Sister Outsider

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

On the final day of the Fulbright Berlin conference in March 2019, I was introduced to Audre Lorde by a quote at the end of a presentation by Dimitri Diagne, an English Teaching Assistant in Kosovo, regarding media literacy, his experience as a Black man teaching in Kosovo, and discussing race through media (like Solange’s newest album) in his classroom.

Lorde’s quote was projected on the wall long past the end of his presentation, and although I do not remember the exact quote at this time, I remember that was related to Black women’s relationships with Black men and white women. In that moment, I knew that Audre Lorde was a gap in my education that I needed to fill, and I immediately put Sister Outsider on my reading list.

Sister Outsider is dense, and for that reason, I listened to the audiobook while following along page by page to a PDF of the text (which can be accessed here).

In this blog, I merely hope to share many of Lorde’s thoughts because I think that they are crucial to understanding more about race and gender relations in the United States. With hundreds of pages of theory, observations, and experiences contained within Sister Outsider, the only way to fully understand the ideas of Lorde is to read the collection of essays yourself. Below, I share lots of quotes that struck me from the text.

When I began writing this blog, I struggled to string these quotes together with my own reflections. After moving my comments around, editing my thoughts, trying to grasp it all, I have removed my comments. Lorde’s words speak for themselves, and the quotes are long enough to give context.

I hope that this post can be a starting point, to welcome you into Lorde’s thoughts and motivate you to learn more about her contribution to understanding the experience of a Black lesbian, feminist, poet, mother, activist (and more) living in the United States during the civil rights movement and her greater reflections regarding race and gender.

Let us now commence the criticism of white western patriarchy that I have been feeling a growing desire to deconstruct everyday, and let us do so by connecting to “what is dark and ancient and divine within” ourselves through prose that is equally poetry and theory. [I would like to acknowledge here that I understand that I benefit in many large ways by this same white western patriarchal system, but that I look to Lorde for advice in how to deconstruct this system and how to better understand how I, as a white woman, can support Black women and begin to pay a debt that is four hundred years in the making as the ancestor of white europeans].


Introduction

Audre Lorde’s voice is central to the development of contemporary feminist theory. She is at the cutting edge of consciousness… She writes from the particulars of who she is:

Black woman, lesbian, feminist, mother of two children, daughter of Grenadian immigrants, educator, cancer survivor, activist.

Audre Lorde, Introduction, Sister Outsider

The white western patriarchal ordering of things requires that we believe there is an inherent conflict between what we feel and what we think between poetry and theory.

Audre Lorde, Introduction, Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde

Notes from a Trip to Russia

When I asked directly about the USSR’s attitude toward American racism, Madam said reproachfully that of course the USSR cannot interfere in the internal affairs of any other nation.

Audre Lorde, Notes From a Trip to Russia, Sister Outsider

Poetry Is Not a Luxury

As we come more into touch with our own ancient, noneuropean consciousness of living as a situation to be experienced and interacted with, we learn more and more to cherish our feelings, and to respect those hidden sources of our power from where true knowledge and, therefore, lasting action comes.

Audre Lorde, Poetry Is Not a Luxury, Sister Outsider

The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.

Audre Lorde, Poetry Is Not Luxury, Sister Outsider

The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action

My silences had not protected me.
Your silence will not protect you.

Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Sister Outsider

What are the words you do not yet have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself – a Black woman warrior poet doing my work – come to ask you, are you doing yours?

Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Sister Outsider

Within this country where racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision, Black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism.

Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Sister Outsider

And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we
must each of us recognize our responsibility to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives.

Audre Lorde, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Sister Outsider

Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving

For it is through the coming together of self-actualized individuals, female and male, that any real advances can be made. The old sexual power relationships based on a dominant/ subordinate model between unequals have not served us as a people, nor as individuals.

Audre Lorde, Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, Sister Outsider

Increasingly, despite opposition, Black women are coming together to explore and to alter those manifestations of our society which oppress us in different ways from those that oppress Black men. This is no threat to Black men. It is only seen as one by those Black men who choose to embody within themselves those same manifestations of female oppression. For instance, no Black man has ever been forced to bear a child he did not want or could not support. Enforced sterilization and unavailable abortions are tools of oppression against Black women, as is rape.

