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Lorde, _Women Redefining Difference_

Lorde, _Women Redefining Difference_ - 855 Age Rare Class...

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Unformatted text preview: 855 Age, Rare, Class, and Sex l n differences between us with fear and 0/, S"; t i s s a. a" é ; g i 5 5 l i J; E 3 E, i all been programmed to respond to the huma 4““ i”: i ‘ ’ i ii ”if loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is 1”” , . . A ' . . . L 4 k it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is ’f’ not possible, copy it if we thin subordinate. ut we have no patterns equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion. for relating across our human differences as f}, L\' r Age, Race, Class, and Sex: ”HeriWflWa “‘iv'ft‘iimW Women Redefining Difference Andre Lorde W :2 "2:255:11 98:: :sesay, firicgnA/meerican poet Audre Lorde outlines some of the problems facing nera an ' rican American feminists in rt' l differences that underminef . ' ' . pa Icu ar. She notes a number of emInIst solidarity across ethnic clas d ' she calls for a more amp|e k. . . , s, an sex-preference lines. ind of feminism, one that would ‘ oppression faced by women of color. * be attentive to the dOUb'e Muc if y ' ' Hail: of western European history conditions us to see human differences in sim- er/i foppomltion to each other: dominant/subordinate, good/ bad, up/ down super n erior. n a society Where the-good'i ' 7 _ _ _ 5 defined in terms of rof h ' terms of human need there P It rat er than m , must always be some grou of . . eople who thr h systematized oppresswn can be P P , 011g , made to feel surplus to oc ‘ ' . , _ ' . ' , cupy the lace of the g‘elhulréianized inferior. Within this seeiety, that group is made up of BlacE and Third (X pfople, working-class people, older people, and women S r - . — . . . . . . one ba ortydnine year—old Black. lesbian feminist soc1alist mother of two, including some oy, and 2; mgmber of an interracialvcouple, I usually find myself a part of group e me as other, deviant inferio ' ‘ . . . . , r, or just plain wrong Tradition ll ' american soc1ety, it is the members of o ' ' ‘ a Y: m ppressed, 0b]eCtlfiCd grou s wh to Sm: . - p o are expected COHSCi tch out :nd bridge the gap between the actualities of our lives and the 0 re ousness 0, ourooppressor. For in order to survive, those of us for whom {frgiliZKEtils ta; almerican as :pple pie have always had to be watchers, to become e anguage an manners of the o ' . . , ppressor even sometim d ' them . , _ es a 0 tin mun. fl: some illuSiEn of protection, Whenever the need for some pretense of Idomg ica ion arises, t ose who profit from ' — . our oppreSSion call u on knowledge With them I ' P “5 to Share 0‘" . n other words it is the res on i ” Sibilit of the teach the oppressors their m' , P y oppressed ‘0 istakes. I am responsible fo d ' dismiss my Children, ' r e ucating teachers who s culture in school Black a ' . nd Third World I expected to educate white peo ' WW 6 are ple as to our humanity Women are Gate . . . expected to edu- opprZZEESLEbians’ ant:l gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world The aintain t eir position and evade re ' U ' i _ sponSibilit for th ’ There . _ . y eir own actions. selves is 31 gonstant drain 'of energy which might be better used in redefining our- an eVismg realistic scenarios for altering the present and co t ' {mum ns ructing the Whizititutignalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy nee s outSIders as surplus people. As members of such an economy we have 7 \ a mm,,tflgissmwawa WW w «m 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. , ”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 over the other audithereby the right to dominance. Ageism. Heterosexism. Elitism. Clossism. «his a lifetime pursuit for each one of us to extract these distortions from our living at the same time as we recognize, reclaim, and define those differences upon which they are imposed. For we have all been raised in a society where those distor- tions were endemic within our living. Too often, We pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insur- mountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all.