Audre Lorde: Her Progressive Views And Work

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In spite of Audre Lorde’s quotable aptitude, and in spite of the fact that she stands as one of America’s most important scholarly and intellectual voices, much of her work is unknown to the general public. As a result of her political nature, Lorde has been disregarded in literary circles. Lorde was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” To refuse to acknowledge Lorde simply because of her politics is to ignore her written and spoken abilities. Her writing was multi-genre including poems, essays, and an autobiography. She welcomed differences in her writing and within individuals and communities. Audre Lorde used her writings to inspire others to see their own fire; she believed that the most important things in life must be voiced and shared, so she committed her life to doing just that.

In the opening lines to her now iconic essay Your Silence Will Not Protect You Lorde wrote, “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal, and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” Perhaps what Lorde did best was to share her life experiences and learned truths with others. She saw the myriad of ways that the world turned opinionated girls like her into reluctantly silent women. The things that are most important must be spoken, even at the risk of being disregarded, discredited, or misinterpreted. Within the span of one sentence, Lorde helped women everywhere remember that they not only had voices, but that their voices were necessary. Silence was no longer an option. She said as much when she wrote, “your silence will not protect you.” Speaking up is imperative. Lorde urges people to not just speak up for themselves, but to also stand up for others who have suffered. Speaking up is a means of sparking action and should be central to our politics. To Lorde, speaking out is necessary to achieving the goal of worldwide togetherness and sympathy as well as inspiring action.

For Lorde, poetry was more essential than prose when it came to the act of speaking. In her essays, Lorde repeated the significance of language and the significance of moving from language into action. Her poetry is an example of doing exactly that – moving language into progress. Lorde’s poems deal with the themes that are seen in her prose, but they use very few words to get the same ideas across. The poem “A Litany for Survival’s” final words – “it is better to speak/ remembering/ we were never meant to survive” – are a perfect summary of Lorde’s writing. It is reiterated that silence is the nemesis to survival and that speech has the prospective of changing the world. Speaking up and taking action is a fundamental principle of Lorde’s feminist politics.

A visionary and pioneer, Audre Lorde was ahead of her time in a myriad of ways, writing and speaking with courage and honesty about issues that continue to divide to this day. In her 1984 collection of essays and speeches entitled Sister Outsider she identified the need to both recognize and utilize differences in the fight against oppression stating, “It is within our differences that we are both most powerful and most vulnerable, and some of the most difficult tasks of our lives are the claiming of differences, and learning to use those differences for bridges rather than as barriers between us.” The way Lorde invoked differences was not passive, it was a mode of resistance against norms. In that collection she also wrote: “Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring differences into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or they do not exist at all.” She addressed the inevitability of difference Lorde said, “Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectations.” She insisted on the pertinence of recognizing differences in order to use personal experiences to challenge traditional views of the world.

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So many of the issues Lorde confronted continue, making her criticisms of power and exploitation as necessary as they were when she wrote them. Her writing and activism both deserve acclaim. While she explored the themes of racism, homophobia, classism, and patriarchy – particularly how these hierarchies are used to undermine resistance – Lorde provided a blueprint for political organizing. In her essay “I Am Your Sister”, she shared a fundamental truth about solidarity in organizing: “We have many different faces, and we do not have to become each other in order to work together.” There is a lot of hope in the way Lorde theorized about solidarity within the larger structure of social movements. She did not preach division, instead she imagined a utopia where everyone overcame their differences and worked together to create a better more empathetic and equitable world.

Lorde’s 1982 novel Zami, an autobiographical book she described as a “biomythography” – a mixture of history, biography, and myth, showcases her ability to use prose that jumps from historical instance to modern day issue to contextualize the world. In her book Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde, Alexis De Veaux calls Zami a text that “recovers from existing male-dominated literary genres (history, mythology, autobiography, and fiction) whatever was inextricably female, female-centered.” Through her writing, Lorde wrote herself, and all women like her, into existence. She taught that it is possible to work across the boundaries of social difference but the way to do that is not through a belief in color-blindness or a denial of other’s experiences in the world. Lorde recognized the importance of acknowledging privilege, but she also saw the possibility for it to be leveraged as a force for good. She encouraged people to use their privileges as power to support their beliefs. She stated, “Change did not begin with you, and it will not end with you, but what you do with your life is an absolutely vital piece of that chain.”

Lorde advocated the benefits of anger. She did not see it simply as an emotion. To Lorde, anger was a kinetic force. It provided space for the possibility of social movement and change. Harnessing anger into a force for change was a key idea that Lorde wrote about. Women’s emotions are so often looked down upon. Emotion is seen as a sign of hysteria and an inability to critically process the world. Lorde rejected this notion. She saw anger as a tool, a weapon to fight against unfair societal ideals. She also wrote about how anger is only acceptable in certain members of the population. According to Lorde, black women’s anger is especially looked down upon.

To turn aside from the anger of Black women with excuses or the pretexts of intimidation is to award no one power – it is merely another way of preserving racial blindness, the power of unaddressed privilege, unbreached, intact. Guilt is only another form of objectification. Oppressed peoples are always being asked to stretch a little more, to bridge the gap between blindness and humanity. Black women are expected to use our anger only in the service of other people’s salvation or learning. But that time is over. My anger has meant pain to me, but it has also meant survival, and before I give it up, I’m going to be sure that there is something at least as powerful to replace it on the road to clarity.

Audre Lorde was a writer and activist whose feminism pushed back against social norms. She dedicated her life to confronting and fighting injustices. Lorde honed a poetic style that explored the harshest realities of American society in accessible language. Her style of accessibility was not the norm for writers of her generation. Lorde offered an armor of anger. Most important to Lorde’s legacy is that she left us with tools, not just of resistance, but persistence. She knew struggle as well as joy. Her work as a poet and an activist helped to create diverse and inclusive communities. Her writing is full of honest and devoid of pretentiousness. Within her writing, Lorde was constantly looking ahead, at the promising outcomes of taking action, of speaking and recognizing personal truths. Her hope was as evident as the words she wrote and the silence that she encouraged others to speak over.

“It is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.” This is the first lesson Audre Lorde taught in in “Your Silence Will Not Protect You”. As a writer, Lorde is best known for her technical mastery and expression of emotions. Her poems and essays express anger at social injustices that she observed in her life. Most of her writing deals with issues related to civil rights, feminism, lesbianism, and black identity. Her writing was straightforward and unapologetic with poetic meditations about race, class, gender, and sexuality. Lorde used a lot of fire imagery in her writing. She wrote “Images of women flaming like torches adorn and define the borders of my journey, stand like dykes between me and the chaos.” She inspired others to find their own inner fires and to light a flame beneath those in power. She wanted her writing to empower women and other marginalized groups in society.

Audre Lorde is an integral part of American history and the struggle for political rights. As a result of her legacy many have been inspired to stand up for equal rights. Audre Lorde more than earned her rightful place in the pantheon of influential American writers. Her writing is still quoted because of its ongoing relevance. In this sense, Lorde was prophetic. Lorde’s words remain a battle cry for women and people of color everywhere.

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