Audre Lorde is a legend and her work has quite literally changed my life.
As a self-described Black lesbian, mother, warrior, and poet, Audre Lorde was a powerful figure in the Feminist movement of the 70s and 80s, especially with her work in Black Feminism. Lorde has an impressive array of literature, including many pieces on intersectional feminism, Black lesbianism, and sexual liberation. As a Black woman, she owns her sexuality as part of her intersectional identity as she calls on other women to not let differences in their identities distract them from a common goal of collective liberation. This Pride month, I have gone back and read some of my favorite short pieces.
“The Erotic as Power,” is an evocative piece that was published in Lorde’s 1984 book, Sister Outsider. Focusing on the power of erotic female energy, she educates us on the reasons why this energy has been suppressed in women. She writes, “The erotic is a resource within each of us that lies in a deeply female and spiritual plane, firmly rooted in the power of our unexpressed or unrecognized feeling.” She goes on to explain that the erotic is not necessarily sexual and that is a false connotation that many seem to make due to the use of the erotic to please men. This erotic energy for men’s pleasure is the only one that is approved of in society, and women are forced to suppress all the other uses of this erotic power by a corrupt system.
Recognizing how powerful it can be to fully step into this erotic power can be life-changing for women and create change around the world. When she speaks of the erotic, she means “an assertion of the lifeforce of women; of that creative energy empowered, the knowledge and use of which we are now reclaiming in our language, our history, our dancing, our loving, our work, our lives.”
Imagine if women were able to feel empowered and put love into all that they did? Imagine if we could feel pure pleasure out of the things we did in life, and with who we are, for ourselves and ourselves only? The racist, sexist, and patriarchal systems we live in continue to suppress our power, and we must fight back. Lorde’s piece is an inspiration for all women, but particularly for Black women, the most oppressed group in America.
Another one of my favorite pieces is Lorde’s essay “Black Women Organizing Around Sexualities”, where she calls out to her fellow non-lesbian Black sisters to not let their sexualities get in the way of their shared goal towards Black liberation. Now, I do not identify as a Black woman, but this piece was pivotal for me in learning about the struggles that Black women in our society face. Not only do they face oppression and racism, but the intersectional lesbian Black woman even face pushback from her own sisters. Lorde doesn’t believe that it is right for her to have to choose between being a Black feminist or a Black lesbian, because they are both part of her identity and both contribute to her oppression.
There is still racism, sexism, and discrimination amongst Black folks. In this piece, Lorde wants to call that out and bring unity amongst Black women because they should all unite to fight against the oppression of their community. She writes, “I do not want you to ignore my identity, nor do I want you to make it an insurmountable barrier between our sharing of strengths.” Black lesbians are still struggling for freedom and justice in the same way that heterosexual Black folks are, and this is why she emphasizes that instead of letting their sexualities divide them, they should organize and fight together.
When I reflect on these pieces, I think of all the ways that we are valuable, and how, by stepping into our own value, we are able to value others regardless of the different aspects of their identities. Lorde’s work is a call for women to unite in their fight for freedom.
In her essay “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”, she states that “as women, we must root out internalized patterns of oppression within ourselves if we are to move beyond the most superficial aspects of social change.” By touching on very intricate issues of classism, ageism, and heterosexism among the already deeply rooted racism and sexism towards the Black community, Lorde emphasizes how urgent it is for Black women to put their differences aside for the sake of their own people.
As I mentioned, I am not Black and so I do not share the same experience that Black women do in this country. However, Audre Lorde has been a prominent figure who has contributed towards my knowledge about intersectional feminism and to my anti-racist education. I am compelled to honor her and her work, especially during Pride month.
Lorde’s work embodies Pride as she unapologetically owns every part of her intersectional identity, including her sexuality. In doing so, she inspired other women to do the same, and even to join her battle for liberation for all Black folks with all types of intersectional identities. As she writes in “The Erotic as Power”, “Of course, women so empowered are dangerous.”
Audre Lorde’s work paved the way for many women to step into their power, and she has taught me how to be a better leader, a better ally, a better woman.