~This results in a voluntary isolation, or false and treacherous connections. Either way, we donot develop tools for using human difference as a springboard for creative change. . . . m Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows “that is not true.” hm norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, christian, and financially secure. It is with this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society. Those of us who stand outside that power oftenridentify'one way in which we are different, and we assume that to be the primary cause of all oppres— sion, forgetting other distortions'around difference, some of which we ourselves may be practicing. By and large within the women’s movement today, white women focus upon their oppression as women and ignore differences of racE'S, exual preference, class, and age. There is a pretense to a homogeneity ,of experience covered by the word sisterhood thatrdoes not in fact exist. ' Unacknowledged class differences rob women of each other’s energy and creative insight. Recently a women’s magazine collective made the decision for one issue to print only prose, saying poetry wasa less “rigorous” or “serious” art form. Yet even the form our creativity takes is often a class issue. Of all the art forms, poetry is the most economical. It is the one which is the mostsecret, which requires the least physical labor, the least material, and the one which can be done between shifts, in the hospital pantry, on the subway, and on scraps of surplus paper. Over the last few years, writing a novel on tight finances, I came to appreciate the enormous differ- ences in the material demands between poetry-and prose. As we reclaim our litera— ture, poetry has been the 'or voice of poor, working-class, and Colored women. A 1' ' ' , rose, 11 reams of pa , ones own may be a=necessity or w a typewriter, and plenty of time. The actual requirements to produce the visual arts also help determine, along class lines, whose art is, whose. In this day of inflated prices for material, who are our sculptors, our painters, our photographers? When we speak of a broadly based women’s culture, we need class andreconomic differences on the supplies available for'producing art. to be aware of the effect of 95f ‘ ' ( } FL’II/li'!.’.\‘ll[ :\s we move tow“ r " '- ‘ ' ' i a d cicating a society within which we can each flourish, 320.811] is another distortion of relationship which interferes without vision. Bv ignoring the . ? past, we are encouraged to repeat its mistakes. The “generation 211p" is a: im )orti ‘ social tool for any reprcs. ve society. If the younger members (if a eoiiimunif' f3“ the older members as contemptible or suspect or excess, lhev will never be ibf‘u‘m‘ ioin hands and examine the living memories of the community not ask ihek-Ll’l important question, “\’\'hy?“ This gives rise to a historical amnesia th-ii‘ kC‘)‘ ‘H' working to invent the wheel ey cry time we have R: go to the store for brc-id L15 “5 \\ e find ourselves ha\ing to repeat and rclearn the same old lessons over and (H “ that our mothers did because we do not pass on what we have learned or bec-iu " U) are unable to listen. For instance, how many times has this all been said befoi“?l‘lu‘ another, who would have believed that once again our daughters are allow" L l 0‘ boilies to be lliampcf‘red and purgatm'ied by girdles and high licels and bobble]:lflirttsllel gnoring tie Li fcrences of race betw .. ~ L ‘ i i ‘ i ' H differences presents the most serious mile-lit \i(:)nfl:: “m: fl1L lmphf‘m”m ”l guise Power. . , mo 71 llJflUn of women s ioint As white women ignore their built—in privilege of whiteness and define H’IIIIHIII ' term-S of their own experience alone, then women of Color become “otlr‘” lm* outsider whose experience and tradition is too “alien” to comprehend an :leimbl: of thi. ‘IS the signal absence of the experience of women of Color . ' a resource 1for women s studies courses. The literature of women of Color is seldom inclul‘i in women‘s literature courses and almost never in other literature courses no: 2‘ women s studies as a whole. All too often, the excuse given is that the‘ literature: 0. > J . .. y .. _ , fyyiomen of £0101 can only be taught by (solored women, or that they are too difficult to understand, or that cla.“ - cs cannot “ret ii ” . “ - ‘ out of experiences that are “too different." I liziLve lIle'dtf;::]21l?;;;:l:;ttl:::s(10”?le by white women of otherwise quite clear intelligence, women who seem td h‘fl‘t“ trouble at all teaching and reviewing work that comes out of the vistlv lff'iim experiences of Shakespeare, Moliere, Dostovefsky and .