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"Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism, and the West" Book Review

"Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism, and the West" Book Review

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Published by anjelone
A Book Review:
Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism, and the West.
Written by Zillah Eisenstein
Published by Zed Books, London & New York, 2004
A Book Review:
Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism, and the West.
Written by Zillah Eisenstein
Published by Zed Books, London & New York, 2004

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Categories:Types, School Work
Published by: anjelone on Jul 01, 2008
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Chrystal HenkeIR / PSI 312Professor A. YansaneMarch 20, 2008
A Book Review:Against Empire: Feminisms, Racism, and the West.Written by Zillah EisensteinPublished by Zed Books, London & New York, 2004
Humanity is an inclusive yet abstract term that on one hand cohesively places the humanexperience into one plane where it can be seen and heard as well as interpreted and adjusted. Onanother hand though, humanity instantly lumps every experience of each person of each placeand of each mind into an abstract group that instantly disallows discussions about thosedifferences. In Zillah Eisenstein’s book Against Empire, she seeks to speak about the humanexperience and more broadly the female experience, in both ways; as a collection of unifiedneeds as well as a term too broad to truly describe the methods and patterns of individualseverywhere. The main point then is that people are as similar as they are different, and that theway to approach both of those truths is simply to accept them as both true. She admitsthroughout the book the difficulty in accepting this plurality, and yet she demands we realize it,as to her there is no other truth. In order to help the reader realize the main point of diversity inindividuals and therefore in the global struggles of all people, Eisenstein speaks of many personal experiences rich with lesson and introspection. She also offers stories of people andgroups similar to her only in their diversity of influence and their desire for a better understanding of self and society. She speaks of them in order to make the point that activism persists for all voices even if they seem to be giving separate messages on the surface. In a book that is almost as autobiographical as it is a call to activism, Eisenstein thoroughly and empiricallyshows that the system of politics and ideas today is inherently and unmistakably linked to race1 of 7
and gender, often doing so through her own experience. Reading precise wording all the whileinvestigating with Eisenstein the meanings behind those words we begin to understand thathumanity is much more then just one group, it is a collection of multifaceted, “polyversal”individuals with one common goal: equality in context of all possible assorted differences. S
The most pervasive theme throughout Against Empire and I think the most difficult totruly grasp is the idea that race, gender, class, and all social struggles are completely intertwinedyet must, in order to face them, be recognized and understood for their differences. Eisensteinmentions a lesson from her father that one must embrace difference despite their potentialconflicts. It is through conflict that one is forced to create a relationship and thus come tounderstand that difference (p. 28). Therefore it is better to understand each individual’s story andhow similarities bind and also how the differences allow you to learn from each other to gainfurther ground in a more global push towards equality. Social struggles are completelyintertwined and all peoples are more then just one of these categories and almost always morethen one group in each. Diversity should not be lumped into an easy to digest group. It should beapproached and appreciated for the differences within in order that the details of the variancesare seen for what they can offer. Through noticing the differences, change can occur inrelationship to and from within those aspects. At the same time, we should allow theconversation to speak about people in broad groupings. For example, it is generally a women’s burden to care for family issues and thus is a global responsibility for the group. Yet every voicematters and must be heard, “We, the big ‘we’ – feminists and women activists across the globe – must carefully listen to each other and learn new ways of seeing and hearing silences and2 of 7
whisperings (p. 196).” Each person brings to the communal table their own voice and in order tohave a common discussion we must be able to hear each of those voices.Similar to the concept that the individual matters as much if not more then the whole isthat dualities in a person or group need not exist and that someone or group can be both a singlecategory or concept and yet made of many. Eisenstein stresses throughout her work that there isnot exclusivity in individuality so that one can be part of many and yet many in all. “Singularityand plurality are not positioned against each other (p. 98),” Eisenstein emphasizes. Gandhi’sstruggles were towards a cohesive Indian population made up of massively diverse groups onlywinning against the colonial powers if they both embraced each other as national siblings butalso for each of their many faces (p. 101). Enslaved Black women in the 19
century UnitedStates were more then just slaves, they were women, and so they became less powerful then their  black brothers. They came from vastly different cultures originally in Africa and beyond andeventually grew into mulattos and sometimes mistresses and yet through all the identities had novoice (p. 69). Focusing on these women’s struggles Eisenstein points out that it was they thatfirst began overt opposition to the repression of slavery and of the inherent sexism against themas women in slavery (p. 91). These women used voices from many identities to speak of theoppression they felt as a universal whole. Again the idea of “polyversal” humanity is bothdifficult to conceptualize and yet intrinsically easy to understand because we each know our ownexperiences are not of one group and yet part of a whole with the same prides and struggles.Through her own experience as a Jewish American communist civil rights activist with feministleanings Eisenstein tells of her identification as being all that and yet also as being just seen assimply a white American woman. Her story, any one black enslaved person’s story, an Indian inthe lower rungs of caste, they all have “polycentric multiculturalism” which gives their one voicemany tones, not one versus the other nor one deafening the other.3 of 7

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