Audre Lorde, Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, Sister Outsider

War, imprisonment, and “the street” have decimated the ranks of Black males of marriageable age. The fury of many Black heterosexual women against white women who date Black men is rooted in this unequal sexual equation within the Black community, since whatever threatens to widen that equation is deeply and articulately resented. But this is essentially unconstructive resentment because it extends sideways only. It can never result in true progress on the issue because it does not question the vertical lines of power or authority, nor the sexist assumptions which dictate the terms of that competition. And the racism of white women might be better addressed where it is less complicated by their own sexual oppression. In this situation it is not the non-Black woman who calls the tune, but rather the Black man who turns away from himself in his sisters or who, through a fear borrowed from white men, reads her strength not as a resource but as a challenge.

All too often the message comes loud and clear to Black women from Black men: “I am the only prize worth having and there are not too many of me, and remember, I can always go elsewhere. So if you want me, you’d better stay in your place which is away from one another, or I will call you ‘lesbian’ and wipe you out. Black women are programmed to define ourselves within this male attention and to compete with each other for it rather than to recognize and move upon our common interests.

Audre Lorde, Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, Sister Outsider

If the recent attack upon lesbians in the Black community is based solely upon an aversion to the idea of sexual contact between members of the same sex (a contact which has existed for ages in most of the female compounds across the African continent), why then is the idea of sexual contact between Black men so much more easily accepted, or unremarked? Is the imagined threat simply the existence of a self-motivated, self-defined Black woman who will not fear nor suffer terrible retribution from the gods because she does not necessarily seek her face in a man’s eyes, even if he has fathered her children? Female, headed households in the Black community are not always situations by default. 

This kind of action is a prevalent error among oppressed peoples. It is based upon the false notion that there is only a limited and particular amount of freedom that must be divided up between us, with the largest and juiciest pieces of liberty going as spoils to the victor or the stronger. So instead of joining together to fight for more, we quarrel between ourselves for a larger slice of the one pie. Black women fight between ourselves over men, instead of pursuing and using who we are and our strengths for lasting change; Black women and men fight be, tween ourselves over who has more of a right to freedom, instead of seeing each other’s struggles as part of our own and vital to our common goals; Black and white women fight between ourselves over who is the more oppressed, instead of seeing those areas in which our causes are the same. (Of course, this last separation is worsened by the intransigent racism that white women  too often fail to, or cannot, address in themselves.)

Audre Lorde, Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, Sister Outsider

To the racist, Black people are so powerful that the presence of one can contaminate a whole lineage; to the heterosexist, lesbians are so powerful that the presence of one can contaminate the whole sex. 

Audre Lorde, Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, Sister Outsider

Of the four groups, Black and white women, Black and white men, Black women have the lowest average wage. This is a vital concern for us all, no matter with whom we sleep. 

Audre Lorde, Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, Sister Outsider

As Black women we have the right and responsibility to define ourselves and to seek our allies in common cause: with Black men against racism, and with each other and white women against sexism. But most of all, as Black women we have the right and responsibility to recognize each other without fear and to love where we choose. Both lesbian and heterosexual Black women today share a history of bonding and strength to which our sexual identities and our other differences must not blind us. 

Audre Lorde, Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, Sister Outsider

Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power

The erotic has often been misnamed by men and used against women. It has been made into the confused, the trivial, the psychotic, the plasticized sensation. For this reason, we have often turned away from the exploration and consideration of the erotic as a source of power and information, confusing it with its opposite, the pornographic. 

Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Sister Outsider

The very word erotic comes from the Greek word eros, the personification of love in all its aspects – born of Chaos, and personifying creative power and harmony. When I speak of the erotic, then, I speak of it as an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives. 

Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Sister Outsider

But when we begin to live from within outward, in touch with the power of the erotic within ourselves, and allowing that power to inform and illuminate our actions upon the world around us, then we begin to be responsible to ourselves in the deepest sense. For as we begin to recognize our deepest feelings, we begin to give up, of necessity, being satisfied with suffering and self-negation, and with the numbness which so often seems like their only alter- native in our society. Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within. 

Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Sister Outsider

The erotic cannot be felt secondhand. As a Black lesbian feminist, I have a particular feeling, knowledge, and understanding for those sisters with whom I have danced hard, played, or even fought. This deep participation has often been the forerunner for joint concerted actions not possible before. 

But this erotic charge is not easily shared by women who continue to operate under an exclusively european-american male tradition. I know it was not available to me when I was trying to adapt my consciousness to this mode of living and sensation. 

Only now, I find more and more women-identified women brave enough to risk sharing the erotic’s electrical charge without having to look away, and without distorting the enormously powerful and creative nature of that exchange. Recognizing the power of the erotic within our lives can give us the energy to pursue genuine change within our world, rather than merely settling for a shift of characters in the same weary drama. 

For not only do we touch our most profoundly creative source, but we do that which is female and self-affirming in the face of a racist, and anti-erotic society. 

Audre Lorde, Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, Sister Outsider

Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface

Despite our recent economic gains, Black women are still the lowest paid group in the nation by sex and race. 

Audre Lorde, Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface, Sister Outsider

Black feminists speak as women because we are women and do not need others to speak for us. It is for Black men to speak up and tell us why and how their manhood is so threatened that Black women should be the prime targets of their justifiable rage. What correct analysis of this capitalist dragon within which we live can legitimize the rape of Black women by Black men? 

Audre Lorde, Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface, Sister Outsider

It is not the destiny of Black america to repeat white america’s mistakes. But we will, if we mistake the trappings of success in a sick society for the signs of a meaningful life. If Black men continue to define “femininity” instead of their own desires, and to do it in archaic european terms, they restrict our access to each other’s energies. Freedom and future for Blacks does not mean absorbing the dominant white male disease of sexism. 

Audre Lorde, Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface, Sister Outsider

It is not the destiny of Black america to repeat white america’s mistakes. But we will, if we mistake the trappings of success in a sick society for the signs of a meaningful life. If Black men con- tinue to define “femininity” instead of their own desires, and to do it in archaic european terms, they restrict our access to each other’s energies. Freedom and future for Blacks does not mean absorbing the dominant white male disease of sexism. 

Audre Lorde, Sexism: An American Disease in Blackface, Sister Outsider

An Open Letter to Mary Daly

Mary Daly, Author of Gyn/Ecology

To imply, however, that all women suffer the same oppression simply because we are women is to lose sight of the many varied tools of patriarchy. It is to ignore how those tools are used by women without awareness against each other. 

Audre Lorde, An Open Letter to Mary Daly, Sister Outsider

So the question arises in my mind, Mary, do you ever really read the work of Black women? Did you ever read my words, or did you merely finger through them for quotations which you thought might valuably support an already conceived idea concerning some old and distorted connection between us? This is not a rhetorical question. 

Audre Lorde, An Open Letter to Mary Daly, Sister Outsider

Mary, I ask that you be aware of how this serves the destructive forces of racism and separation between women – the assumption that the herstory and myth of white women is the legitimate and sole herstory and myth of all women to call upon for power and background, and that nonwhite women and our herstories are noteworthy only as decorations, or examples of female victimization. I ask that you be aware of the effect that this dismissal has upon the community of Black women and other women of Color, and how it devalues your own words. 

Audre Lorde, An Open Letter to Mary Daly, Sister Outsider

When patriarchy dismisses us, it encourages our murderers. When radical lesbian feminist theory dismisses us, it encourages its own demise. 

Audre Lorde, An Open Letter to Mary Daly, Sister Outsider

The oppression of women knows no ethnic nor racial boundaries, true, but that does not mean it is identical within those differences. 

Audre Lorde, An Open Letter to Mary Daly, Sister Outsider

Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response

All our children are outriders for a queendom not yet assured. 

Audre Lorde, Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response, Sister Outsider

Raising Black children – female and male – in the mouth of a racist, sexist, suicidal dragon is perilous and chancy. If they cannot love and resist at the same time, they will probably not survive. And in order to survive they must let go. This is what mothers teach – love, survival – that is, selfdefinition and letting go. 

