Book Review: Sister Outsider x Audre Lorde, Cheryl Clarke

Book Review: Sister Outsider x Audre Lorde, Cheryl Clarke

Sister Outsider


Audre Lorde


The highly educated Audre Geraldine Lorde was born in New York in 1934. She spent her life as a leading African-American poet and essayist who gave voice to issues of race, gender and sexuality.* From the late 60s to the late 80s, she published six volumes of poetry and two nonfiction essay collections, which were inspired by her ten year battle with cancer. Lorde passed away in 1992 in the Virgin Islands but fortunately left us with immutable literature regarding the racial and sexual complexities of our world.


About This Book


A collection of fifteen essays written between 1976 and 1984 gives clear voice to Audre Lorde’s literary and philosophical personae. These essays explore and illuminate the roots of Lorde’s intellectual development and her deep-seated and longstanding concerns about ways of increasing empowerment among minority women writers and the absolute necessity to explicate the concept of difference—difference according to sex, race, and economic status.**


As I read these essays I forgot they were from a woman in the 1980s. Her words were relevant then and, unfortunately, they are still are as things haven’t changed as drastically as some like to pretend. Below I have highlighted quotes that stood out to me.



Race + Gender


Narcissism comes not out of self-love but out of self-hatred. (Page 62)


One of the functions of hatred is certainly to mask and distort the beauty which is power in ourselves. (Page 165)


We cherish our guilty secret, buried under exquisite clothing and expensive makeup and bleaching creams (yes,still!) and hair straighteners masquerading as permanent waves. The killer instinct toward any one of us who deviates from the proscribed cover is precise and deadly. (Page 170)


Acting like an insider and feeling like the outsider, preserving our self-rejection as Black women at the same time as we’re getting over — we think. And political work will not save our souls, no matter how correct and necessary that work is. Yet it is true that without political work we cannot hope to survive long enough to effect any change. And self-empowerment is the most deeply political work there is, and the most difficult. (Page 170)


It means that I affirm my own worth by committing myself to my own survival, in my own self and in the self of other Black women. On the other hand, it means that as I learn my worth and genuine possibility, I refuse to settle for anything less than a rigorous pursuit of the possible in myself, at the same time making a distinction between what is possible and what the outside world drives me to do in order to prove I am human. It means being able to recognize my successes, and to be tender with myself, even when I fail. (Page 173)


I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any one of you. (Page 132)




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. (Page 41)


In the cause of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear — fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live. 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. Even within the women’s movement, we have had to fight, and still do, for that very visibility which also renders us most vulnerable, our Blackness. For to survive in the mouth of this dragon we call america, we have had to learn this first and most vital lesson — that we were never meant to survive. Not as human beings. (Page 42)


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. (Page 112)


For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support. (Page 112)


Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes. I am responsible for educating teachers who dismiss my children’s culture in school. Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their own actions. (Page 114)




Problems of color ism and classism are deep, far-reaching, and very complex legacies left from successive colonialisms. (Page 187)


“What gets me about the United States is that it pretends to be honest and therefore has so little room to move toward hope.” (Page 28)


A small and vocal part of the Black community lost sight of the fact that unity does not mean unanimity —Black people are not some standardly digestible quantity. In order to work together we do not have to become a mix of indistinguishable particles resembling a vat of homogenized chocolate milk. Unity implies the coming together of elements which are, to begin with, varied and diverse in their particular natures.” (Page 136)


Forward Ever, Backward Never.” (Page 189)



Acting like an insider, feeling like the outsider…


I hope that this post prompts you to do more research about Lorde. I hope it inspires you to read some of her published volumes of poetry and essays as reading Sister Outsider has done for me.












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