|This webpage introduces Audre Lorde, who was one of the most vocal warriors of several human rights movements. Her poetry and essays serve as the foundations for several women's, LGBT+, and African American rights campaigns.|
Audre Lorde: a mother, a teacher, a speaker, a writer, a wife, but at the base of it all, a Black woman. In “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” Audre (1984) describes a pivotal moment in her life where she was forced to make a change. Her cancer diagnosis and new expiration date were all the kindling she needed to spark the fire in her mind — and mouth. Ironically, the news that she was dying changed her life for the better. Instead of worrying about how many hours she had left, the priorities of speaking out and making her voice heard broke through the fear she harbored only moments before. And if that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.
Audre gave voices to those who couldn’t speak out themselves. She stood as a model for not one, not two, but THREE groups that constantly face challenges in our world and likely will for ages to come. She used her platform as a scholar and poet to bring attention to the difficulties women, women of color, and LGBTQ+ women face day in and day out, and she was not going to take anymore of it. This was more than just standing up to the bully at school or writing angry letters — this was her life and her livelihood.
There is little I admire more than people using their platform, fame, and following, no matter how small or large, to bring awareness to issues that so many of us suffer from but may not necessarily have the social standing to be heard when we speak out against them. Because at the base of it all, she was still a woman, and neither her career nor popularity could save her from the prejudices the average woman faced, and she was well aware of it. She spoke in her essays from experience and observations. She didn’t stray from the truth and she didn’t skimp on anecdotes, as seen in “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism,” (1981).
Speaking of “The Uses of Anger” during the recollection of racist attitudes she dealt with in her time, Audre describes when a white woman expresses her preference for speaking with non-Black women of color rather than Black women because the latter are too “harsh.” Now, I don’t know how Audre reacted, since there is no mention of her response, but I know I would’ve been struck with some initial shock, then uncontrollable laughter. Who did the white lady think she was speaking with? Another white lady? Was she that blind or stupid or indifferent that she spewed her racists thoughts to anyone who would listen? It’s almost laughable (and a little scary) how oblivious ignorance can make you. She might as well have said, “I’m glad no black women showed up today!” to Audre’s black-woman-face.
Further reading “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” put a new thought into my head as well, one I had never given much attention in my young age: the older you get, the less mess you take from others, especially related to your identities (whether your sexuality, race, religion, etc). Audre realized this when she was given a time limit on her life. It appears the closer you are to potentially expiring, the more you want to let out all your thoughts that you kept tucked away in a dusty filing cabinet in your mind. It’s like when people keep all their curse words and insults to themselves at work, but the day they quit it all comes pouring out. Rather than hiding all the opinions and speeches and essays until a life-changing event strikes us, we should be vocal and speak out any chance we get. We should seek the strength within ourselves, not wait for it to find us.
In Audre’s words, “[black women] have to fight for every visibility which also renders us most vulnerable,” (Silence into Action, page 42). We need to seek out the fear to find courage, search for the fights to be warriors, hunt down the silence to be heard, for our silence will not protect us.
Lorde, Audre. (1981). The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism.
Lorde, Audre. (1984). The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.