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Rebecca Aanerud The Missing Adjective; or. Further Challenges to "That Phantom Collectivity" (on Ruth Frankenberg, White Women, Race Matters: The Social Construction of Whiteness [Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1993]; and Kathleen M. Blee, Women ofthe Klan: Racism and Gender in the 1920s, [Berkeley: U of California P, 1991]) When I first read Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua's anthology This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color ten years ago, I was eager to work towards a feminism espoused within its pages. It was a feminism that recognized challenging racism not as a peripheral project to be taken on or not at will, but rather as something integral to feminism itself. As Barbara Smith, one of the contributors to the anthology, put it, "Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women: women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women" (61). I found the critical objection of universalizing the experiences of a few women (mainly white, middle-class and heterosexual) to account for the experiences of all women as fundamentally accurate and I was moved by the challenge to understand the ways in which both race and racism shapes, not only the lives of women of color, but white women as well. The impact of This Bridge Called My Back was felt throughout the feminist movement. Its 1981 publication signaled what Teresa de Lauretis was to refer to as a "shift in [white] feminist consciousness" (10). In part, the shift that de Lauretis refers to is a shift on the terrain of difference. For many white feminists writing in the late 1960s and 70s, the relevant difference offeminist theory was betweenmen and women. Citing the marked absence of "women" as a relevant category in virtually all disciplines, white feminists took up the question of the difference between the sexes. Projects and inquiries included the differences between men and women within market economies, the psychological differencesbetween men and women, and literary questions ofwhether women write differently than men (see Gilligan; Chodorow; Sargent; Eisenstein; Rowbotham; and Eagleton). Under the sign of "sisterhood," women were viewed in white feminist writings as an essentially unified group; differences ofrace, class, sexuality, and nation were avoided or dismissed. This view of difference was heavily critiqued by feminists of color. Inher essay "Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference," 178the minnesota review Audre Lorde writes, "white womenfocus on their oppression as women and ignore differences of race, sexual preference, class and age. There is a pretense to a homogeneity of experience covered by the word sisterhood that does not in fact exist" (116). This non-existent sisterhood— what Robyn Wiegman refers to as "that phantom collectivity" (179)— along with difference understood within a gender binary, had been, by the early 1980s, powerfully critiqued by women of color. "Difference" was increasingly being articulated as a difference between and among women. As Chela Sandoval writes, "the publication of This Bridge Called My Back in 1981 made the presence of U.S. third world feminism impossible to ignore on the same terms as it had been throughout the 1970's" (5). One ofthe consequences of thisimpossibility is evinced by theproliferations of feminist publications throughout the 1980s on race, racism and racial difference (see Davis; Collins; Bulkin; Trinh; and Mohanty). However, despite this undeniable wealth ofmaterial, it was difficult if not impossible to find books that theorized gender in terms ofwhiteness. If the word "race" appeared in the title of a book or article it was a fairly safe guess that the text in question was about women of color—white women remained somehow "unraced" or racially neutral . And while most women's history books were in fact about white women, the modifier to the noun was seldom used—"white" remained the missing adjective. The whiteness of these histories was left unexamined and thus rendered irrelevant. However, recent years have brought about some hopeful readjustments to the scholarly absence of whiteness. Two especially importantbooks are Ruth Frankenberg'sW7i/fe Women, Race Matters and Kathleen M. Blee's Women ofthe Klan. The opening line of Frankenburg's book is: "...race shapes...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2157-4189
Print ISSN
0026-5667
Pages
pp. 177-182
Launched on MUSE
2011-07-06
Open Access
No
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