Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde
We’re throwing it wayyyy back this week. If I’m honest, it’s mostly because I haven’t read anything new besides articles in the New Yorker and part of Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (not by a woman of color, but I highly recommend it! It’s not at all what I expected it to be, and I’m super pumped to finish it before the movie comes out.) So I had to look over my bookshelf and landed upon one of my faves — thank the Lord for Audre, right?
This book is a compilation of essays, speeches and interviews, and really is a great primer on Black feminist theory and action as presented by Audre Lorde. If you read my review of How We Get Free edited by Kimberly Yemahtta-Taylor, you’ll know that Black feminist theory is something that I’m personally very interested in, and I was introduced to Audre Lorde in the same college course that brought me the Combahee River Collective Statement. I read several of her essays individually before I discovered this collection. The whole book is rich, but if I had to choose a few essays to pick out as favorite, there are two that have especially stood out to me as I have reread them over and over.
“The Master/s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” was originally comments made by Lorde at the “Personal and the Political Panel” at the Second Sex Conference in New York City in September of 1979. The title of the essay isn’t unfamiliar language to me, and you can probably use your critical thinking skills to parse out its meaning, but there are a few passages that are especially striking to me here where Lorde actually comes for some necks. For example:
“For the masters 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.” (pg. 112)
That last sentence is what grabs me. Lorde basically tells us that the only women who are going to be bothered by abandoning the master’s tools is the women who are actually trying to end up in the master’s house. The women who think that the goal of feminism is to achieving manhood.
My absolute favorite Audre Lorde piece is “Poetry Is Not a Luxury.” At the time that I first read it, it completely revolutionized my understanding of my artistic purpose. She uses the word poetry, but I extrapolate that out to include all art.
The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom. (pg. 38).
It’s a commentary on the age old heart versus head argument, but what is most exciting to me here is that Lorde connects liberation to feeling, to fully allowing Black women to feel and express ourselves from that gut place of intuition that necessitates action.
You should read Sister Outsider because Audre Lorde is critical reading for understanding Black feminism broadly, but also because her way of writing and speaking is incredibly insightful, sharp and articulate. Much of her work was originally delivered in the 70s and 80s, but it just as timely and applicable now as it was then.
Have you heard of Audre Lorde before or read any of her work? Let me know what you think in the comments below!