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320 L y n et Uttall In Allian ce, I n Solidarit y

As women's groups (especially Anglo women ' s groups) become m ore established and more institutionalized, 1 think we need to be caref ul of how we are going to incorporate div e rsity . Especially if be c oming more

e stablis h ed mea n s becomeing more bureaucratized and hierarchic al in our way of making decisions. In c orporating diversity , if it is going to be

inst é ad of ins t e ad of

turn - taki n g,

ments, ask in g for clarifications

creating a shared vision togeth e r . A " s isterhood" that .1 want to b e long to allows me to be differ e nt and still b e able to work tog e ther. T o this sisterhood, 1 wi l l bring my individual history, list e n to others ' stor i es and

know that we are building a foundation together.

successfu l , wil l require a great d e al mor e of a c tive listening, passive hearing. It is going to r e quir e mor e active discussion

space - given talking. It's going to mean expressing d i s agree -

and incorporating

our differenc es

in

Notes

1 . Bonni e Thorn t on Dill, "Ra ce, C la ss a nd G e nd e r: Pro s p ec t s for an All -Inclusive Sisterhood," Femin i s t Studies 9, no . 1 (1983): 131 - 150.

In Allian ce , In S olidarit y

I A ud re L o rd e

32 1

1 Am Y our Sister:

Black W omen Organi zin g Across Sexualities

Audre Lorde

Wh e n eve r 1 com e to Medgar Evers College 1 always f ee l a thrill of

ant ic ipation and d e light b ec ause it feels l ike coming hom e, lik e talking to

farnil y , having a chan ce

m e w ith p e opl e who matt e r the most . And this is parti c ularly tru e

wh eneve r 1 talk at th e Women ' s Center. But, as with all families, we sor neti m e s find it diffi c ult to de al constructively with the g e nuin e diff e r e n -

c e s bet w ee n u s and to r ec ognize that unity does not r e quire that we be

i d e nt ica l to e a c h oth e r. Black women are no t one great vat of homog e nized

cho co l a t e milk . W e hav e many different faces, b e co m e e a c h oth e r in ord e r to work together.

It is not e a sy for m e to s p e ak here with you as a Black Lesbian feminist,

re cog n i z i n g

and w e do not hav e to

to

to speak about things that are v e ry important

that som e of the ways in which 1 identify

mys e lf make it always requires

d iffi c ult for y ou to hear me. But meeting across difference

m utu a l s tr e t c hing , and until you can hear me as a Black L e sbian f e minist,

our s t re ngth s

that

w e recog n i z e e a c h s i s t e r on her own terms so that w e may b e tt e r work t ogeth er toward our mutual survival, 1 speak here about h e t e rosexi s m

an d hornoph o bia , tw o g rav e barriers to organizing among Bla c k wom e n .

And s o th a t w e ha ve a c ommon language between us , 1 would lik e to d e fin e

som e of th e t e rm s 1 us e : H e terosexism - a belief in the inh e rent sup e - ri orit y of on e form of loving over all others and th e r e by th e right to

of lo v e for

will not b e truly available to each other as Bla c k wom e n.

B eca u se 1 f ee l it i s urg e nt that we not waste each oth e r's resourc es ,

d ominan ce; Homophobio= - e

terror surrounding

f ee lings

m

ernb e r s o f th e sa rn e sex and thereby a hatred of thos e f ee ling s in oth e r s .

I n th e 1960 s, wh e n lib e ral white people

decided that the y didn ' t want

to

app ea r ra c i s t , th ey wor e dashikis, and danced Bla c k , and at e Bla c k,

an

d e v e n rnarri e d Bl ac k , but they did not want to f ee l Bla c k or think

Bl

ack , so th ey n e v e r eve n qu e stioned

the textur e s

of th e ir dail y living

(wh y s h o uld fl es h - c ol o r e d bandaids always b e pink?) and th e n

th e y

W

th

ond e r e d , " Why ar e thos e Bla c k folks always taking off e ns e s o e a s il y at "

w-n, it i s not n eces sary

e l e a s t littl e thing? Som e

of our best friends ar e Bla c k for some of your best friends

to b e L es bian,

alth ough s orn e of th e m probably

!o u to st o p oppr es sing me through false judgement .

