Audre Lorde: the black, lesbian, mother, warrior and poet always liked to introduce herself with a long list of what she was.
The complex and multifaceted identity of Lorde is what made her so inspiring and Sunday (18 February 2018) would have marked her 84th birthday. Her creative talent, intelligence and resilience earnt her place in legendary history and as it’s American Black History Month, we’re honoured to pay tribute to one of the greatest African-American role models of our time.
Audrey Geraldine Lorde was born in Harlem, New York to immigrant parents from Barbados and Carriacou. From the age of four, she taught herself to read despite being “legally blind.” She later described herself as “not only a casualty,” but a “warrior” too.
She grew up to dedicate her life to battling the injustices of society; racism, homophobia and sexism that was laced into all her writings, with deep feeling and passion. Lorde broke free from the insistent categories given to her by society and instead used her intersectional feminism, bravery and political activism to empower herself and her readers. In an interview with Charles H. Rowell in Callaloo, she says: “My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds… [White, arch-conservative senator] Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity…or even about sex. It is about revolution and change.”
Where most feminist discourse focuses on the oppression of women in a patriarchal society, Audre Lorde recognised the racial problem within feminism. Black and brown women were continuously excluded from the narrative whereas white and often upper and middle-class women were being listened to. Lorde stressed the idea that where feminism was being spoken about, to make it as simple as men and women as a binary concept was to ignore the many and varied subdivisions between both – sexuality being the one with which she identified.
One of the most famous quotes from Lorde is: “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” The importance of her poetic voice was always at the forefront of everything she did. In her book Sister Outsider, Lorde insisted that poetry isn’t a luxury and instead, she believed it was necessary for human existence. “It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”
Tragically, in 1992, Lorde lost her fight with cancer and left behind a strong and meaningful legacy in the world. Right before she died, she had an African naming ceremony where she renamed herself Gamba Adisa, meaning Warrior: She Who Makes Her Meaning Known. And there could not be a name more apt.