63 pages 2 hours read

Audre Lorde

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1984

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches was published in 1984, and it is Audre Lorde’s second published collection of prose. Sister Outsider reflects Lorde’s commitment to the struggle against racism, sexism, patriarchy, anti-gay bias (what Lorde calls “homophobia”), heterosexism, and classism. She emphasizes women’s role in these struggles against oppression, particularly noting the need for solidarity between Black women and white women, as well as between Black women and Black men. However, solidarity for Lorde means neither homogeneity nor de-emphasizing differences nor intra-communal violence. In fact, for Lorde, building connection and coalition among oppressed peoples means openly and carefully acknowledging those differences and using them as a source of connection, creativity, and power.

Summary

The prose works included in Sister Outsider span between 1976 and 1983. The collection begins and ends with Lorde’s reflections on recent travel experiences, the first a trip to Russia and the last a trip to Grenada. Bookending Sister Outsider with her reflections on these travel experiences underlines Lorde’s emphasis on the shortcomings of American society and institutionalized racism, sexism, classism, and anti-gay bias by placing them in a global context. The essays in between, some derived from papers presented at academic conferences and others published in journals and magazines, fill out the consideration of what must be done to battle the oppression so deeply entrenched in American society.

Lorde believes that people—women most importantly—must tap into the reservoir of knowledge that is emotion and feeling. The rational, linear thought espoused by Western society is simply not enough alone to stimulate lasting change or to get people to be honest with themselves about what they have internalized of their own oppression and how they are complicit in the oppression of those with whom they share common struggles and aspirations. Lorde’s encouragement to bring forth feeling is not meant to imply that the hierarchical dichotomy of thought/feeling should be reversed; instead, she encourages readers to integrate feelings into their perspectives and choices by exploring those feelings and the knowledge they hold about what is possible for a future free society.

Sister Outsider has been a major contribution to feminism, Black feminism, postcolonial theory and studies, Black studies, queer theory, and more. The oft-cited text remains an essential read for anyone wishing to consider and confront the ways in which oppression not only operates as an externally imposed, institutionalized force but also how it perpetuates through internalization, isolation from oneself, and isolation from the very people with whom one shares essential experience and common goals for liberation.

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