~n o~ e rny id e ntity ,

are , no doubt .

But it is n ecess ary

for

I do not want y ou to

nor do I want you to make it an insurmountabl e

ar rler b e tw ee n our s haring of strengths.

322 Audr e Lord e / In Allian c e, In Solidarity

When 1 say 1 am a Black fem i nist, 1 mean 1 recognize that my powe r as well as my primary oppressions come as a result of my Blackness a s well as my womanness, and therefore my struggles on both these f ronts are inseparable. When 1 say 1 am a Black Lesbian, 1 mean 1 am a woman whose pri mary focus of loving , physical as well as emotional, is dir ec t e d to wom é n , It

ev er heard against Black men come from those women who ar e inti mately bound to them and cannot free themselves from a subservient an d s il e nt

position. 1 wou l d never presume to speak about Black men th e way 1 have heard some of my straight sisters talk about the men th e y are a ttached to. And of course that concerns me, because it reflects a sit u a tion of noncommunication in the heterosexual Black community that is fa r more truly threatening than the exis t ence of Black Lesbians. What does this have to do with Black women organizing?

does not

mean 1 hate men. Far from it. The harshest attacks 1 have

1 have heard it said-usually behind my back - that Black Les biana

are not normal . But what is no r mal in this deranged society by which we are all trapped? 1 remember, and so do many of you, when being Black was c on s idered not normal , when they talked about us in whispe r s, tried

to paint us, ly n ch us , bleach us , ignore us, pretend we did no t ex ist o We called that racismo

1 have heard it said that Black Lesbians ar e a threat to the Blac k family. But when 50 percent of children born to Black women are bor n out of wedlock, and 30 percent of all Black families are headed b y women without husbands, we n ee d to broaden and re defin e what we mean by family.

1 have heard it said that Black Lesbians wiIl mean the dea th o f the race-

Yet Bla c k Lesbians bear children in exactly the same way o th e r women bear children, and a Lesbian household i s simply another kind of family.

A

s k my son and daughter. Th e terror of Black L e sbians is buried in that deep inner p lac e wher e

e hav e been taught to fear aIl differ e n c e-to

kill it or ign ore it. B;

w

assured: loving women i s not a communicable disease. Yo u don ' t cate

it

like the common cold. Yet the one accusation that seems to r e ~der. e:

th

e mo s t vocal straight Black woman totaIly silent and ineffec tlve 18

sugg es tion that she might b e a Black L es bian.

If s om e on e says you're Russian and you know you're no t , y ~u 00 c ollap se into stunn e d silenc e . Even if someone caIls you a big a~Sl, ;':1 childb e ater , and you know you're not, you don't crumple in to bíts

say it 's not true and k e ep on printing th e posters. Bu t l ~ t an~r ., particularly a Black man, accuse a straight Black woman ofbe mg a . Lesbian , and right away that sister becomes immobilized, as if that ~ s most horrible thing she could be, and must at all costs be p roven

That is homophobia. It is a waste of woman energy, and i t put s a te weapon into the hands of your enemies to be used agains t y ou 10 s

d

a,

In Allian ce, In Solidarit y / Audr e L o rd e 323

apart you , o to ke e p you docile and in líne. It also s e rv es to keep u s isolat e d and

1 hav e h e ard it said that Bla e k Lesbians are not polítical , that we have not b ee n and ar e not in volv e d in the struggles of Black p e ople. But when 1 taught Black and Puerto Rican students writing at City CoIl e g e in the SEEK program in the sixties 1 was a Black Lesbian. 1 was a Bla c k L e sbian wh e n 1 helped organize and fight for the Black Studies Department of John Jay CoIleg e . And becaus e 1 was fifteen years younger then and Iess sur e of myself , at one crucial moment 1 yielded to pressures that said 1 should step back for a Black rnan even though 1 knew him to be a s e rious error of choice, and 1 did , and he was. But 1 was a Black Lesbian then.

out in th e car one July 4th night after

f irework s with cans of white spray paint and our kids asleep in the back

seat , one of us staying behind to keep the motor running and watch the ki ds whil e th e other two worked our way down the suburban New Jersey

s t reet , s praying white paint over the black jockey statues, and th e ir líttle r ed jackets, too , we were Black Lesbians.

