The Politics of Participation
by Kicia Coldspring
Something is wrong when Black women are conspicuously missing from an Audre Lorde reading and discussion group. Audre Lorde speaks so directly to the many unarticulated anxieties experienced by Black women—symptoms of the many public but mostly private and often bloody traumas lived through by Black women—that any gathering of persons absent the Black woman demographic that aims to build and to heal through the vehicle of Lorde’s life and work in a dialogic context will be missing something so fundamental to the spirit of her life and work as to nullify the endeavor. I appreciate the presence of my white sisters, who come faithfully, and who listen openly, and who share their feelings, woman-knowledge, and experiences; but I sorely need my Black sisters to show up and to speak their truths and lend their voices to the conversation as we explore issues of race, class, gender, and sexuality.
Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a Black woman writer, scholar, feminist, lesbian, and civil rights activist whose work remains relevant to the project of humanization and critical consciousness building across difference and through it. If descriptors such as lesbian and feminist offend you, then you need the intervention that Audre Lorde represents, and I invite you to attend the upcoming session on Tuesday, December 3, 2019 at Frank E. Merriweather Library from 6:00-8:00 pm. This discussion, facilitated by Africana and Women’s Studies professor and scholar Gabrie’l Atchison, Ph.D. and sponsored by Humanities New York in conjunction with C.S.1 Curatorial Projects and Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center, will center on The Cancer JournaIs, Lorde’s passionate reflections written while enduring cancer and facing death. The session following will focus on selections from the powerful and renowned collection of essays, Sister Outsider. Copies of all reading materials are freely provided, as well as transportation.
Audre Lorde exegetes how to live notwithstanding the myriad oppressions that we all endure, and we live by transforming the silence into which we women as a class have been socialized to ground our sufferings, sometimes at the costs of our lives, into language and action; whereby we may transform our fears, our defensive inclinations, and our angers into power, love, and joy.
And what is power? We have our ordinary definitions, centering around notions of might and influence, grounded in fear and presupposing a male-principal. Lorde observes in Zami that the “word-combination of woman and powerful [is] almost unexpressable in the white american [sic] common tongue except or unless it [is] accompanied by some aberrant explaining adjective like blind, or hunchback, or crazy.” Lorde’s insights liberate us from the dialectics of language that hold us hostage to disempowering self-definitions and static, corrosive binaries. Such knowledge-making is the work we do ourselves as we feel and reflect and most fundamentally, commune.
Let this introduction serve as an open invitation to all who are reading this, for this group is in no way exclusive to women. If you feel the need for a transformative paradigm through which to see and be and live in this world, then you should attend these discussions. And you should bring a friend. And you should be prepared to open yourself up to the kinds of conversations that we should be having but rarely do. And you will be better for the experience.