the women speak to each other, with each other. And they listen. We listen. We meet at a crossroad-in this case called academia-as Third-World women writers and critics; we meet at a wider space and open ourselves up and interact with one another freely. Their task, our task, is to unravel, explain, and transform our work into meaningful, useful, and empowering tools for our lives. This Bridge Called My Back has been one of these tools, a markedly important one in the trajectory of Third-World women writers.

This conversation ends here. But it must continue in real life. And it will.

1 Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds., This Bridge Called My Back, 2nd ed. (New York: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, 1983).2 Mae Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues: Dialogics, Dialectics, and the Black Woman Writer’s Literary Tradition,” Changing Our Own Words, ed. Cheryl Wall (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1989).

3 Gloria Anzaldua, “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter to Third World Women Writers,” This Bridge Called My Back, ed. Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua (New York: Kitchen Table Women of Color Press, 1983). Subsequent references are to this edition and are cited parenthetically in the text.

4 Mae Henderson, “The Color Purple: Revisions and Redefinitions,” Modern Critical Voices: Alice Walker, ed. Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House, 1989)

5 Henderson, “The Color Purple” 68.

6 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 18.

7 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 19.

8 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 20.

9 Joyce Ann Joyce, “The Black Canon: Reconstructing Black American Literary Criticism,” New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation 18.2 (Winter 1987) 339.

10 Joyce 340.

11 Joyce 341.

12 Henderson, “Speaking in Tongues” 22-23.

13 Alice Walker, “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” Ms. Magazine, May 1974, 105. Rpt. in Alice Walker: “Everyday Use,” ed. Barbara T. Christian (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1994) vi: 39-49.

14 Barbara Christian, “The Race for Theory,” Making Face, Making Soul: Hacienda Caras, ed. Gloria Anzaldua (San Francisco: Aunt Lute Foundation Books, 1990) 339.

15 Christian 342.

16 Christian 343.