Lorde once wrote of Afro-German women:
“I am excited by these women, by their blossoming sense of identity as they say, “Let us be ourselves now as we define us. We are not a figment of your imagination or an exotic answer to your desires. We are not some button on the pocket of your longings.” I see these women as a growing force for international change, in concert with other Afro-European, Afro-Asians, Afro-Americans.”[i]
– Farbe Bekennen, Audre Lorde
Born in 1934 in Harlem as the daughter of Caribbean immigrants, the beautiful paradox about Audre Lorde is that through the course of her life it was impossible to label or categorize her, and yet at every turn and opportunity she stood up and would define herself. She used her many identities to produce an activist perspective and politics that would inspire a wide array of women from across the African Diaspora and global feminist movements. By declaring multiple identities she was not only acknowledging but also celebrating differences, asking others to build bridges, to be conscious of our own individual power and to use it in building those bridges.
As a diasporic intellectual and activist she addressed questions of Black subjectivity, in particular Black female subjectivity. Lorde often confronted the racism that was embedded within contemporary feminist thought, and maintained that a great deal of the scholarship written by contemporary white feminists served to augment the oppression of black women. In her essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” Lorde argued that by denying difference in the category of women, white feminists merely passed on old systems of oppression and through this denial continued to silence minority voices, preventing any real, lasting change.
It is her poetry, however, that she is best known for and it is here that her emphasis on a multi-dimensional subject and multi-layered identity become most self-evident. In collections such as Coal and The Black Unicorn Lorde does not simply work with the voice of the Black female subject, she also gives voice to the Black lesbian and explores the constructed boundaries between heterosexual and homosexual love and desire, along with highlighting the Black female subjects diasporic nature, and the links Black women share across time and continents.
Lorde was first invited in 1984 to Berlin as a visiting professor to teach a seminar on Black American woman poets and a poetry workshop in English at the Free University of Berlin. One of her goals in accepting the invitation and traveling for three months to Germany was to meet and connect with Black German women. “Who are they, these German women of the Diaspora?” Lorde would later write. “Beyond the details of our particular oppressions – although certainly not outside the reference of those details – where do our paths intersect as women of color?” [ii]
Her work and presence inspired many within the Afro German community. Influentially, with the help of students and independent Black and white German women she met along the way, Lorde used her own notoriety, performances, seminars, and lectures as platforms for Afro German connection and solidarity.
Notes and Sources:
[i] Lorde, Audre. “Foreword to the English Language Edition.” Foreword. Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak out. Ed. May Ayim, Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1992. Vii. Print.
[ii] Lorde, Audre. Foreword. Ed. May Ayim, Katharina Oguntoye, and Dagmar Schultz.Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak out. Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1992. Xii. Print.