The Bridge Poem
I’ve had enough
I’m sick of seeing and touching
Both sides of things
Sick of being the damn bridge for everybody
Can talk to anybody
I explain my mother to my father
my father to my little sister
My little sister to my brother
my brother to the white feminists
The white feminists to the Black church folks
the Black church folks to the ex-hippies
the ex-hippies to the Black separatists
the Black separatists to the artists
the artists to my friends’ parents…
I’ve got to explain myself
I do more translating
Than the Gawdamn U.N.
I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of filling in your gaps
Sick of being your insurance against
the isolation of your self-imposed limitations
Sick of being the crazy at your holiday dinners
Sick of being the odd one at your Sunday Brunches
Sick of being the sole Black friend to 34 individual white people
Find another connection to the rest of the world
Find something else to make you legitimate
Find some other way to be political and hip
I will not be the bridge to your womanhood
I’m sick of reminding you not to
Close off too tight for too long
I’m sick of mediating with your worst self
On behalf of your better selves
I am sick
Of having to remind you
Before you suffocate
Your own fool self
Stretch or drown
Evolve or die
The bridge I must be
Is the bridge to my own power
I must translate
My own fears
My own weaknesses
I must be the bridge to nowhere
But my true self
I will be useful
Donna Kate Rushin is an author and poet who constructs pieces that primarily highlight black feminist theory. Her work creates imagery that serves to translate the turbulent experiences that aligned with being a woman of color. Throughout her work, Kate Rushin chronicles in part her evolution to not only becoming unafraid and fully comfortable with who she is but with using her newfound confidence to empower the women around her and all of those who come in contact with her work. She shares her voice with honesty and vulnerability without compromising the unwavering strength that she is known for. For someone in her position whose message had been underrepresented and stymied for so long, she knew that she couldn’t afford to suppress who she was. That it is an obligation that the women who have always been a huge part of this world abstain from shrinking who we are in an attempt make others feel more comfortable around us.
The Bridge Poem (1981) encompasses a truth that is a significant component of black women’s rhetorics. It speaks to the inherent loneliness and singularity of the experience of being a black woman. Rushin showcases the various intricacies of navigating the intersections of being black and woman, while constantly enduring the struggle of being forced to choose which must matter more at any given point in time. She unabashedly tells the stories of the women whose lives have long been explored from only the narrowest of viewpoints. Women of color already exist in an environment where fragility is unacceptable and they must be pillars of fortitude to live up to their “myth” of unwavering stoicism and to combat the inevitable struggles that accompany being who they are.
Black women are crammed into a unique paradigm where we are conditioned to be strong and support those around us, but because we are women our right to personhood is eradicated. Black women are viewed solely as complementary objects to a higher sovereign power, often one with more testosterone and/or less melanin.
Third world women are no strangers to the cold pang of exclusion that they are often faced with when trying to position themselves within the “feminist” movement. But in the quest for inclusion, women of color are forced to confront a very harsh reality. Their white “counterparts” that championed the feminist movement were not truly vested in understanding or appreciating the perspectives of women of color. Women of color then had to encounter not only the diminishing of their cultures but the bastardization of them. The images and stereotypes that portrayed them further served to keep them in a place of inferiority. The struggles that these women endured were romanticized. When Third World Women finally received their mention in the discography of American feminism, they were no more than pathetic, minstrel footnotes.
“The Bridge Poem” is one the most important sections of “This Bridge Called My Back” in virtue of the fact that it is not actually a segment in the length of the proverbial bridge but one of the pillars on which it stands. It is a nod to the true identities of the ostracized and insignificant that have been silenced for generations. The Bridge Called My Back sought to carve out a space where the women who have lead the bulk of their existences trapped in the shadows may share their voices, their stories, and their visions in the hope of creating a feminism that was less Betty (Friedan) and more Badu. Typical gender theory and feminist thought implicitly highlights the idea that their only one way to be “woman”. The works of these radical writers are immensely polarizing because they challenge the stagnant ideal of what women are should be while allowing various different women to create their own spaces and share their unique perspectives.
Kate Rushin - The Black Back Ups
“[Black women] are the women left behind. We are the women who have cared for other women’s children while ours were taken away.” She cries all day but she expected to sing the songs of THEIR happiness. Her children are gone or far, but she is left to care for theirs. Black women of today and yesterday are routinely injected into the mammy stereotype. They take care of and nurture everyone while their own needs, for all intents and purposes, are never met. They are most often objectified, seen only as step ladders for other to climb on or rest stops for the weary. Their only function simply being to magnify another. White men are placed firmly in the foreground,
while they display their beautiful black birds singing sweetly and soulfully in their cages. In “The Black Back Ups” Kate Rushin (1993) confronts this heritage unflinchingly. Rushin's poem has carved out its singular space for itself by exposing the woeful neglect that black women endure while simultaneously “backing up” those around after which they are inevitably forced into obscurity.
Rushin chronicles with distinction of the rigid dichotomy between living as a white man and existing as a black woman: “I swear there was always somebody telling me that the only person in their whole house who listened and understood them despite the money and the lessons was the housekeeper” (Rushin 1993). She depicts black women for what they are in truth, those who are seldom seen, but understand others deeply. "The Black BackUps" is not merely a designation of the existence of marginalized women, but a call to freedom for the women who bear the curse of being the curse of being black, of being poor, of being trans, of being queer. Kate Rushin's poems continue to be love letters to all the women who are inevitably left to pick up the shards after the glass ceilings have been broken.
Moraga, Cherrie & Anzaldua, Gloria (1981) “This Bridge Called My Back Writings by Radical Women of Color”
Morgan, J. (1999.) strongblackwomen: When the chickenheads come home to roost: A hip hop feminist breaks it down. New York, NY. Touchstone.
Oluo, Ijeoma (2016) “Beyoncé's Lemonade is About Much More Than Infidelity and Jay Z”
Rushin, Kate (1993) “The Black Back Ups” Poetry: Ithaca, NY. Firebrand Books