When my girlfriends and 1 went

When 1 drove through the Mississippi Delta to Jackso n in 1968 with

a group of Bla c k student s from Tougaloo , another car fuIl of r e dneck

BIa kid s ck trying L es bian. to bump us off the road aIl the way back into town,

1 was a

When 1 w e aned my daught e r in 1963 to go to Washington in August to w ork in th e coffee tents along with Lena Horne , making coffee for the mar shals b ec aus e that was what most Black women did in th e 1963 Mar ch on Wa s hington , 1 wa s a Black Lesbian.

Wh en 1 taught a poetry workshop at Tougaloo, a smaIl Black coIleg

e

in Mississippi, where white rowdi e s shot up the edge of the campu s e v e ry

nigh t, and 1 f e lt th e joy of seeing young Black po e t s find their voi c es and

pOw erthrough words in our

from th e r e t are hos e strong work s Black hops. po e ts today who date their growth and awaren e ss

mutual growth, 1 wa s a Black Lesbian. And

Wh en Yolí and 1 cooked curri e d chicken and b e ans and ric e and took

OUrextra blank e ts

:b OCCUp yingbuildings at City CoIl e g e in 1969, d e manding op e n admissions

a Black L es bian. When 1 walked

and pillows up the hill to the striking s tud e nts

d

th e right to an e ducation , 1 was

rou g h th e midnight haIlway s of Lehman Coll e g e

car

ryi

M'd 1

K

'. that sam e y e ar ,

p

g

th e

lo '~Iut ion 'Va, not ten pace, b e h;nd Black men , that spreading th e ir- l e g s

a c t no

:t~l" what th e brothers said , 1 wa s a Black L e sbian. When 1 pi c k e ted !OIJ. e l fal"e Moth e rs' Rights, and against the enforced sterilization of

111 t e g u ys on th e tables in th e c afeteria was not a r e volutionary

. n g

1 o and

otex pads for

the young Bla c k radical wom e n taklll

: rt In t he action, and we tri e d to persuade th e m that their plac e in

g

,tyn BI ack girls, when 1 fought in s titutionalízed racism in the New York s C h ool s , 1 Was a Black Lesbian.

324 Audr e Lorde I In Alli a n ce, In So l i d a r i t y

But you did not know it becaus e w e did not id e ntify our s elves, s o n OW you can say that Black Lesbian s and Ga y m e n hav e nothing to d o w ith th e struggles of the Black Nation. And I am not alone. When you read the words of Lan g ston Hu g h es you ar e rea ding the words of a Black Gay mano Wh e n you r e ad th e words of Alice Du n b a r_ Nelson andAngelina Weld Grimké , po e t s ofth e Harl e m R e naissan ce, yo u are reading t h e words of Bla c k L e sbian s . Wh e n y ou lis ten to the life-affirming voices of Bes s ie Smith and Ma Rain e y , y ou are hea ring Black Lesbian women. Wh e n y ou see th e pla ys and r e ad the w or d s of Lorraine Hansberry , you ar e r e ading th e word s of a woman w ho l ove d women deep l y. Today, Lesbians and Gay m e n ar e s om e of th e most a c tive and e ng aged members of Art Against Aparth e id , a group whi c h i s making vis ible and immediate ou r cultural respons i biliti es again s t th e trag e dy o f So uth Africa. We have organizations su c h a s th e N ational Coalition of B la c k L e sbians and Gays, Dykes Again s t Ra c ism Ev e rywh e r e, and Me n o f AlI Colors together, all of whi c h ar e c ommitt e d to and e ngag e d in a nti ra c ist a c tivity. Homophobia and het e rosexism m e an yo u allow y our se lves to b e ro bbed

of the

afraid of being called a Lesbian your se lf. Y e t w e s har e s o many c once rns

as Black women , so much work to b e don e . Th e urg e n c y of the des tr u c tion of our Black children and th e th e ft of y oung Bla c k minds are joint urgencies. Black children shot down or doped up o n the stree ts o f our

c ities are priorities for all of u s . Th e fa c t ofBla c k wom e n ' s blood fl owing with grim reg u larity in th e str ee ts and living room s o f Bla c k co mmu nities i s not a Black Lesbian rumor. It is a s ad s tati s ti c al truth. The fact that

th e r e i s widening and dang e rou s la c k of c ommuni c ation aro u nd our

diff e renc e s between Black wom e n and m e n i s not a Black Lesbi an plot.

