The Power of Voice
by Stephaine Novak
“Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am Black, because I am les
bian, because I am myself a Black woman warrior poet doing my workkome to ask you, are you doing yours?'
Though she isn’t nearly as widely recognized
as Martin Luther King or Sojourner Truth, the impor
tance of Audre horde’s life and writings are undeniable.
Lorde, as she described herself, was “Black, lesbian,
feminist, mother, warrior, poet” and
most of all, a visionary. Through her
writings she put into words the prob
lems that had no names and suggested
ways of overcoming those problems.
Audrey Geraldine Lorde
was born on February 18, 1934 in
Harlem, New York City. She was a
precocious child and, upon discov
ering books, began devouring them
quickly. The youngest of three,
Lorde was willful from the begin
ning. She dropped the ‘y’ from her
name when, during penmanship
practice, she decided that the let
ter was not aesthetically pleasing.
Lorde crossed racial bound
aries by becoming friends with white
people, much to the dismay of the
black poets who, with her, were mem
bers of the Harlem Writers’ Guild.
Despite being somewhat
familiar with the lesbian scene,
Lorde married Edward Rollins in
1962 and with him, had two children. In 1968, she was giv
en a grant by the National Foundation of the Arts to act as
a poet in residence at Tougaloo College, a historically black
college in Mississippi. It was there that she met Frances Clay
ton, a blonde haired and blue eyed woman. The connection
was immediate, and it was with Clayton that Lorde found
her life partner. The marriage with Rollins ended in 1970.
As a black, lesbian woman, Audre encountered and
fought racism, sexism, and heterosexism. She also fought those
‘progressives’ who excluded others. As a black woman, she no
ticed when black men tried to keep superiority over their women.
causing a division within the community. And as a feminist, she
noticed when the white feminists of academia left out the expe
riences of non-white women. When Mary Daly published the
book Gyn/Ecology and focused her arguments on the experienc
es of the white woman, Lorde responded.
In a letter sent to Daly, Lorde
wrote: “The oppression of women
knows no ethnic nor racial boundar
ies, true, but that does not mean it
is identical within those differences?
To deal with one without even allud
ing to the other is to distort our com
monality as well as our differences.”
Lorde emphasized that there were
distinct differences between people and
argued that the differences must not be
forgotten, nor should they be merely
tolerated. It is through understanding
differences that bridges begin to form
between people, be they black/white,
lesbian/straight/bi, or male/female.
Lorde, who died in 1992 of can
cer, but racism, sexism and heterosexism
still exist today. The battle is ongoing.
Change won’t happen by sitting back
and waiting for it to come. Change
isn’t easy. As Lorde told the poet Adri
enne Rich, “Putting yourself on the
line is like killing a piece of yourself, in the sense that you
have to kill, end, destroy something familiar and dependable,
so that something new can come, in ourselves, in our world.”
It is, Lorde argued, from the visibility which makes us
most vulnerable that we draw our greatest strength. This Febru
ary, as you celebrate and reflect on the African-Americans who
have worked to effect change, I want you to consider what you
can do to help pave the road towards equality. Talk to people,
share your stories, write down your experiences and share them.
But don’t stay silent. Question your motives, look at
the world around you and where you see injustice? Fight it.