Difference: An Audre Lorde Archive

keguro | dahlia

Something Like an Introduction:
I tend to think with and through keywords, terms that recur in a writer’s body of work and words that appear rarely, even once. I am interested in mapping how words accumulate and remain isolated.

I have been trying to think with Audre Lorde’s work, to identify certain keywords. Difference is one, survival is another. Related to those is distortion. And the erotic.

Sustained thinking begins with creating an archive, gathering material with which to think. Writers often hide this gathering, as we are supposed to make public our engagement with texts and objects and situations in a digested form. To the extent that I can, I want to make the act of gathering as public as possible. That might do some work.
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Difference

As they become known to and accepted by us, our feelings and the honest exploration of them become sanctuaries and spawning ground for the most radical and daring of ideas. They become a safe-house for that difference so necessary to change and the conceptualization of any meaningful action.
—From “Poetry is Not a Luxury”

I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you. But for every real word spoken, for every attempt I had ever made to speak those truths for which I am still seeking, I had made contact with other women while we examined the words to fit a world in which we all believed, bridging our differences.
—From “The Transformation of Silence into Language”

Within this country where racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision, Black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism.
—From “The Transformation of Silence into Language”

The fact that we are here [at the MLA conference in Chicago, December 1977] and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken.
—From “The Transformation of Silence into Language”

Racism: The belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby the right to dominance.

Sexism: The belief in the inherent superiority of one sex and thereby the right to dominance.

Heterosexism: The belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving and thereby its right to dominance.

Homophobia: The fear of feeling of love for members of one’s own sex and therefore the hatred of those feelings in others.

The above forms of human blindness stem from the same root — an inability to recognize the notion of difference as a dynamic human force, one which is enriching rather than threatening to the defined self, when there are shared goals.
—From “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving”

As Black women we have the right and responsibility to define ourselves and to seek our allies in common cause: with Black men against racism, and with each other and white women against sexism. But most of all, as Black women we have the right and responsibility to recognize each other without fear and to love where we choose. Both lesbian and heterosexual Black women today share a history of bonding and strength to which our sexual identities and our other differences must not blind us.
—From “Scratching the Surface”

The erotic functions for me in several ways, and the first is in providing the power which comes from sharing deeply any pursuit with another person. The sharing of joy, whether physical, emotional, psychic, or intellectual, forms a bridge between the sharers which can be the basis for understanding much of what is not shared between them, and lessens the threat of their difference.
—From “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power”

When we look away from the importance of the erotic in the development and sustenance of our power, or when we look away from ourselves as we satisfy our erotic needs in concert with others, we use each other as objects of satisfaction rather than share our joy in the satisfying, rather than make connection with our similarities and our differences.
—From “Uses of the Erotic”

When a people share a common oppression, certain kinds of skills and joint defenses are developed. And if you survive you survive because those skills and defenses have worked. When you come into conflict over other existing differences, there is vulnerability to each other which is desperate and very deep. And that is what happens between Black men and women because we have certain weapons we have perfected together that white women and men have not shared.
–From “An Interview: Audre Lorde and Adrienne Rich”

How do you reach down into threatening difference without being killed or killing?
—From “An Interview”

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of feminist theory without examining our many differences, and without a significant input from poor women, Black and Third World women, and lesbians.
—From “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House”

Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism. It is a total denial of the creative function of difference in our lives. Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.
—From “The Master’s Tools”

Within the interdependence of mutual (nondominant) differences lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowledge and return with true visions of our future, along with the concomitant power to effect those changes which can bring that future into being. Difference is that raw and powerful connection from which our personal power is forged.
—From “The Master’s Tools”

As women, 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. Without community there is no liberation, only the most vulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.
—From “The Master’s Tools”

Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definitions of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older — know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to make common cause with those others identified as outside the structures in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths.
—From “The Master’s Tools”

The failure of academic feminists to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach beyond the first patriarchal lesson. In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.
—From “The Master’s Tools”

Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people. As members of such an economy, we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that’s not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference”

Certainly, there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all. This results in a voluntary isolation or false and treacherous connections. Either way, we do not develop tools for using human difference as a springboard for creative change within our lives. We speak not of human difference, but of human deviance.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

Unacknowledged class differences rob women of each others’ energy and creative insight.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

Ignoring the differences of race between women and the implications of those differences presents the most serious thread to the mobilization of women’s joint power.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

Refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

The threat of difference has been no less blinding to people of Color. Those of us who are Black must see that the reality of our lives and our struggle does not make us immune to the errors of ignoring and misnaming difference. Within Black communities where racism is a living reality, differences among us often seem dangerous and suspect. The need for unity is often misnamed as a need for homogeneity, and a Black feminist vision mistaken for betrayal of our common interests as a people. Because of the continuous battle against racial erasure that Black women and Black men share, some Black women still refuse to recognize that we are also oppressed as women, and that sexual hostility against Black women is practiced not only by the white racist society, but implemented within our Black communities as well. It is a disease striking the heart of Black nationhood, and silence will not make it disappear.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

Differences among ourselves as Black women are also being misnamed and used to separate us from one another. As a Black lesbian feminist comfortable with the many different ingredients of my identity, and a woman committed to racial and sexual freedom from oppression, I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting way to live My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I integrate all the parts of who I am, openly, allowing power from particular sources of my living to flow back and forth freely through all my different selves, without the restrictions of externally imposed definition. Only then can I bring myself and my energies as a whole to the service of those struggles which I embrace as part of my living.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

It is not our differences which separate women, but our reluctance to recognize those differences and to deal effectively with the distortions which have resulted from the ignoring and misnaming of those differences.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

The future of our earth may depend upon the ability of all women to identify and develop new definitions of power and new patterns of relating across difference. The old definitions have not served us, nor the earth that supports us. The old patterns, no matter how cleverly rearranged to imitate progress, still condemn us to cosmetically altered repetitions of the same old exchanges, the same old guilt, hatred, recrimination, lamentation, and suspicion.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

Change means growth, and growth can be painful. But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals. For Black and white, old and young, lesbian and heterosexual women alike, this can mean new paths to our survival.
—From “Age, Race, Class, and Sex”

We have been raised to view any difference other than sex as a reason for destruction, and for Black women and white women to face each other’s angers without denial or immobility or silence or guilt is in itself a heretical and generative idea. It implies peers meeting upon a common basis to examine difference, and to alter those distortions which history has created around our difference. For it is those distortions which separate us. And we must ask ourselves: Who profits from all this?
—From “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism”

But the strength of women lies in recognizing differences between us as creative, and in standing to those distortions which we inherited without blame, but which are now ours to alter. The angers of women can transform difference through insight into power. 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.
—From “The Uses of Anger”

I speak here as a woman of Color who is not bent upon destruction, but upon survival. No woman is responsible for altering the psyche of her oppressor, even when that psyche is embodied in another woman. I have suckled the wolf’s lip of anger and I have used it for illumination, laughter, protection, fire in places where there was no light, no food, no sister, no quarter. We are not goddesses or matriarchs or edifices of divine forgiveness; we are not fiery fingers or judgments or instruments of flagellation; we are women forced back always upon our woman’s power. We have learned to use anger as we have learned to use the dead flesh of animals, and bruised, battered, and changing, we have survived and grown and, in Angela Wilson’s words, we are moving on. With or without uncolored women. We use whatever strengths we have fought for, including anger, to help define and fashion a world where all our sisters can grow, where our children can love, and where the power of touching and meeting another woman’s difference and wonder will eventually transcend the need for destruction.
—From “Uses of Anger”

The civil rights and Black power movements rekindled possibilities for disenfranchised groups within this nation. Even though we fought common enemies, at times the lure of individual solutions made us careless of each other. Sometimes we could not bear the face of each other’s differences because of what we feared those differences might say about ourselves. As if everybody can’t eventually be too Black, too white, too man, too woman. But any future vision which can encompass us all, by definition, must be complex and expanding, not easy to achieve.
—From “Learning from the 60s”

Revolution is not a one-time event. It is becoming always vigilant for the smallest opportunity to make a genuine change in established, outgrown responses; for instance, it is learning to address each other’s difference with respect.
—From “Learning from the 60s”

We share a common interest, survival, and it cannot be pursued in isolation from others simply because their differences make us uncomfortable.
—From “Learning from the 60s”

You do not have to be me in order to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities. And in order to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness.
—From “Learning from the 60s”

Sometimes exploring our differences feels like marching out to war.
—From “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and”

