Year of Our (Audre) Lorde is a monthly analysis of works by queen mother Audre Lorde as they apply to our current political moment. In the spirit of relying on ancestral wisdom, centering QTPOC voices, wellness, and just generally leveling up, we believe that the Lorde has already gifted us with the tools we need for our survival.
Sometimes I think that this is the next time, that the fire is here. It’s been here. It’s simmering beneath our every interaction with doctors, educators, salespeople, people on sidewalks, grocery store clerks, with everybody in every place we go. To be Black is to have your entire life — everything you’ve built, created, cultivated, endured, grown through, experienced, and every fucking thing you’ve attempted to leave behind — hinge on one precarious moment to the next. Even the simple act of naming our oppression puts us in jeopardy — at best, for gaslighting and criticism, and at worst, calls for more police, more guns, more violence, more Black death. The cycle of state violence on Black lives continues and the justifications abound. In speaking of anti-Black hate crimes in the 1980s, Audre Lorde distilled the rationale to: “Because they were dirty and Black and obnoxious and Black and arrogant and Black and poor and Black and Black and Black and Black.”
I’ve had such a hard time gathering myself to write this, largely because so many have done so for centuries, and far better than I could. Lorde did it better than most. But in truth, she is only one of the many Black women, the many queer Black women in particular, who have not only called out the pernicious nature of racism, but have also laid out paths to our collective liberation from it.
In the essay “Apartheid U.S.A.,” Lorde details the horrors of Apartheid-torn South Africa in the 1980s and the damning parallels between that country and her own. She outlines the necessity of solidarity among Black people around the world. As she notes:
“The connections between African and African-Americans, African-Europeans, African-Asians, is real, however dimly seen at times, and we all need to examine without sentimentality or stereotype what the injection of Africanness into the sociopolitical consciousness of the world could mean. We need to join our differences and articulate our particular strengths in the service of our mutual survivals, and against the desperate backlash which attempts to keep that Africanness from altering the very bases of current world power and privilege.”
Lorde’s point about the “desperate backlash” that tries to keep “Africanness” from altering the world’s foundations is particularly evident in so many current collective responses to Black anger. I’m mystified by the frequent emphasis on “peaceful” protests by would-be White allies. As if a protest is ever peaceful. As if the entire point of a protest isn’t disruption. The ease with which people rush to vilify Black people for tearing down the structures, the buildings, and monuments of White supremacy mirrors the hesitancy so many of them exhibit when condemning police for continuing to kill us. It’s so commonplace that some don’t even realize they’re valuing property over human lives; or, rather, they still see us as property, but property worth less than buildings and monuments. As Lorde considers:
“How are we persuaded to participate in our own destruction by maintaining our silences? How is the American public persuaded to accept as natural the fact that at a time when prolonged negotiations can […] terminate an armed confrontation with police outside a white survivalist encampment, a mayor of an American city can order an incendiary device dropped on a house with five children in it and police pin down the occupants until they perish? Yes, African-Americans can still walk the streets of America without passbooks—for the time being.”
Black people in the U.S. are furious right now because we see what is happening. It has happened before and what these uprisings are telling the world is that we will not let it happen again. Institutions will fall; they need to. Racism is itself an institution and the old world order which is built on its face has to go if we are to create and inhabit the sort of equitable world in which Black, queer, and all other marginalized lives can flower. Time and again, Lorde spoke to the need for this sort of global, systemic shift. Her writing in “Apartheid U.S.A.” is no different.
“Like the volcano, which is one form of extreme earth-change, in any revolutionary process there is a period of intensification and a period of explosion. We must become familiar with the requirements and symptoms of each period, and use the differences between them to our mutual advantage, learning and supporting each other’s battles.”
It’s vital we don’t turn away from this moment of Black rage. In this month’s second essay, “The Uses of Anger,” Lorde aptly points out that “anger is an appropriate reaction to racist attitudes, as is fury when the actions arising from those attitudes do not change.” For me, the benefits of embracing my own rage have been twofold: to release my anger has freed me from suppressing it, a key component for the type of self-preservation Lorde has pointed out is a revolutionary act. The other has been to identify my true allies in this fight for Blak liberation.
“But anger expressed and translated into action in the service of our vision and our future is a liberating and strengthening act of clarification, for it is in the painful process of this translation that we identify who are our allies with whom we have grave differences, and who are our genuine enemies.”
Those seeking to police how we express our anger, to only center cis-hetero Black men and negate the acute violence faced by trans Black women, those seeking to downplay our fears with “Not all cops” and “All lives matter,” and even the more insidious inaction of would-be allies who sit stagnant in guilt instead of moving into action—you are part of the problem. Lorde poses this necessary question: “What woman here is so enamoured of her own oppression that she cannot see her heelprint upon another woman’s face?”
For too long, I’ve felt compelled to call on something other than anger, too enmeshed in the respectability politics and Western ideology that treats anger as un-nuanced. But as Lorde reminds us, “anger is loaded with information and energy.” To write it off as uncomplicated or lacking complexity, especially when it comes to Black anger, is to back away from discomfort and from what that anger can teach.
In “The Uses of Anger” Lorde pays special attention to Black women’s anger and the tone policing and disavowals with which it’s so often met. She states:
“For anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth.”
We are in the middle of a revolution. It’s frightening for all the known reasons, but this time is also full of potential. Our Black women’s anger, my Black woman’s anger, is here to signal a necessary sea change. As queer folks, get angry if you’re not already. Understand all of our freedoms are bound up in one another. This final reminder from Lorde is a necessary one about what we should be united against and about the potency of our collective power.
“For it is not the anger of Black women which is dripping down over this globe like a diseased liquid. It is not my anger that launches rockets, spends over sixty thousand dollars a second on missiles and other agents of war and death, slaughters children in cities, stockpiles nerve gas and chemical bombs, sodomizes our daughters and our earth. It is not the anger of Black women which corrodes into blind, dehumanizing power, bent upon the annihilation of us all unless we meet it with what we have, our power to examine and to redefine the terms upon which we will live and work; our power to envision and to reconstruct, anger by painful anger, stone upon heavy stone, a future of pollinating difference and the earth to support our choices.”
Thank you, Jehan, for sharing your energy and your writing, and for highlighting the creative power of anger.
There was never going to be a bad time for this series, but it feels especially timely this year. Which I imagine also makes it all the more challenging to do, so thank you for doing it.
Thank you for this, I needed it.