Lorde Taught Me

by Sibongile Shope

There are so many thoughts and discussions on  ‘The Other’ that come to mind, even my very being comes into play. It  is more than just a two worded term, it is more than a sociological construct; it is a concrete indication that in fact this social regime was not designed to protect the comfort of and celebrate all within it. Although, to be honest, i don’t know if any human-made system truly could.

My experiences as a Black| Afrikan| Queer| Womxn| have made me quite aware of my otherness status, yet my privilege more often than not mitigates the lengths to which i find myself outside the demarcated social area. For me, ‘the other’ has rather contradictory qualities: it is both subjective and objective, as well as perceptual and experiential. Like all other facets of identity, there are differing degrees to otherness. Thus, the othered lived reality is not the same for every individual, some are more disadvantaged and therefore more ostracised than others. Meanwhile, from a structural context, although the levels still would not be the same individually because they may overlap, there is a collective otherness specific to certain marginalised social groups, such as Black people, those living with disabilities, Womxn, the Queer community, for example. Otherness can be a state of mind; the extent to which we identify with this phenomenon.

Simultaneously, how we view ourselves can be greatly impacted by the manner in which others perceive and treat us. An example of this is that my life here in the Afrikan diaspora of Latin-America is quite distinct from that at home, shocker. Besides language and cultural differences, identity politics are what have stood out the most. How basically anyone of darker, more like nicely tanned, skin is referred to as Black, which i think it should not be. As well as how people, white included, call others by their Blackness “negro/negra” Black (male/female) or “negrito/negrita”, which literally means little Black (male/female), as a term of endearment, which i feel is racist. Thus, although most of the same qualities of my otherness are still a central focus here in Venezuela, they are confronted differently to how they would be at home.

Choice of literature: Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde so beautifully encapsulates the empowerment of the Black Womxn in her work. i love her fearless and truthful writing style. It’s like she whispers to my soul, and makes my insides tingle. Her work upon which this piece is based are all excerpts from her compilation “Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches” (1984): “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” (1978); “Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving” (1978) and “Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger” (1983). She will continue to inspire us as she rests in peace.

We are taught to see ourselves as fragmented parts of a whole, like disembodied limbs on a battle field. Instead of basking in the various hues of our identity that colour our reality, we are encouraged to blur them into dichotomous social symbols whose very construction exposes a diming power source that can only exist by diminishing  another.  It is in this obscured light that the experience of ‘the other’ is born.

In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change. (Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, p.53)

i have asked myself so many times what these words mean to me, how i associate them. Do they go beyond the self-conscious state of wanting to belong to something greater and more accepting, or are they supposed to rejuvenate self-pride, dancing on the alienation of others?

To identify ‘the other’ inevitably brings our positioning to the foreground: either excluded from the confines of prescribed normality, or embraced by the suffocating arms of society, who mistakes diversity for deviance. Even among some of those on the outskirts of recognition boasts a misguided entitlement that believes further domination can compensate for their own subjugation. 

It is through the coming together of self-actualized individuals, female and male, that any real advances can be made. The old sexual power relationships based on a dominant/ subordinate model between unequals have not served us as a people, nor as individuals. (Scratching the Surface: Some Notes on Barriers to Women and Loving, p.46)

We as Black Womxn have been allocated the role of the societal punching bag, where we are expected to remain docile, chained to a post, await use and welcome abuse. We are supposed to be charmed by mediocrity, always feel grateful and drop our panties for masculinity, regardless of desire or chemistry. We are meant to be forgiving and silent while they cheat or attempt to weaken our drive, or try to whack us in the knees to break our stride.

We are Black Women born into a society of entrenched loathing and contempt for whatever is Black and Female. We are strong and enduring. We are also deeply scarred (Eye to Eye: Black Women, Hatred, and Anger, p.151).

Worse still we as Black Womxn also tend to be our own referees, handing each other red cards as if they were roses. We allow for men to intervene in between us, severing ties and causing greater divides. We have graduated from ‘the other woman’ to ‘side-chick’ with flying colours and gold stars we are proud to have achieved.

Black women are programmed to define ourselves within this male attention and to compete with each other for it rather than to recognize and move upon our common interests (Scratching the Surface, p.48).

We should rather focus all our energy on nourishing our power, for it is exactly what they fear. We undeniably threaten the current social regime and it is for that reason that we are cast out. If we channelled our force into every aspect of our beings, doings, thinking, feeling, we would fuel an intense flame that would set the world a blaze.

As women, we need to examine the ways in which our world can be truly different. i am speaking here of the necessity for reassessing the quality of all the aspects of our lives and of our work, and of how we move toward and through them (Uses of the Erotic, p. 55).

Finally, let us rejoice in our bodies and explore our sensuality. Let us drink from lust and quench our sexuality. Let us love ourselves completely, passionately, confidently and unapologetically. Let us not be afraid to stroke our curves, fondle our breasts and caress our clits. Let us be in tune with our own vibrations. Let us be conscious of the full extent of our potency.

The erotic is a measure between the beginnings of our sense of self and the chaos of our strongest feelings (Uses of the Erotic, p. 54).

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