In “La Guera,” Cherie Moraga writes about barriers. The barriers that stop women from getting beyond the cultural, language and class differences that split them. The barriers of polite society that demand that difference be papered over and ignored rather than discussed, dissected, admired or even acknowledged. The barriers that come up between us when we rank our oppressions, saying that one kind of oppression is somehow better, more significant than another. She writes about the barriers of perception and what effect light skin had on her identity.
“No one ever quite told me this (that light was right), but I knew that being light was something valued in my family (who were all Chicano, with the exception of my father). In fact, everything about my upbringing (at least what occurred on a conscious level) attempted to bleach me of what color I did have” (28). The “rightness” of being light was not a spoken attitude, but an unspoken, unconscious environmental effect. And yet, Moraga was unable to fully utilize the privilege that being light skinned conferred upon her because of her lesbianism. “[T]he joys of looking like a white girl ain’t so great since I realized I could be beaten on the street for being a dyke” (29).
If it isn’t one oppression, then it’s another.
Is that a factor of being female? Being minority? And the oppressions run through oppressed groups. Even as the abolitionists didn’t want to bring in feminist issue, every splintering seems to produce yet more exclusions, and serve to corroborate with the dominant oppressors instead of banding together to fight back. “Without an emotional, heartfelt grappling with the source of our own oppression, without naming the enemy within ourselves and outside of us, no authentic, non-hierarchical connection among oppressed groups can take place” (29). When one oppression is ranked above another, that is a theoretical, statistical take on what is an emotional and personal experience. Knowing that others have it worse should not devalue personal experiences, although they may offer perspective. It is that attack of rationality to the exclusion of all else again.
Logically, those who permit no emotion into their reason might say, one should not complain about a pat on the bum from one’s boss, because there are women in the world who are far more oppressed, suffering from lack of education and agency. And that is how the groups divide, and divide, and divide.
Moraga concludes with a fervent plea: “The real power, as you and I well know, is collective. I can’t afford to be afraid of you, nor you of me. If it takes head-on collisions, let’s do it: this polite timidity is killing us” (34). To heal the divisions, we must stop being so polite, so afraid of the difference of the other. After all, as women, as perpetual members of the half of the race that is not the one, but the other, we should empathize with those who seem to be others to us, and learn about them and let them learn about us and become a one.