Audre Lorde is one of the greatest writers to have lived. Who was she exactly? She is professionally recognized as a poet, author and essayist. If you’re familiar with her writing, then you’ll also refer to her as the embodiment of a bad–s lesbian, womanist, civil rights activist and human rights activist born before her time.
She was an Afro-Grenadian girl raised in Harlem, who eventually broke the rules through her unique nature. Her voice was strong but was composed of so much empathy, compassion and vulnerability. As a woman of academia, she fostered her ascent toward becoming a literary prodigy who wrote some of the most spellbinding and intellectually profound pieces of 20th century literature. If you’re ever thirsting for prose or poems that will expand your intellect, her text contains enough mental nutrition to completely rearrange your school of thought.
Sometimes, I’ve wondered who she’d be as a millennial. She was a rebel who learned to unapologetically face the world regardless of any backlash she’d receive for her identity. Regardless of it being New York City, she was a double minority who was both black and gay at a time when any love shown for gay men was not usually extended toward gay women.
However, the numerous plights Lorde experienced never dulled her voice. Her demand for respect and to be heard was never subtle; it was loud and boisterous. It was a declaration that, despite her obvious deviation from social norms, she would remain comfortable in her skin. She was the prophet for women of color who were tired of being ridiculed or looked down upon simply because of who they were.
That bravery and radical self-love is a milestone most only dream of accomplishing. Even though multiple odds were stacked against her, she continued. By honestly proclaiming how difficult but necessary her survival was, she was a catalyst for others to continue pulling through regardless of the obstacles. It was her driving force to stand up for all women and everything she believed in.
Similar to other important black female voices, you won’t find her work on the bookshelves of many high schools or higher learning institutes. It’s a shame, honestly. Because at this point in time, she’s probably the author who can speak the most to the world’s current climate. Between egotistical and misogynist presidents/prime ministers/world leaders, a revival of the trans rights movement, an overall shift in society’s thoughts on gender and sexuality and an ongoing cry for women to uplift rather than compete with one another, her work remains applicable to each topic.
That’s the definition of intersectionality. Even before the term was officially coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Lorde was already displaying it in every ounce of her being and writing. Simply being a woman who refused to be boxed into one category allowed her to relate to many people and different aspects of life. Her life made people wonder, “What if I was just myself, instead of conforming to society’s expectations?” Maybe, they’d also lead their own mini-revolutions.
Even though she passed away in 1992, her writing continues to mentor people. She has a plethora of quotable lines, many of which have resurfaced as popular social media quotes. Such as, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” As a double minority, she gave a voice to many who often remained voiceless. She encouraged candid ownership of who you are and advocated for not catering to the discomfort of others. As a girl who grew up when people of color weren’t necessarily empowered by society, she decided to counter the ingrained belief of silence being the only option.
As she continues to expand on silence in the essay, “The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action,” her writing further elaborates, “I was forced to look upon myself and my living with a harsh and urgent clarity that has left me still shaken but much stronger… Some of what I experienced during that time has helped elucidate for me much of what I feel concerning the transformation of silence into language and action.” The hardest thing many people will do is come to terms with themselves.
That’s because speaking up for oneself leaves room for an unknown gray area, where people decide to either praise you or even victim-shame you. That’s why silence is usually used to dull the pain. Or, silence is also common when many people are taught to respect fear. Yet, as Lorde also explains, remaining silent will never fix anything. The discomfort of staying in the same place and of putting yourself out there is equal.
Another term she spearheaded was “womanist,” which also wasn’t officially coined until 1997 — five years after her death — by Alice Walker. (Like I keep saying, this woman was born years before she was meant to grace the planet). Even though she referred to herself as a black feminist, defining herself as such stemmed from the same frustrations of not feeling included in the first wave of feminism devised by middle-class white women. She did not have the luxury of the same entitlement, and her life experiences as a black woman weren’t usually incorporated into their movement.
Instead, she wrote, “Black feminism is not white feminism in blackface.” Real women’s empowerment isn’t exclusive, and neither was Lorde. She created her own branch of feminism, which was really womanism, that openly accepted everyone’s struggles and differences. Distinguishing between the two was her way of showing who was truly advocating for everyone’s empowerment and who was only concerned about other people’s problems if they related to their own.
Because as she continued, “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 colour remains chained.” Her level of intensity was, well, intense. She said what she said, and that energy translated itself in her efforts to help others.
She puts it best, “The only way you can head people off from using who you are against you is to be honest and open first, to talk about yourself before they talk about you.” In layman’s terms, real recognizes real. People might attempt to misconstrue your truth. However, if you remain honest and show people otherwise with your actions, then those who matter will realize everyone else is a bunch of haters.
Lorde spoke the truth and offers a refreshing point-of-view that is blatantly related to today’s society. Her writing is still as relevant, necessary and insightful as ever. If you’re also a bookworm, I promise you won’t be disappointed by her writing.