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190 pages, Paperback
First published June 1, 1984
As women we have come to distrust that power which rises from our deepest and nonrational knowledge. We have been warned against it all our lives by the male world, which values this depth of feeling enough to keep women around in order to exercise it in the service of men, but which fears this same depth too much to examine the possibilities of it within themselves. So women are maintained at a distant/inferior position to psychically milked.Lorde rehabilitates eros, the life force as a vivifying principle for our actions:
The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings. It is an internal sense of satisfaction to which, once we have experienced it, we know we can aspire[...] Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of their relative meaning within our lives.
In this country, Black women traditionally have had compassion for everybody except ourselves. We have cared for whites because we had to for pay or survival; we have cared for our children and our fathers and our brothers and our lovers. History and popular culture, as well as our personal lives, are full of tales of Black women who had 'compassion for misguided black men.' Our scarred, broken, battered and dead daughters and sisters are a mute testament to that reality. We need to learn to have compassion for ourselves, also.
I am a lesbian woman of Color whose children eat regularly because I work in a university. If their full bellies make me fail to recognize my commonality with a woman of Color whose children do not eat because she cannot find work, or who has no children because her insides are rotted from home abortions and sterilization; if I fail to recognize the lesbian who chooses not to have children, the woman who remains closeted because her homophobic community is her only life support, the woman who chooses silence instead of another death, the woman who is terrified lest my anger trigger the explosion of hers; if I fail to recognize them as other faces of myself, then I am contributing not only to each of their oppressions but also to my own, and the anger which stands between us then must be used for clarity and mutual empowerment, not for evasion by guilt or for further separation. I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any one of you.
Anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change. To those women here who fear the anger of women of Color more than their own unscrutinized racist attitudes, I ask: Is the anger of women of Color more threatening than the woman-hatred that tinges all aspects of our lives?My latest favorite type of Tumblr blog is a variation on the theme of 'thisisnot_____', wherein a slew of responses to angry white tears let me know I'm on the right track. You see, I am in need of practice when it comes to differentiating the emotions of violation and annoyance, the situations of prejudice and hegemony, the fundamental difference between the reactions evoked by the 'ItAintRape' tag and when people of color call my group 'crackers' and 'mayo'. Neither religion nor common sense gives me what is required to develop my feminism beyond its white feminism mainstream of white supremacism, and if I am at times uncomfortable, well. I know the oppression begotten by believing my safe spaces should be able to intersect completely and utterly with everyone else's, for what is privilege if not speaking and knowing beyond a doubt you will be heard? There is also the matter that, as long as I have been at this, I have not yet found a discomfort comparable to my episodes of major depressive disorder. In a word, priorities, with no small amount of self-awareness to make the effort sustainable.
When an academic woman says, “I can’t afford it,” she may mean she is making a choice about how to spend her available money. But when a woman on welfare says, “I can’t afford it,” she means she is surviving on an amount of money that was barely subsistence in 1972, and she often does not have enough to eat. Yet the National Women’s Studies Association here in 1981 holds a conference in which it commits itself to responding to racism, yet refuses to waive the registration fee for poor women and women of Color who wished to present and conducted workshops. This has made it impossible for many women of Color — for instance, Wilmette Brown, of Black women for Wages for Housework — to participate in this conference. Is this to be merely another case of the academy discussing life within the closed circuits of the academy?There is a living here that is not for me, save for when I wish to inform myself as inexorably as possible without invading safe spaces with the trauma induced by my white skin, the submission inculcated by my military industrial complexion. What was once solely a defect of social anxiety has become a boon in the realms of intersectionality, as my offline personality takes in the development of my online persona and parses out what it is dehumanizing from what is merely guilt. Indeed, offline existence has almost become a respite, so used am I to anger directed at all that I represent for every justifiable reason. Compared to the fury I've read in Tumblr posts, this work barely scrapes the surface of a twinge with its love, its eloquence, its call for community and lack of implication that all white people in the US should go back to Europe. In that, the danger is not backtracking out of annoyance but appropriating out of a false sense of welcome, so it is fortunate that I came to this already knowing better.
For white women there is a wider range of pretended choices and rewards for identifying with patriarchal power and its tools.What is this social justice I speak of? Is it a mockery? Is it a hating of whites? Is it perhaps post-menstrual syndrome, a time when a cis-gendered woman's body comes as close in testosterone level to those with which the cis-gendered male's body operates every time, all the time? Is it my neuroatypicality, a fancy word of self-empowerment that simply means that, by the standards of society, I am not considered sane. As a writer, I hone my craft on bleeding my feelings into my pen and keyboard, and those feelings are rarely kind, never peaceful, and every so often disinter themselves from the breed that shoots up schools and rains down drones. As a white woman, social justice is the art of inherent power as propagated towards the self and pressed upon the other, an art that will ask 'who' and 'how' and 'why' and say, above all else, 'no'. Sometime in the future, a 'yes' may be possible when the Chapel Hill shooting's status as a hegemonic hate crime is not birthed in limbo, when white women stop diagnosing the choices of black women in order to 'help', when I no longer have to choose the lesser evil of academia over the greater one of the drug industry in order to fulfill my socioeconomic quota with doing what I love. Until then, readers who are white, do not infantilize this work with unconditional acceptance and utter lack of self-reflexivity. Do so, and you whitewash this narrative into policed gentrification, and that is a fucking disgrace.
When patriarchy dismisses us, it encourages our murderers. When radical lesbian feminist theory dismisses us, it encourages its own demise.
For it is not the anger of Black women which is dripping down over this globe like a diseased liquid. It is not my anger that launches rockets, spends over sixty thousand dollars a second on missiles and other agents of war and death, slaughters children in cities, stockpiles nerve gas and chemical bombs, sodomizes our daughters and our earth. It is not the anger of Black women which corrodes into blind, dehumanizing power, bent upon the annihilation of us all unless we meet it with what we have, our power to examine and to redefine the terms upon which we will live and work; our power to envision and to reconstruct, anger by painful anger, stone upon heavy stone, a future of pollinating differences and the earth to support our choices.Priorities, people. Priorities.
"For the master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him his own game, but they will never enable us to bring genuine change"
“Hero of the Republic medals, I learned later. Earned for hard work.
This is something I noticed all over: the very old people in Russia have a stamp upon them that I hope I can learn and never lose, a matter-of-fact resilience and sense of their place upon the earth that is very sturdy and reassuring.”
The station was very large and very beautiful and very clean – shockingly, strikingly, enjoyably clean. The whole station looked like a theatre lobby – bright brass and mosaics and shiny chandeliers.
For women, poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams towards survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems, carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives.
In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear – fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgement, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live.
It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.
Every women has a well stocked arsenal of anger potentially useful against those oppressions, personal and institutional, which brought that anger into being. Focused with precision, it can become a powerful source of energy serving progress and change. If we accept our powerlessness, then of course any anger can destroy us.
“[Lorde’s] works will be important to those truly interested in growing up sensitive, intelligent, and aware.” New York Times
"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."