It is not easy for me to speak here with you as a Black Lesbian feminist, recognizing that some of the ways in which I identify myself make it difficult for you to hear me. But meeting across difference always requires mutual stretching, and until you can hear me as a Black Lesbian feminist, our strengths will not truly be available to each other as Black women.
—from “I Am Your Sister: Black Women Organizing Across Sexualities”

How do we organize around our differences, neither denying them nor blowing them up out of proportion?
—From “I Am Your Sister”

Black South Africans have the base of their own land upon which they operate. We lack that as African-Americans, suffer the rootlessness of a “hyphenated” people. But within those differences, we can join together to effect a future the world has not yet conceived, let alone seen.
—From “I Am Your Sister”

The connections among Africans 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 our current world power and privilege.
—From “Apartheid U.S.A.”

I gave birth to two children. I have a daughter and a son. The memory of their childhood years, storms and all, remains a joy to me. Those years were the most chaotic as well as the most creative of my life. Raising two children together with my lover, Frances, balancing the intricacies of relationship within that four-person interracial family, taught me invaluable measurements for my self, my capacities, my real agendas. It gave me tangible and sometimes painful lessons about difference, about power, and about purpose.
—From “Turning the Beat Around: Lesbian Parenting 1986”

My daughter and my son made issues of survival daily questions, the answers to which had to be scrutinized as well as practiced. And what our children learned about using their own power and difference within our family, I hope they will someday use to save the world. I can hope for no less.
—From “Turning the Beat Around”

What I remember most of all now is that we were not just like all the other parents. Our family was not just like all the other families. That did not keep us from being a family any more than our being Lesbians kept Frances and me from being parents. But we did not have to be just like all the rest in order to be valid. We were an interracial Lesbian family with radical parents in the most conservative borough of New York City. Exploring the meaning of those differences kept us all stretching and learning, and we used that exploration to get us from Friday to Thursday, from toothache through homework to who who was going to babysit when we both worked late, and did Frances go to PTA meetings.
—From “Turning the Beat Around”

Gays and Lesbians of Color are different because we are embattled by reason of our sexuality and our Color, and if there is any lesson we must teach our children, it is that difference is a creative force for change, that survival and struggle for the future is not a theoretical issue. It is the very texture of our lives, just as revolution is the texture of the lives of the children who stuff their pockets with stones in Soweto and quickstep all the way to Johannesburg to fall in the streets from tear gas and rubber bullets in front of Anglo-American Corporation.
—From “Turning the Beat Around”

Who are they, the German women of the diaspora? Where do our paths intersect as women of Color—beyond the details of our particular oppressions, although certainly not outside the reference of those details? And where do our paths diverge? Most important, what can we learn from our connected differences that will be useful to us both, Afro-German and Afro-American?
—From “A Burst of Light: Living with Cancer,” Berlin, West Germany

Rather than siphoning off energies in vain attempts to connect with women who refuse to deal with their own history or ours, Black women need to choose the areas where that energy can be most effective. Who are we? What are the ways in which we do not see each other? And how can we better operate together as a unified front even while we explore our differences? . . . How do we deal across our differences of community, time, place, and history? In other words, how do we learn to love each other while we are embattled on so many fronts?
—From “A Burst of Light,” Berlin, West Germany

I see certain pitfalls in defining Black as a political position. It takes the cultural identity of a widespread but definite group and makes it a generic identity for many culturally diverse people, all on the basis of a shared oppression. This runs the risk of providing a convenient blanket of apparent similarity under which our actual and unaccepted differences can be distorted and misused. This blanket would diminish our chances of forming genuine working coalitions built upon the recognition and creative use of unacknowledged difference, rather than upon the shaky foundations of a false sense of similarity. When a Javanese Dutch woman says she is Black, she also know she goes home to another cultural reality that is particular to her people and precious to her—it is Asian, and Javanese. When an African-American woman says she is Black, she is speaking of her cultural reality, no matter how modified it may be by time, place, or circumstances of removal. Yet even the Maori women of New Zealand and the Aboriginal women of Australia call themselves Black. There must be a way for us to deal with this, if only on the level of language.
—From “A Burst of Light,” New York City