-\ristoph-1nes‘.Surfll “Hit must be some other explanation. ' i l i U L L } thew lhis is a'yiery complex question, but I believe one of the reasons white worn‘ have such difficulty reading Black women‘s work is because of their reluctance to s? Black women as women and different from themselves. To examine Black women: literature effectively requires that we be seen as whole people in our actual com )I ‘ ‘3 itics ‘— as individuals, as women, as human r~ rather than as one of those brobl ‘1 L" but familiar stereotypes provided in this societv in place of genuine ll‘lTl‘ECS‘ ongf-ltil: women. And I believe this holds true for theiliteratures of ( tl ' t: i ‘ ‘JL' Who are nor Bind“ ) iei woan of Coloi The literatures of all women of Color recreate the textures of our lives and man ‘ white‘women are heavily invested in ignoring the real differences Foi‘i-is ion“: 3‘ any difference between us means one of us must be inferior, then the l‘cc()Eni:i(il: of any difference must be fraught with guilt. To allow women of Color to StCl;()UI of steieotypes is too guilt provoking, for it threatens the complacencv of th' ‘ ' ‘ who view oppression only in terms of sex. i i ”‘50 “0mm Refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different ' bl‘ . and pitfalls facing us as women. pm km.“ Thus, in a patri- ‘ehal power system where whiteskin privilege is a major prop the entiapments used to neutralize Black women and white women are not the same For fee. Rare. C/zla‘x. iii/(11.811 ‘ \ainplc, it is easy for Black women to be used by the power struciui . il . «ii . lw ‘llt‘ll, not because they are men, but because they are Black. 'l‘licrclos.._ 1.: . 1.: women, it is necessary at all times to separate the needs of the oppressoi ‘li‘l‘i iv\\ll legitimate conflicts within our communities. This same problem does aw Ior white women. Black women and men have shared racist oppression and still out.» n, although in different ways. Out of that shared oppression we have developed ion: defenses and joint vulnerabilities to each other that are not duplicated in the w lnic miniiiunity‘, with the exce )ti ‘ ‘ "elationship betweenjewish women and lewisli W; 9 Inc”. On the other hand, white women face the pitfall of being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretense of sharing power. This possibility does not exist in the same way for women of Color. rm that is sometimes extended to us is not an invitation to join power; our racial “otherness“ is a visible reality that makes that quite clear. For white women there is a wider range of pretended choices and rewards for identifying with patriarchal power and its tools. Today, with the defeat of ERA, the tightening economy, and increased conserva- tism, it is easier once again for white women to believe the dangerous fantasy that if you are good enough, pretty enough, sweet enough, quiet enough, teach the children to behave, hate the right people, and marry the right men, then you will be allowed to co—exist with patriarchy in relative peace, at least until a man needs your job or the neighborhood rapist happens along. And true, unless one lives and loves in the trenches it is difficult to remember that the war against dchumanization is ceaseless. But Black women and our children know the fabric of our lives is stitched with violence and with hatred, that there is no rest. We do not deal with it only on the picket lines, or in dark midnight alleys, or in the places where we dare to verbalizc our re. 'stance. For us, increasingly, violence weaves through the daily tissues of our living ,, in the supermarket, in the classroom, in the elevator, in the clinic and the schoolyard, from the plumber, the baker, the saleswoman, the bus driver, the bank l l l i z teller, the waitress who does not ser\e us. Some problems we share as women, some we do not. You fear your children will grow up to join the patriarchy and testify against you, we fear our children will be dragged from a car and shot down in the street, and you will turn your backs upon the reasons they are dying. _ 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 com— munities 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. Exacerbated by racism and the pressures of powerlessness, violence against Black women and children often becomes a standard within our communities, one by which manliness can be measured. But these woman—hatingr acts are rarely discussed as crimes against Black women. ......... ............