Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Audre Lorde’s classic collection of essays is extremely helpful in connecting the dots of why intersectionality is a must for feminists. Black women face a double burden of racism and sexism in this hostile world of capitalist white male supremacy. There is no point in just looking at sexism without also tackling racism.

The essays range from a recap of her trip to Russia in 1976 (where she sums up the endless nattering of heterosexual norms… “I sat with three other African women and we exchanged chitchat for 5 1/2 hours about our respective children, about our ex-old men, all very, very heterocetera”) to an open letter to Mary Daly (calling her to task for ignoring black feminists’ perspective), to detailing how her young son will grow up to be a good man raised by lesbian, interracial parents. She occasionally mentions Patricia Cowan, a black woman auditioning for a play called Hammer in 1977 who was bludgeoned to death by the young black male playwright (James Thomas) at the audition, in front of her 4-year old son (who was also bludgeoned but survived).

My favorite essay was The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action (1980).

Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you…

Within those weeks of acute fear came the knowledge… I am not only a casualty, I am also a warrior.

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 a 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?

And it is never without fear — of visibility, of the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps judgment, of pain, of death. But we have lived through all of those already, in silence, except death. And I remind myself all the time now that if I were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my whole life long for safety, I would still have suffered, and I would still die. It is very good for establishing perspective.

we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.