It seems that my reading speed is far outpacing my blogging speed right now, so I decided to write a mini-review.. I feel like this is a book that I must share. Based on my Goodreads friends, I know many of you have read it, or read selections from it. If I borrow a book from the library, and I think it’s one that I’m likely to write a post about, I take notes in a medium-sized magenta notebook. While reading Audre Lorde’s collection of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider, I ended up with four pages. It took me quite a while to get through this, because I did not want to rush it. I wanted to sit with the essays for a while. I’d read Lorde in college in my women’s studies classes, but that was almost twenty years ago, and honestly, I can’t remember half of what I did back then (other than make midnight trips to Taco Bell with my friends and pine obsessively for boys who weren’t into me.)
This is a collection written in the 1970s and early 1980s, but (sadly) so much of what Lorde writes feels relevant and fresh for today’s reader. Bookended by insightful travel pieces about Russia and Grenada, the bulk of Lorde’s essays are about speaking , writing, and owning her truth, and the power of words, language, and poetry to unite women who may lead different kinds of lives but who are all oppressed by patriarchal structures. There were so many powerful passages that I noted, so many sentences that spoke to me and that I wanted to share.
I was reminded of Lindy West and her excellent book Shrill when I read this from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action:”
What are the words you do not have? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you sicken and die of them, still in silence… And where the words of women are crying to be heard,we must each of us recognize our responsibility, to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives. That we not hid behind the mockeries of separations that have been imposed upon us and which we so often accept as our own.
This stunning passage is from “Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response:”
I wish to raise a Black man who will not be destroyed by, nor settle for, those corruptions called power by the white fathers who mean his destruction as surely as they mean mine. I wish to raise a Black man who will recognize that the legitimate objects of his hostility are not women, but the particulars of a structure that programs him to fear and despise women as well as his own Black self. For me this task begins with teaching my son that I do not exist to do his feeling for him. Men who are afraid to feel must keep women around to do their feeling for them while dismissing us for the same supposedly “inferior” capacity to feel deeply.
And finally, this passage on guilt from “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism;”
Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own action or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since then it is no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.
Oh man, I felt that. Did you feel that?
I wish I could be more eloquent in my appreciation of Lorde’s poetically devastating prose. While some of the essays in the book spoke to me more than others, this is a book to be shared, discussed, and pondered. It is the kind of book that can change lives, that can galvanize action, that can inspire a woman to speak her truth and seek out common ground with others who are speaking theirs. I am so glad that I read it.