In celebration of Pride Month and the Black Lives Matter movement, Roar writers share their recommendations and reflections on black queer culture.
As we celebrate the LGBTQ+ community this Pride month, we must also celebrate the critical and inspirational work that black queer artists, authors and activists have achieved and continue to achieve. While there are copious amounts of prominent figures, one figure who deserves attention is the American writer, Audre Lorde, whose literature has an enduring power, especially in this current climate of the Black Lives Matter movement and global protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, police brutality and systemic racism. Lorde openly discussed and wrote about the pervasive racial inequalities in society, as a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” she was no stranger to it but instead of shrinking from this, she used poetry to champion and give recognition to differences in race, sexuality and class, while advocating for civil and human rights.
Audre Lorde was born in New York City in 1934 to Caribbean immigrants. She was in high school when at the age of 15 her first poem was published in Seventeen Magazine. She graduated from Hunter College in 1959, and completed her master’s from Columbia University two years later. Lorde continued writing poetry during her academic studies and while working as a librarian, but it was in 1968 that her first volume of poems The First Cities was published. A writer of poetry, essays, non-fiction and memoirs, themes such as racial and social injustices, gender inequalities and black female identity are at the heart of her works. Lorde was also central to many liberation movements, dedicating her life to confronting injustices and advocating for civil rights and LGBTQ equality. She famously participated in 1979’s National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay rights. She encouraged a generation of people to fuse the personal with the political and notably explored the intersections of race, class and gender in her canonical essay The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. Lorde received many honours in her lifetime for her literature and activism. In 1987 she received the Borough of Manhattan President’s Award for Literary Excellence, and was named the Poet Laureate of New York State in 1991 a year before her death aged 58.
Lorde once said that “revolution is not a one-time event”, her words can be seen as an omen of these turbulent times. She was not afraid to speak about difficult or controversial subjects despite the backlash that it often caused. Her feminism pushed back against society’s tendency to categorise, and she dismissed the exclusive categories of lesbian or black woman because she refused to prioritise one aspect of her identity over another. She mentions this struggle most vividly in her autobiography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name where she writes “it was hard enough to be black, to be black and female, to be black, female, and gay. To be black, female, gay and out of the closet in a white environment”. Lorde’s analysis of feminism was deeply intersectional as she believed that gender oppression was inextricably linked to other oppressive systems like racism, homophobia and classism. She also criticised second-wave feminism for not being a true reflection of all women’s struggles particularly women of colour, since it largely focused on the experiences of white middle-class women.
In 1981, Lorde delivered a speech at the National Women’s Studies Association Conference where she described that too often, anger is viewed as divisive to feminism or intimidating to address. She believed that mainstream culture seeks to deter white people and people of colour from responding to racism and dismantling the status quo. Anger for Lorde is an understandable emotional response to racism and oppression of any kind, that must be listened to. She also encourages us to embrace our differences and complexities, remarking in her speech that “the strength of women lies in recognising differences between us as creative, and in standing to those distortions which we inherited without blame, but which are now ours to alter”.
Though Lorde wrote The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action in 1977, it feels extremely relevant. In this short rousing essay, she asks readers to not be silent on important issues and explains the importance of overcoming fears to speak out about the injustices that are dividing society. As an activist, Lorde emphasised the silent dangers of acquiescence and inaction, she encourages us to not live our lives in silence because as she states in her powerful mantra “your silence will not protect you”. It is therefore, not enough to recognise an injustice; it must be spoken out against. You cannot stay silent on topics such as racism and the issues that the LGBTQ+ community continue to face.
Audre Lorde speaks for people who stood up for equality and freedom but were knocked down and silenced. Her rage rings through these times. Now, just as much as ever, Audre Lorde instructs us that “it is not difference which immobilises us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken”.
You can read some of Audre Lorde’s poems here.