Audre Lorde (1934 - 1992) was many things - feminist, activist, lesbian, icon. She was also an immensely talented and prolific writer who penned a large number of essays, letters, poems, and prose on a variety of subjects including feminism, racism, sexuality, and her life. Her most popular quotes frequently crop up on Facebook and Insta newsfeeds, but the body of work that she produced in her lifetime has so much more astonishing detail, diversity, and depth if you take the time to read it. Here are some of the important and very much still relevant lessons her work has to offer; they are a testament to the eternal relevance of this visionary woman.
1. She taught us that standing silent on important issues offers no protection. In one of her most renowned essays, The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action, Lorde wrote: “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” Lorde realised that keeping silent in the face of oppression did nothing to create change and did not lesson fear - “...we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.” Conversely, speaking up and sharing her truths allowed her to make “contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences”.
2. She explained why poetry is such a necessity, particularly in women’s lives. Lorde’s understanding of what poetry was and could be in the lives of women was frankly radical. She saw it as: “the revelation or distillation of experience”; “the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought”; a way to piece together “the farthest horizons of our hopes and fears... carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.” In Poetry is Not a Luxury, Lorde described how poems allow for women to know and accept our feelings, and provide space to honestly explore them, thereby providing “sanctuaries and spawning grounds for the most radical and daring of ideas. They become a safe-house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualisation of any meaningful action.”
3. She taught us to battle vertically, not horizontally. When groups of people experience oppression, they often engage in acts of what Lorde describes as “horizontal hostility”. In the essay Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, Lorde writes many will harbour “... 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.” Oppressive systems are designed to redirect people’s attention and efforts away from the factors facilitating oppression. This is because those holding the most power in these structures profit from their existence. So let’s remember to “...question the vertical lines of power or authority” and work with and not against those who we ultimately need to achieve change.
4. She emphasised the importance of intersectional feminism. In the same way that not all women have the same types and amounts of privilege, not all women experience the same oppression. In An Open Letter to Mary Daly, Lorde wrote that failing to acknowledge the existence/impacts of intersectionality was “...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.”
5. She was a fierce advocate for the inclusion and amplification of diverse voices and stories. Lorde believed that the omission (exclusion) of such voices in feminist discourse perpetuate “... 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 victimisation.” In her essay The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House, Lorde concluded that “only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable” when diverse viewpoints are left out of important discussions about our society. Representation matters truly and deeply; a lack of it only hinders social progress.Support Villainesse