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Prose Propelling Change: Why You Should Read Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider

Audre Lorde uses her identity—Black, Woman, Lesbian, Mother, Teacher, Survivor, Writer—as a focal point in Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches to address several societal issues including homophobia, racism, and sexism. She calls for change, seeing possible solutions where others can only see conflict. Within her work are many takeaways that are helpful for any individual pursuing change.

She advocates for togetherness versus separateness and the importance of banding together against a common foe. When there is division, all change unilaterally fought for negatively affects the oppressed by deepening their strife. This situation only deepens strife between the oppressed. Lorde calls this “horizontal hostility”—a tactic that is “by no means new” (48). We often find a way to compare oppression and intensify discord rather than taking it up with the oppressors. This phenomenon seeps into many different aspects of society. Lorde advocates for the opposite—the confrontation of “vertical lines of power and authority” (48). One way to do this is by reducing division between individuals and fostering community. Lorde clarifies that “community does not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist,” but instead the taking of those differences and turning them into a creative drive toward an end goal (112).

Another profound takeaway from this collection is that nothing is without fear. Lorde mentions fear countless times. She was afraid when she had to teach students at John Jay University. She was afraid when she was diagnosed with cancer. Furthermore, she writes “it is never without fear—of visibility, of the harsh light of scrutiny and perhaps judgment, of pain, of death. But we have lived through all of those already, except death. And I remind myself all the time now that if I were to have been born mute, or had maintained an oath of silence my whole life long for safety, I would still have suffered, and I would still die. It is very good for establishing perspective” (43).

Whatever human rights, social, and environmental issues we are up against, if we look back at Sister Outsider and study Lorde’s approach, we may find that those roadblocks are moveable, truth is worthy of being spoken, and that which seems unchangeable is, indeed, changeable if we work together with courage.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Crossing Press Feminist Series). Clarkson Potter/Ten Speed, 2007.

DeAni Blake-Britton
Associate Student Representative, Midwestern Region, 2023-2024
Omega Pi Chapter
Lincoln University, Missouri, Jefferson City, MO


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