Our Responsibility, to Ourselves and Others, to Break Our SilencesThat visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.
Lorde is writing shortly after her doctor discovered a tumor that turned out to be benign but forced her to confront her mortality in the agonizing three-week period of uncertainty. She reflects on the sobering urgency into which the experience shook her:
I was forced to look upon myself and my living with a harsh and urgent clarity that has left me still shaken but much stronger Some of what I experienced during that time has helped elucidate for me much of what I feel concerning the transformation of silence into language and action.
In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality, and of what I wished and wanted for my life, however short it might be, priorities and omissions became strongly etched in a merciless light, and what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end. Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone elses words. And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.
I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. 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.
Turning to the audience and, across space and time, to us Lorde issues a clarion call for introspection:
"We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired. For we have been socialized to respect fear more than our own needs for language and definition, and while we wait in silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that silence will choke us.
The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken."
That oppressive silence and its most potent antidote are what the great Caribbean-American poet, essayist, feminist, lesbian icon, and anti-war, civil rights, and human rights activist Audre Lorde (February 18, 1934November 17, 1992) explores in The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action a galvanizing short paper delivered at Chicagos Modern Language Association in 1977, later included in Lordes indispensable anthology Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
Rest in Power, Ms. Lorde.
Saving to read the full essay later.
"...for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. And there are so many silences to be broken."
Thank you, JHan.
My sister and I were just talking about the lack of language surrounding certain topics (not related to this topicpost). i know that she'll definitely appreciate this post. Thanks for sharing, JHan!