Feminist Hero Friday: Audre Lorde - Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.

by Michelle Kiang

Seeing as this is the first profile we are doing for Feminist Hero Friday, I feel immense pressure to set the tone. With these short profiles, we hope to do justice to the lives and contributions of folks who have been leaders in speaking truth to power.

To set a tone of awe, inspiration, and possibility, we have chosen Audre Lorde as the first Hero.

Audre Lorde self-identifies as a “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” and in self-identifying she simultaneously claims her life for herself and makes her existence, her intersecting identities and the value of them known to the world – asking the world to value these identities. If it’s one thing I’ve learned from Audre Lorde, is that I have the agency to claim who I am and who I want to be.

Audre Lorde is my feminist hero not because she is vastly prolific, not because she is an academic, not because her name is well-known in feminist circles, but because she was a person – with flaws and all- who continuously preached love and community as knowledge building. With her self-claiming, Audre Lorde left behind the message that you must value everything you are, especially if the society you live in doesn’t value what and who you are. 

Audre Lorde was born February 18, 1934 in New York City to West Indian parents. She died on November 17, 1992 in Saint Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands. In between these two dates and places, Audre Lorde worked and lived to be seen and heard – she is a feminist hero (within our context and definition of feminism). You can find more specific information about her life on the Poetry Foundation website, in the 1996 PBS documentary of her life “A Litany for Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde,” and the many essays, poems, and prose she wrote throughout her life (some of which are available on the site and below).

These are some of my favorite Audre Lorde quotes.

“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference – those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older – know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – from The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House

a litany for survival by Audre Lorde

For those of us who live at the shoreline
standing upon the constant edges of decision
crucial and alone
for those of us who cannot indulge
the passing dreams of choice
who love in doorways coming and going
in the hours between dawns
looking inward and outward
at once before and after
seeking a now that can breed
like bread in our children’s mouths
so their dreams will not reflect
the death of ours

For those of us
who were imprinted with fear
like a faint line in the center of our foreheads
learning to be afraid with our mother’s milk
for by this weapon
this illusion of some safety to be found
the heavy-footed hoped to silence us
For all of us
this instant and this triumph
We were never meant to survive.

And when the sun rises we are afraid
it might not remain
when the sun sets we are afraid
it might not rise in the morning
when our stomachs are full we are afraid
of indigestion
when our stomachs are empty we are afraid
we may never eat again
when we are loved we are afraid
love with vanish
when we are alone we are afraid
love will never return
and when we speak we are afraid
our words will not be heard
nor welcomed
but when we are silent
we are still afraid.

So it is better to speak
we were never meant to survive.

“Prosthesis offers the empty comfort of ‘Nobody will know the difference.’ But it is that very difference which I wish to affirm, because I have lived it, and survived it, and whish to share that strength with other women. If we are to translate the silence surrounding breast cancer into language and action against this scourge, then the first step is that women with mastectomies must become visible to each other.” – from Journals (Speaking on her decision to not wear a prosthesis)

Some samples of Audre's work: