Between the Lines: ‘Sister Outsider’ by Audre Lorde


Ethan Gullet

Illustration by Ethan Gullett

Paris Cantu, Staff Writer

Thirty-six years have come and gone since Audre Lorde, a self-proclaimed “black lesbian feminist warrior poet,” graced us with her prose in “Sister Outsider,” a 1984 collection of essays and speeches which carried her fluidity into our generation.

In an essay titled “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action,” Lorde famously wrote, “Your silence will not protect you.” With this line and essay, she prompts our responsibility and “commitment to language and the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us.”

Later, she recognizes the power of listening to women: “And where the words of women are crying to be heard, we must each of us recognize our responsibility to see those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives.” With this message, she encourages women to check the system that separates us and remove the values it has imposed that we mistakenly impose upon ourselves and others.

In an age when sexism’s visibility is on the rise, Lorde’s famously titled essay “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” is at peak resonance. If oppression is a tool of the master, then we must eradicate it and “take our differences and make them strengths.” According to Lorde, this unity will provide genuine change for women because “we have been taught either to ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change.”

Among the poetic fragments of the book, we find expertise in Lorde’s writing and an inexhaustible sense of strength in a woman who has provided us with an example of the personal becoming the political. Most importantly, we find Lorde asking us, “Because I am a woman, because I am black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself — a Black woman warrior poet doing my work — come to ask you, are you doing yours?”