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February 18th would have been Audre Lorde’s 88th birthday. Her words as a poet, essayist, feminist, and academic have outlived her, though often stripped of their original, radical context.
Lorde was the first to speak of self-care – not as indulgent consumption but rather an “act of political warfare” as a Black woman, lesbian, and mother struggling against the cancer that would prematurely take her life (Refinery29).
And though many remember her warning that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” few recall that the house in question was the racial capitalism left unquestioned by the white feminist movement.
Today, groups like the Audre Lorde Project in New York continue her efforts to center and empower working-class queer people and women of color in creating “revolutionary changes” and “new paths to our survival” (Sister Outsider, 123). We’ve included some of Lorde’s texts below. Her work should be understood as completely and contextually as possible, just like our struggles against oppression must grapple with the complexities of difference and the framework of intersecting oppressions.
…Today that 37 year old white man
with 13 years of police forcing
was set free
by eleven white men who said they were satisfied
justice had been done
and one Black Woman who said
“They convinced me” meaning
they had dragged her 4’10” black Woman’s frame
over the hot coals
of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go
the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children…
There are so many roots to the tree of anger
that sometimes the branches shatter
before they bear.
Sitting in Nedicks
the women rally before they march
discussing the problematic girls
they hire to make them free.
An almost white counterman passes
a waiting brother to serve them first
and the ladies neither notice nor reject
the slighter pleasures of their slavery.
But I who am bound by my mirror
as well as my bed
see causes in colour
as well as sex
and sit here wondering
which me will survive
all these liberations.
…For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive…
So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.
“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… 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.
“Poor women and women of Color know there is a difference between the daily manifestations of marital slavery and prostitution because it is our daughters who line 42nd Street. If white american feminist theory need not deal with the differences between 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?
“In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the groundwork for political action.”