Audre Lorde, Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response, Sister Outsider

This image of woman being able to handle it all was bolstered by the fact that he lived in a household with three strong women, his lesbian parents and his forthright older sister. At home, for Jonathan [Lorde’s son], power was clearly female. 

And because our society teaches us to think in an either/or mode – kill or be killed, dominate or be dominated – this meant that he must either surpass or be lacking. I could see the implications of this line of thought. 

Audre Lorde, Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response, Sister Outsider

As a Black woman, I find it necessary to withdraw into all- Black groups at times for exactly the same reasons – differences in stages of development and differences in levels of interaction. Frequently, when speaking with men and white women, I am reminded of how difficult and time-consuming it is to have to reinvent the pencil every time you want to send a message. 

Audre Lorde, Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response, Sister Outsider

An Interview: Audre Lorde & Adrienne Rich

Lorde on poetry vs. prose: 

I remember feeling I could not focus on a thought long enough to have it from start to finish, but I could ponder a poem for days, camp out in its world. 

Audre Lorde, An Interview: Andrew Lorde and Adrienne Rich, Sister Outsider

Audre: I was with the Tougaloo choir at Carnegie Hall when he [Martin Luther King] was killed. They were singing “What the World Needs Now Is Love.” And they interrupted it to tell us that Martin Luther King had been killed. 


Adrienne: What did people do? 


Audre: Duke Ellington started to cry. Honeywell, the head of the choir, said, “The only thing we can do here is finish this as a memorial.” And they sang again, “What the World Needs Now is Love.” The kids were crying. The audience was crying. And then the choir stopped. They cut the rest of it short. But they sang that song and it kept reverberating. It was more than pain. The horror, the enormity of what was happening. Not just the death of King, but what it meant. I have always had the sense of Armageddon and it was much stronger in those days, the sense of living on the edge of chaos. 

Audre Lorde, An Interview: Andrew Lorde and Adrienne Rich, Sister Outsider

Adrienne: In “Poetry Is Not a Luxury,” you wrote: “The white fathers told us, ‘I think, therefore I am,’ and the Black mother within each of us – the poet – whispers in our dreams, ‘I feel, therefore I can be free.’ I’ve heard it remarked that here you are simply restating the old stereotype of the rational white male and the emotional dark female. I believe you were saying something very different, but could you talk a little about that? 

Audre: I have heard that accusation, that I’m contributing to the stereotype, that I’m saying the province of intelligence and rationality belongs to the white male. But if you’re traveling a road that begins nowhere and ends nowhere, the ownership of that road is meaningless. If you have no land out of which the road comes, no place that road goes to, geographically, no goal, then the existence of that road is totally meaningless. Leaving rationality to the white man is like leaving him a piece of that road that begins nowhere and ends nowhere. 

Audre Lorde, An Interview: Andrew Lorde and Adrienne Rich, Sister Outsider

The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians. 

Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Sister Outsider

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. 

Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Sister Outsider

If white american feminist theory need not deal with the differences be- tween us, and the resulting difference in our oppressions, then how do you deal with the fact that the women who clean your houses and tend your children while you attend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor women and women of Color? What is the theory behind racist feminism? 

Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Sister Outsider

In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower. 

Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Sister Outsider

In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often, “We did not know who to ask.” But that is the same evasion of responsibility, the same cop-out, that keeps Black women’s art out of women’s exhibitions, Black women’s work out of most feminist publications except for the occasional “Special Third World Women’s Issue,” and Black women’s texts off your reading lists. But as Adrienne Rich pointed out in a recent talk, white feminists have educated themselves about such an enormous amount over the past ten years, how come you haven’t also educated yourselves about Black women and the differences between us – white and Black – when it is key to our survival as a movement? 

Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Sister Outsider

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this place and time. I urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as the political can begin to illuminate all our choices. 

Audre Lorde, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Sister Outsider

Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference 

For in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as american as apple pie have always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protection. Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes. 

Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Sister Outsider

As we reclaim our literature, poetry has been the major voice of poor, working class, and Colored women. A room of one’s own may be a necessity for writing prose, but so are reams of paper, a typewriter, and plenty of time. The actual requirements to produce the visual arts also help determine, along class lines, whose art is whose. In this day of inflated prices for material, who are our sculptors, our painters, our photographers? When we speak of a broadly based women’s culture, we need to be aware of the effect of class and economic differences on the supplies available for producing art. 

Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Sister Outsider

As white women ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define woman in terms of their own experience alone, then women of Color become “other,” the outsider whose experience and tradition is too “alien” to comprehend. An example of this is the signal absence of the experience of women of Color as a resource for women’s studies courses. The literature of women of Color is seldom included in women’s literature courses and almost never in other literature courses, nor in women’s studies as a whole. All too often, the excuse given is that the literatures of women of Color can only be taught by Colored women, or that they are too difficult to understand, or that classes cannot “get into” them because they come out of experiences that are “too different.” I have heard this argument presented by white women of otherwise quite clear intelligence, women who seem to have no trouble at all teaching and reviewing work that comes out of the vastly different experiences of Shakespeare, Moliere, Dostoyefsky, and Aristophanes. Surely there must be some other explanation. 

Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Sister Outsider

Today, with the defeat of ERA, the tightening economy, and increased conservatism, it is easier once again for white women to believe the dangerous fantasy that if you are good enough, pretty enough, sweet enough, quiet enough, teach the children to behave, hate the right people, and marry the right men, then you will be allowed to co-exist with patriarchy in relative peace, at least until a man needs your job or the neighborhood rapist happens along. And true, unless one lives and loves in the trenches it is difficult to remember that the war against dehumanization is ceaseless. 

But Black women and our children know the fabric of our lives is stitched with violence and with hatred, that there is no rest. We do not deal with it only on the picket lines, or in dark midnight alleys, or in the places where we dare to verbalize our resistance. For us, increasingly, violence weaves through the daily tissues of our living – in the supermarket, in the classroom, in the elevator, in the clinic and the schoolyard, from the plumber, the baker, the saleswoman, the bus driver, the bank teller, the waitress who does not serve us. 

Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Sister Outsider

As a group, women of Color are the lowest paid wage earners in america. We are the primary targets of abortion and sterilization abuse, here and abroad. In certain parts of Africa, small girls are still being sewed shut between their legs to keep them docile and for men’s pleasure. This is known as female circumcision, and it is not a cultural affair as the late Jomo Kenyatta insisted, it is a crime against Black women. 

Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Sister Outsider

As Kalamu ya Salaam, a Black male writer points out, “As long as male domination exists, rape will exist. Only women revolting and men made conscious of their responsibility to fight sexism can collectively stop rape.”

Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Sister Outsider

Differences between ourselves as Black women are also being misnamed and used to separate us from one another. As a Black lesbian feminist comfortable with the many different ingredients of my identity, and a woman committed to racial and sexual freedom from oppression, I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting way to live. My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition. Only then can I bring myself and my energies as a whole to the service of those struggles which I embrace as part of my living. 

Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Sister Outsider

Change means growth, and growth can be painful. But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals. For Black and white, old and young, lesbian and heterosexual women alike, this can mean new paths to our survival. 


We have chosen each other
and the edge of each others battles
the war is the same
if we lose
someday women’s blood will congeal upon a dead planet
if we win
there is no telling
we seek beyond history
for a new and more possible meeting.

Audre Lorde, Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference, Sister Outsider

The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism

After fifteen years of a women’s movement which professes to address the life concerns and possible futures of all women, I still hear, on campus after campus, “How can we address the issues of racism? No women of Color attended.” Or, the other side of that statement, “We have no one in our department equipped to teach their work.” In other words, racism is a Black women’s problem, a problem of women of Color, and only we can discuss it. 

Audre Lorde, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Sister Outsider

I have seen situations where white women hear a racist remark, resent what has been said, become filled with fury, and remain silent because they are afraid. That unexpressed anger lies within them like an undetonated device, usually to be hurled at the first woman of Color who talks about racism. 

