After all of us pushing hard to get through An Indigenous People’s History of the United States last month, my book club opted to do a shorter essay collection this month. We read Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider and were all blown away. This is my first time reading Audre Lorde, and I am so in awe of her ability to write and speak so lyrically about sexism, racism, ageism, and homophobia. She was speaking about intersectionality before the term was coined, and it feels so sad to read her words from decades ago and feel that little has changed.
We had a few favorite essays/speeches as a group. “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” a speech delivered at the Modern Language Association’s “Lesbian Literature Panel” in 1977, was one of my favorites. In it, Lorde discusses the way that Black women have been both highly visible in America, while being rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism. She warns of the danger of silence saying, “while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us” (44). I very much relate to that feeling, staying silent from fear. She also points out that whether or not we speak, we are going to suffer from systemic injustices. Breaking that silence is the first step to mobilizing towards change.
We also had a great discussion about “An Open Letter to Mary Daly.” In it, Audre Lorde writes a response to Daly’s book Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism and challenges her on the exclusion of women of color from her book. Apparently, Daly quoted Lorde before a chapter about genital mutilation, and did not include any other women of color in her book, or Lorde’s words anywhere else in her book. Lorde writes that Daly’s choice to use her quote before that chapter perpetuates the portrayal of women of color as only victims or preyers upon each other. We felt this letter has striking parallels to what we see on social media today. How often do you see a white woman sharing the words of Black women only to advance their own image? Or, how often do you see a white woman tone policing in the comments of a Black woman’s page? White feminists need to be actively seeking out women of color and giving them space to share their experience.
Throughout the book, Lorde speaks to the need for women to come together, recognize each other’s differences, and use those differences as forces for change. Each essay was powerful, emotional, and thought-provoking. I am so looking forward to reading more from her!
Next month’s book club selection is Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo. Read along with us!
And previous month’s selections have been:
February: An Indigenous People’s History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
January: Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad
December: Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
October/November: How to Be Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi
September: The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale (Written by a white man, but we were looking for a history of policing and information about what defunding the police would look like. If you know a great resource for this by a BIPOC author, I’d love to pick it up.)