Audre Lorde’s Power of Connecting Communities

Throughout history there have been many important and impactful figures who have changed society and became a voice for the people. Monumental figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells are all names that come to mind when we think about African American movements. There are several African American women who contributed to movements towards African Americans and created a lasting impact, but tend to be overlooked, one being Audre Lorde. Lorde was an African American feminist who used her voice to speak out against the oppressions that she and those around her faced. Lorde was an activist for civil rights,women’s rights, and the rights of gays and lesbians, as well as a writer and poet. Her work mainly focused on feminism, and her identity as a black lesbian woman. Lorde sharded her experiences in order to spread awareness of the injustices and struggles that she and others faced. She did this not just through her writing, but also in her  teaching and educating. Lorde spread her story and knowledge to thousands, including people in the city of Berlin. In this blog post I will analyze works from Lorde such as “Berlin Is Hard on Colored Girls”, The Cancer Journals and Lorde’s contribution to Farbe Bekennen to show how Lorde used her injustices, oppressions, and traumas to join communities of women together.

Audre Lorde was one of the most influential figures of her time and still today, her powerful and brilliant writings and speeches defined and inspired the American feminist, lesbian, African-American, and Women of Color movements of the 1970s and 1980s. Lorde expanded her influence in 1984 when she traveled to Berlin. From 1984 to 1992 Lorde made several trips to Berlin, teaching and sharing her stories and legacy to German society (Wilder 1). While in Berlin, Lorde helped Germans to develop the Afro-German movement. Upon arriving, Lorde had noted that she should feel the racial tension that haunted the streets of the city. Lorde stated, “The city itself is very different from what I’d expected. It is lively and beautiful, but its past is never very far away, at least not for me. The silence about Jews is absolutely deafening, chilling” (Wilder 1). With World War II and the Holocaust in the not so distant past, people were fearful, especially people of color. Lorde encouraged Afro-Germans to form a community and be unapologetically themselves rather than be fearful of the injustices and oppressions they faced. While in Berlin Lorde held lectures and seminars, she believed that, “The words of these Black German women document their rejection of despair, of blindness, of silence. Once an oppression is expressed, it can be successfully fought” (Ayim 8). Using the information and stories of Afro-German women in Berlin, resulted in the creation of Farbe Bekennen. Farbe Bekennen is a book collectively written by Lorde and Afro-German women, Katharina Oguntoye, May Opitz, Dagmar. Schultz , Katharina, and Oguntoye, D. Schutz. With the help of Lorde, these women were able to come together to create a narrative to account for Germany’s African American history. The novel allowed for Afro-German women to share their stories of racism and oppression, creating a community of Afro-German women who shared the same stories of injustice. Farbe Bekennen was the first book that treated Afro-German as a national identity, following this in 1985 the Initiative Schwarze Deutsche was created. It was the first national organization of Afro-Germans still functioning as a support group for people of color in Germany today encouraging the collaboration of women and men (Hickmon). Lorde was able to help start the Afro-German identity movement and establish a community of Afro-German women that joined together to fight their oppressions. 

Not only did Lorde create communities of Afro-German women, she also documented what she experienced in Berlin. Lorde’s poem “Berlin Is Hard on Colored Girls” conveys that the racism and oppressions that women in Berlin were facing was the same racism women in America faced. It also embodies how she is able to connect and identify herself with Afro-Germans and women of color in Berlin. The poem begins with the line, “Perhaps a strange woman”(Lorde line 1). By starting the poem in this way, it is framed around this strange woman. Who is she? Why is she strange? Is she different? The poem suddenly becomes about identity and estrangement. Although the poem conveys her observations of Berlin, it is also about Lorde herself. She speaks out on her oppressions which allows others to feel that they are not alone. Lorde was able to do the same in Berlin. In doing so, she was able to help create the Afro-German identity movement. She was able to use her own struggles and connect with those around them. She created a voice for not only herself, but for those around her who needed someone such as Lorde to help right the injustices they were facing. Instead of letting the fear of World War II and racism divide them, Lorde helped Afro-German women create loving and supporting communities. 

In addition to forming communities of women in Berlin, she also formed communities of women by sharing her experiences with breast cancer. Throughout her journey with cancer, she documented her experiences in The Cancer Journals. These journals shared her experiences with her cancer but also talked about the way she was treated by doctors and nurses. The breast cancer took a toll on Lorde, she felt weakened and almost defeated. But, just as she does with every oppression, she used this to join communities of women together. By creating The Cancer Journals she was able to make others feel that they were not alone. Women who also had cancer are able to read about Lorde’s experiences and story. In the novel Lorde states, 

“I wanted to talk to a lesbian, to sit down and start from a common language, no matter how diverse. I wanted to share dyke-insight, so to speak. The call went out. Sonny and Karyn came to the house and the four of us shared our fears and our stories across age and color and place and difference and I will be forever grateful to Sonny and Karyn” (Lorde 49). 

Here, we see that Lorde and her friends are sharing their fears and stories. To Lorde this is the only way she finds comfort in her situation, it is the only way she can cope. What Lorde does here with her friends, is what she does in every situation. She tells her stories, listens to other people’s stories, and uses their struggles to join them together. She forms communities of women who all have the same oppressions, traumas, and injustices.

Lorde was an excellent writer, teacher, and poet who brought communities of women together. She was able to take injustices, traumas, oppressions, and struggles and turn them into something more, something powerful. In doing so, she was able to become a voice for numerous movements and groups of people. She used her experiences to bond with women from America to Berlin. Audre Lorde’s bonds created communities of women who were able to join together to create strength and support one another through their stories. 

Work Cited

Aiym, May. “Showing Our Colors: Afro-German Women Speak Out,” 1986. 

Farber, Paul. “I Cross Her Borders at Midnight.” Audre Lorde’s Transitional Legacies, edited by 

Stella Bolaki and Sabine Broeck, 2015, pp. 152-153.

Hickmon, Gabrielle. “What Audre Lorde Learned in Berlin About Afro-German Identity.” 

Literary Hub, 10 Dec. 2019.

Lorde, Audre. “Berlin Is Hard on Colored Girls,” 1986.

Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals. Aunt Lute Books. 1980. 

Wilder, Charly. “Audre Lorde’s Berlin,” The New York Times, 19 Jul. 2019.

2 Replies to “Audre Lorde’s Power of Connecting Communities”

  1. Hey Hailey, I really loved your post. Your analysis of Lorde’s time in Berlin was great especially how she was able to get women to express the oppression they were under and I love this quote “The words of these Black German women document their rejection of despair, of blindness, of silence. Once an oppression is expressed, it can be successfully fought” (Ayim 8) because it really shows the process of what needs to happen for a change.

  2. Hi Hailie,
    I really enjoyed reading your final blog post! Lorde’s time in Berlin was truly my favorite part of this class. I really liked reading about the Afro-German women and the struggles they faced. I agree with you when you said Lorde used her own experiences and hardships to teach the Afro-German women how to stand up for themselves and give themselves a name.
    I also talked about the The Cancer Journals in my blog post and spoke about how her strong attitude during her time with cancer helped her recover and how we can apply this sort of strength to the difficult times we are facing now. Overall I really enjoyed your blog post and all your work this semester! Great job!

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