Audre Lorde, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Sister Outsider

Mainstream communication does not want women, particularly white women, responding to racism. It wants racism to be accepted as an immutable given in the fabric of your existence, like evening time or the common cold. 

Audre Lorde, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Sister Outsider

I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am .not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any one of you.

Audre Lorde, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Sister Outsider

We welcome all women who can meet us, face to face, beyond objectification and beyond guilt. 

Audre Lorde, The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism, Sister Outsider

Learning from the 60s

The answer to cold is heat, the answer to hunger is food. But there is no simple monolithic solution to racism, to sexism, to homophobia. There is only the conscious focusing within each of my days to move against them, wherever I come up against these particular manifestations of the same disease. By seeing who the we is, we learn to use our energies with greater precision against our enemies rather than against ourselves. 

Audre Lorde, Learning from the 60s, Sister Outsider

As a Black lesbian mother in an interracial marriage, there was usually some part of me guaranteed to offend everybody’s comfortable prejudices of who I should be. That is how I learned that if I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive. 

Audre Lorde, Learning from the 60s, Sister Outsider

Can any one of us here still afford to believe that efforts to reclaim the future can be private or individual? Can any one here still afford to believe that the pursuit of liberation can be the sole and particular province of any one particular race, or sex, or age, or religion, or sexuality, or class? 

Audre Lorde, Learning from the 60s, Sister Outsider

As Malcolm stressed, we are not responsible for our oppression, but we must be responsible for our own liberation. 

Audre Lorde, Learning from the 60s, Sister Outsider

Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger

My Black woman’s anger is a molten pond at the core of me, my most fiercely guarded secret. I know how much of my life as a powerful feeling woman is laced through with this net of rage. It is an electric thread woven into every emotional tapestry upon which I set the essentials of my life – a boiling hot spring likely to erupt at any point, leaping out of my consciousness like a fire on the landscape. How to train that anger with accuracy rather than deny it has been one of the major tasks of my life. 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

It is easier to deal with the external manifestations of racism and sexism than it is to deal with the results of those distortions internalized within our consciousness of ourselves and one another. 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

My light-skinned mother kept me alive within an environment where my life was not a high priority. She used whatever methods she had at hand, few as they were. She never talked about color. My mother was a very brave woman, born in the West Indies, unprepared for america. And she disarmed me with her silences. Somewhere I knew it was a lie that nobody else noticed color. Me, darker than my two sisters. My father, darkest of all. I was always jealous of my sisters because my mother thought they were such good girls, whereas I was bad, always in trouble. “Full of the devil,” she used to say. They were neat, I was untidy. They were quiet, I was noisy. They were well-behaved, I was rowdy. They took piano lessons and won prizes in deportment. I stole money from my father’s pockets and broke my ankle sledding downhill. They were good- looking, I was dark. Bad, mischievous, a born troublemaker if ever there was one. 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

What other creature in the world besides the Black woman has had to build the knowledge of so much hatred into her survival and keep going? 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

To grow up metabolizing hatred like daily bread means that eventually every human interaction becomes tainted with the negative passion and intensity of its by-products – anger and cruelty. 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

Black women give our children forth into a hatred that seared our own young days with bewilderment, hoping we have taught them something they can use to fashion their own new and less costly pathways to survival. Knowing I did not slit their throats at birth tear out the tiny beating heart with my own despairing teeth the way some sisters did in the slaveships chained to corpses and therefore was I committed to this very moment. The price of increasing power is increasing opposition.*


I sat listening to my girl [Lorde’s daughter] talk about the bent world she was determined to reenter in spite of all she was saying, because she views a knowledge of that world as part of an arsenal which she can use to change it all. 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

That middle depth of relationship more usually possible between Black and white women, however, is less threatening than the tangle of unexplored needs and furies that face any two Black women who seek to engage each other directly, emotionally, no matter what the context of their relationship may be. 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

At this point in time, were racism to be totally eradicated from those middle range relationships between Black women and white women, those relationships might become deeper, but they would still never satisfy our particular Black woman’s need for one another, given our shared knowledge and traditions and history. There are two very different struggles involved here. One is the war against racism in white people, and the other is the need for Black women to con- front and wade through the racist constructs underlying our deprivation of each other. And these battles are not at all the same. 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

Is that why a sister once said to me, “white people feel, Black people do”

It is true that in america white people, by and large, have more time and space to afford the luxury of scrutinizing their emotions. Black people in this country have always had to at- tend closely to the hard and continuous work of survival in the most material and immediate planes.