-.........a.u———_-“ 858 . . . I'A’IIIIIIIXII/ As a group, womenkof Color arc the lowest—paid wage earners in america We '1" the primary" targets of abortion and sterilization abuse, here and abroad In cert-iii: parts of Africa, small girls are still beingr sewed shut between their leus to. kee t1 : doCile andfllf’l‘ men’s pleasure This is known as female circumcisionbi-ind it p “‘l‘ cultural affair as the late jomo Kenyatta insisted, it is a crime against black wdintin A Black women‘s literature is full of the pain of frequent assault, not onlv bv -1 raids patriarchy, but also by Black men. Yet the necessitv for and historv of shared bf ill have made us, Black women, particularly vulnerable to the false accus'itio ‘11:“ antiscxist is anti-Black. l\'leanwhile, woman-hating as a recourse of the )iivverrl1 [' '11 sapping strength from Black communities, and our verv lives. Rape is1 on the? l" crease, reported and unreported, and rape is not aggressive sexualitv it is sexual ml aggression. As Kalamuya Salaam, a Black male writer points out, :‘i~\s longias iiiZ-ifc dom' x ' ‘ " ‘ ' " ' in ition ex ts, iape will exist. Only women revolting and men made conscious of their. responsibility to fight sexism can collectivelv stop rape."I Differences between ourselves as Black women are also being misnamed and used to separate us from one another. As a Black lesbian feminist comfortable with ltl ' many different ingredients of my identity, and a woman committed ‘to racial - kl sexual freedom from oppression, I find I am constantlv being encouraged‘to‘ )lll‘ln‘lv out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful wholeh ecli siii r L ' denying the other parts of self. But this is a destructive and fragmenting; wavptr f '0] My fullest concentration of energy is available to me only when I intem‘ife all 1he" parts of who I am, openly, allowing pow er from particular sources of 1:1; liv' rt L flow back and forth freely through all my different selves without the rcstri ‘t'mg‘ “f externally Imposed definition. Only then can I brintr myself and mv eii‘alfu'mib 0 \vholc‘to the service of those struggles which I embrage as part of mv liviiifrlbws “5 "l A fear of lesbians, or of being accused of being a lesbian has? led niinv Bl ‘k women into testifying against themselves It has led some (if us into dcstr tk' alliances, and-others into despair and isolation. In the white women’s commuiii't'n‘k heterosexism is sometimes a result of identifying with the white patriarchv a r1 .16? tion of that interdependence between women~identified women which allows tl el‘cflf to be, rather than to be used in the service of men. Sometimes it reflects '1 did—chist‘l belief in the protective coloration of heterosexual relationships sometimes ‘ lf 11‘1““ which all women have to fight against, taught us from birth i i J 5° _ ML Although elements of these attitudes exist for all women there are nrt" l' ‘ resonances of heterosexism and homophobia among Black women Des )itd ‘tlil‘uf‘ A} that woman—bonding has a long and honorable history in the African land Afiicliti American communities, and despite the knowledge and accomplishments of ITI‘I‘ ' strong and creative women—identified Black women in the political social . d “1‘ tural fields, heterosexual Black women often tend to ignore or discobnt “‘1'; e‘\n' ‘wi and work of Black lesbians. Part of this attitude hashcome from in underst-“Luigic terror of Black male attack within the close confines of Black societv \vh‘eil'e‘1 ht punishment for any female self-z ‘sertion is still to be accused of being :l’lCSbi' 't Cl therefore unworthy of the attention or support of the scarce Black male But 121:": this need to misname and ignore Black lesbians comes from a verv real fC‘lll: thiit openly women—identified Black women who are no longer dependent inon m f" their self—definition may well reorder our whole concepthof social relatioiishi is L“ 0’ ' Black women who once insisted that lesbianism was a white woman's )rolilem ‘ insist that Black lesbians are a threat to Black nationhood, are consortling withntolie t in'my, .fg'u. Rm‘t'. Cit/xx, (Illt/ Sat 85" i oiucn to are basically Lin-Black. These accusations, coming from in In l ‘Il.H'l\ whom we look for deep and real understanding, have served to lot; I. shians in hiding, caught between the racism of white women and lhi. iuiil ,; who of their sisters. Often, their work has been ignored, trivialized, or misnamtrl r ihc work of Angelina Grimke, Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Lorraine Hansbcrry z , ay's been some part of the power of Black CUllllllH amazons of Dahomey. assaulting women and raping chil— . l women—bonded women have alw iniics, from our unmarried aunts to the \nd ii is certainly not Black lesbians who are \ll't'n and grandmothers on the streets ofour communities. \cross this country, as in Boston during the spring of 1‘) Black women, Black lesbians are spearheading movements 7‘) following the unsolved murders of twelve against violence against Black women. \Vhat are the particular details within each of our lives that can be scrutinized and .iliercd to help bring about change? How do we redefine difference for all women? It |\ not our differences which separate women, but our reluctance to recognize those differences and to deal effectively with the distor...
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