It is a reality that is starkly clarifi e d a s w e see our yo ung peop l e b ec oming

more and more un c aring of eac h oth e r . Y oun g Bla c k boys believ ing that

th ey c an define their manho o d b e tw ee n a s i x th- g rad e girl ' s legs, g row ing

up b e lieving that Bla c k wom e n and gi r l s ar e th e fitting target f or th e ir

ju s tifiable furies rather than th e ra c i s t s tru c tu res grinding us a ll ínto

du s t , these are not Bla c k L e sbian m y th s. Th ese ar e s ad realities ofB la c k c ommunities today and of imm e diat e c on ce rn to u s all. We cann ot a fford

to waste each other's e n e rgi es i n our c omm o n battl es . What does homophobia m e an? It m e an s that hi g h - powere d Black wom e n are told it is not s af e to att e nd a Conf e r e n ce on the S ta tus of

L es bian s . It means t ha ~ in ~

sisterhood and s tr e ngth of Bla c k L es bian wom e n beca use y o u are

Wom e n in Nairobi simpl y b ec a u se w e a r e

politi c al action , you rob your se lv es of th e vital insight and e n e rg I es o

political women such as B e tt y Pow e ll and Barbara Smith and Gwe nd o1yn Rog e rs and Rayrnina Mays a nd Robin Chri s tian and Yvonne F lower s. It

m e ans another instanc e of the divid e - and- c onqu e r routine.

In A ll ia n ce , In So l ida r i t y I A u dr e Lord e

325

How do we o r g aniz e a round our diff e r e n ces , n e ith e r d e n y in g th e m n or bl owing th e m up out of proportion?

T h e firs t s t ep is a n e ff o rt of will on your part . Tr y t o r e m e mb e r t o k ee p

cer t ain fac t s i n m i nd. Bl ac k L e sbians ar e

not apoliti c al . W e ha ve b ee n a

pa rt of eve r y f ree d o m s truggl e within this country. Bl ac k L esb i a n s a r e

no t a t hr e at t o th e Bl ac k family. Many of us hav e famili es of o ur ow n .

n o t whit e, and w e ar e not a diseas e . W e ar e w o m e n w h o l ove

W e are

wo men . Thi s do es not m e an w e are going to assault y our d a u g ht ers i n an

all ey o n Nos trand Ave nu e . It do e s not m e an w e ar e a b o ut

to a tta c k yo u

if we pay yo u a c omplim e nt on your dress. It do es not m e an w e onl y think ab o u t sex, a n y m o r e than y ou onl y think about sex o

E ven if yo u d o b e li eve an y of th e se stereot y p es a bout Bl ac k Les bian s,

b egin t o prac ti ce a c ting lik e you don ' t b e li eve th e m. J u s t as ra c i s t st er e o t ypes a r e th e probl e m of the white peopl e wh o b e li eve th e m , so al so ar e ho m op h o bi c s t e r e otyp es the problem of th e h e t e ro sexua l s w h o beli eve th e m . In o th e r words , those ster e oty pes ar e yo u rs t o so l ve, no t m in e, and th ey a re a t e rrible and wast e ful barri er t o o ur wor kin g t o ge t her. I a m n o t yo ur e nemy. We do not hav e to b eco m e e a c h o th e r 's uni que exper i e n ces a nd in s i g hts in ord e r to s har e wh a t w e h ave l e ar ne d t hr o u gh o u r p arti c ular battl e s for survival a s Bla c k w o m e n. Th ere was a po s t e r in th e 1960s that wa s v e r y p opul a r: H E'S N OT B L ACK, HE'S MY BROTHER! It used to infuriat e m e bec a u se it i mp li e d t hat th e t wo w ere mutually ex clu s ive - he c ouldn ' t be bo th br o th er a nd Bla ck . We ll , I d o n o t want to b e tolerat e d , n o r mi s n a m e d . I wan t t o be re cognized .

I am a B l ac k L es bi a n , and I am your sist e r.

From A Burst of L i g h t

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