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

We have to consciously study how to be tender with each other until it becomes a habit because what was native has been stolen from us, the love of Black women for each other. But we can practice being gentle with ourselves by being gentle with each other. We can practice being gentle with each other by being gentle with that piece ofourselves that is hardest to hold, by giv- ing more to the brave bruised girlchild within each of us, by expecting a little less from her gargantuan efforts to excel. 

Audre Lorde, Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, Sister Outsider

Grenada Revisited: An Interim Report

White america has been well-schooled in the dehumanization of Black people. A Black island nation? Why, don’t be ridiculous! If they weren’t all so uppity, we’d have enough jobs and no recession. The lynching of Black youth and shooting down of Black women, 60 percent of Black teenagers unemployed and rapidly becoming unemployable, the presiden- tial dismantling of the Civil Rights Commission, and more Black families below the poverty line than twenty years ago – if these facts of american life and racism can be passed over as unremarkable, then why not the rape and annexation of tiny Black Grenada?

Audre Lorde, Grenada Revisited: An Interim Report, Sister Outsider

A statistic. The infant mortality rate for Black americans is almost twice that of white americans – in the most highly industrialized country in the world. White america has been well-schooled in the acceptance of Black destruction. So what is Black Grenada and its 110,000 Black lives?

Audre Lorde, Grenada Revisited: An Interim Report, Sister Outsider

In addition to being a demonstration to the Caribbean community of what will happen to any country that dares to assume responsibility for its own destiny, the invasion of Grenada also serves as a naked warning to thirty million African-americans. Watch your step. We did it to them down there and we will not hesitate to do it to you.

Audre Lorde, Grenada Revisited: An Interim Report, Sister Outsider

I also came for reassurance, to see if Grenada had survived the onslaught of the most powerful nation on earth. She has. Grenada is bruised but very much alive. Grenadians are a warm and resilient people (I hear my mother’s voice: “Island women make good wives. Whatever happens, they’ve seen worse”), and they have survived colonizations before. I am proud to be of stock from the country that mounted the first Black english- speaking People’s Revolution in this hemisphere. Much has been terribly lost in Grenada, but not all – not the spirit of the people. Forward Ever, Backward Never is more than a mere whistle in the present dark.

Audre Lorde, Grenada Revisited: An Interim Report, Sister Outsider

Audre Lorde Biography

Audre Lorde was born in 1934 in New York City. Her parents were from Grenada and Barbados, and in the Harlem of her childhood, she soon learned what it meant to be thought of as “the other.” It was this knowledge that prompted the mission of Lorde’s work: to illuminate and celebrate the power and beauty of difference.

Lorde earned degrees from Columbia University and Hunter College,
where she became a professor of English. The First Cities (1968) was the first of her 16 books. A Burst of Light (1988), a collection of essays on subjects ranging from the political to the personal, won an American Book Award.From a Land Where Other People Live (1973), a book of poetry, was a finalist for the National Book Award. The Cancer Journals (1980), an intimate account of her own experiences, inspired thousands of women living with the disease.

Lorde was the recipient of three National Endowment for the Arts grants and the Walt Whitman Citation of Merit. She was the poet laureate of New York State in 1991-92 and received honorary degrees from Oberlin College, Haverford College, Hunter College, and the University of Osnabriick in Germany.

Also a political activist, Lorde was a founding member of Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press and Sisterhood in Support of Sisters in South Africa. In a ceremony shortly before her death in 1992, she took the name Gamba Adisa (which means “warrior” and “she who makes her meaning known”).

Biography at the end of Sister Outsider

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