As an African-American woman, I feel the tragedy of being an oppressed hyphenated person in america, of having no land to be our primary teacher. And this distorts us in so many ways. Yet there is a vital part that we play as Black people in the liberation consciousness of every freedom-seeking people upon this globe, no matter what they say they think about us as Black Americans. And whatever our differences are that make for difficulty in communication between us and other oppressed peoples, as Afro-Americans we must recognize the promise we represent for some new social synthesis that the world has not yet experienced. I think of the Afro-Dutch, Afro-German, Afro-French women I met this spring in europe, and how they are beginning to recognize each other and come together openly in terms of their identities, and I see that they are also beginning to cut a distinct shape across the cultural face of every country where they are at home.
—From “A Burst of Light,” New York City

We were never meant to speak together at all. . . . When language becomes most similar, it becomes most dangerous, for then differences may pass unremarked. As women of good faith we can only become familiar with the language of difference within a determined commitment to its use within our lives, without romanticism and without guilt. Because we share a common language which is not of our own making and which does not reflect our deeper knowledge as women, our words frequently sound the same. But it is an error to believe that we mean the same experience, the same commitment, the same future, unless we agree to examine the history and particular passions that lie beneath each other’s words.
—From “A Burst of Light,” Melbourne Australia

Sitting with Black women from all over the earth has made me think a great deal about what it means to be indigenous, and what my relationship as a Black woman in North America is to the land-rights struggles of the indigenous peoples of this land, to Native American Indian women, and how we can translate that consciousness into a new level of working together. In other words, how can we use each other’s differences in our common battles for a livable future?
—From “A Burst of Light,” East Lansing, Michigan

I have always known I learn my most lasting lessons about difference by closely attending the ways in which the differences inside me lie down together.
—From “A Burst of Light,” New York City

Those of us who trace our roots back to the continent of Africa are spread across every country on earth. As we proceed upon the specific and difficult tasks of survival in the twenty-first century, we of the African diaspora need to recognize our differences as well as our similarities. We approach our living influenced by an African mode; life as experiences to be learned from rather than merely problems to be solved. We seek what is most fruitful for all people, and less hunger for our children. But we are not the same. Particular histories have fashioned our particular weapons, our particular insights. To successfully battle the many faces of institutionalized racial oppression, we must share the strengths of each other’s vision as well as the weaponries born of particular experience.
—From “Foreword to the English Edition of Farbe bekennen

Last week I asked a number of you if you felt different in any way and each one of you said very quickly and in a similar tone, “oh, no, of course not, I don’t consider myself different from anybody else.” I think it is not by accident that each of you heard my question as “Are you better than . . .” Yet each of you is sitting here now because in some particular way and time, in some particular place and for whatever reason, you dared to excel, to set yourself apart. And that makes you in this particular place and time, different. It is that difference that I urge you to affirm and to explore lest it someday be used against you and against me. It is within our differences that we are both most powerful and most vulnerable, and some of the most difficult tasks of our lives are the claiming of differences and learning to use those differences for bridges rather than as barriers between us.
—From “Difference and Survival: An Address at Hunter College”

We have few patterns for relating across differences as equals. And unclaimed, our differences are used against us in the service of separation and confusion, for we view them only in opposition to each other; dominant/subordinate, good/bad, superior/inferior. And of course, so long as the existence of human differences means one must be inferior, the recognition of those differences will be fraught with guilt and danger.
—From “Difference and Survival”

And certainly there are very real differences between us, of race, sex, age, sexuality, class, vision. But it is not the differences between us that tear us apart, destroying the commonalities we share. Rather, it is our refusal to examine the distortions which arise from their misnaming, and from the illegitimate usage of those differences which can be made when we do not claim them nor define them for ourselves.
—From “Difference and Survival”

The house of your difference is the longing for your greatest power and your deepest vulnerability. It is an indelible part of your life’s arsenal. If you allow your difference, whatever it might be, to be defined for you by imposed externals, then it will be defined to your detriment, always, for that definition must [be] dictated by the need of your society, rather than by a merging between the needs of that society and the human needs of self. But as you acknowledge your difference and examine how you wish to use it and for what—the creative power of difference explored—then you can focus it toward a future which we must each commit ourselves to in some particular way if it is to come to pass at all.
—From “Difference and Survival”

Our differences are polarities between which can spark possibilities for a future we cannot even now imagine, when we acknowledge that we share a unifying vision, no matter how differently expressed; a vision which supposes a future where we may all flourish, as well as a living earth upon which to support our choices. We must define our differences so that we may someday live beyond them, rather than change them.
—From “Difference and Survival”