Difficult Dialogues and Emotional Expression in Audre Lorde’s Life and Work

Audre Lorde is such a breathtaking poet whose values reign on love, intimacy and power. Her works of literature exemplify her strong voice, and intimate encounters with the hardships she has experienced as a black lesbian warrior of injustice. In my college career, I took a class which explored Audre Lorde and her powerful literature and I personally learned a multitude of valuable lessons in this class, but the lesson that weighs heavily on my mind is the power that Audre Lorde encourages others to have difficult conversations about injustices in a healthy way. As a straight white cis man, learning about the injustices many minority cultures face is often a difficult subject to encounter being that I am aware of my privilege which leads to an overwhelming sense of guilt for my predecessors. After being in this class, I understand now that our society has not been taught how to have such vulnerable and intimate conversations, and I think plenty of Lorde’s works can be utilized to encourage people to speak their truths and engage in sensitive conversations in a healthy way. 

In Lorde’s text, “Poet As Teacher – Human As Poet – Teacher As Human” she delves into the idea that in order to encourage a healthy learning environment or exchange of thought between humans, she must be as authentic and true to herself with her students as possible in order for her students to feel comfortable. Lorde writes, “I hope I have not lost you nor frightened you merely because I am speaking of the intimate exchange that takes place when true learning — teaching –occurs, of feeling myself and the perception of and reaction to the feelings of other human beings.” This quote reveals a lot more than meets the eye. Firstly, Lorde understands that people are going to feel “frightened” by the “intimate exchange” of a teacher to student. Typically a classroom would not be referred to as an intimate exchange, Lorde constantly challenges preconceived notions, so it is no surprise she opens up the realm of idea within a classroom setting. I’d like to delve into this thought for a little bit. I often wonder, “how do some people live life so plainly and happily while there is so much negativity surrounding them?” I’ve made conclusions that these people are either shallow minded, and unable to process the reality that sometimes life isn’t going to be what they picture. I’ve also concluded that some people enjoy being oblivious to the emotions and feelings of others, whether it be merely because they don’t understand or can’t relate, or that they cannot express their emotions due to some sort of traumatic experience they’ve faced. With this in mind, I’ve learned that specific learning environments actually encourage people who are typically distant to engage in sensitive subjects such as race, gender, and sexuality. ENG430 at SUNY Cortland with Dr. Savonick was this learning environment that encouraged my thought. This is still a concept that I think about from time to time and Lorde alleviates my confusion with her work. 

To continue with the quote from above, Lorde writes, “Because of course we all must realize that it is this exchange which is the most strongly prohibited, or discouraged human exercise of our time.” That is such a powerful claim for her to make, yet I completely agree. This exchange of intimacy can make some people feel uncertain or uneasy. When some people hear the word intimacy, some may instantly think of it with sexual connotations, and while that is one factor of intimacy, it isn’t the end all, be all definition. The term “intimate” as defined by Merriam Webster is “marked by a warm friendship developing through long association” this definition of intimacy is empowering, for it isn’t just something that it made up on the spot; rather, it is something that must be developed or built upon. Our society today is built on lacking emotions and presenting a rather stoic forefront as an illusion to the thought inside our heads. Society has proven over and over again that the issue with race, gender, and a multitude of other identities is that harsh conversations make people uncomfortable, so they are ignored. Being uncomfortable is never something enjoyable, but people need to learn to embrace feeling uncomfortable in order to help combat injustices.

In the era of social media, there is a facade placed on most people’s identity. Platforms like Instagram were created to enable people to explore their identity, but in fact it actually forecloses people from self expression. People are often afraid to post a picture that won’t receive a high number of likes, or fear what others may think of them once making the post, so they’ll post pictures that are trendy or well favored. This causes people to fake their true identity and succumb to the views society holds. Society has ingrained into the minds of people that being uncomfortable is a bad feeling, and while sometimes it is, most times feeling uncomfortable is where the most personal growth can begin. It’s like that common cliche “life starts outside your comfort zone”. 

People today constantly feel like they can’t express their emotions or true self because feeling such strong emotions or not following the status quo is viewed as a trait of someone who is unstable or strange. Lorde disputes this in her work, “The Use of Anger”. While this text is discussing how to combat racism with anger, I think there is a broader theme she touches upon. Lorde writes, “ I speak out of a direct and particular anger at a particular academic conference , and a white woman comes up and says, ‘Tell me how you feel but don’t say it too harshly or I cannot hear you.’ But is it my manner that keeps her from hearing, or the message that her life may change?” This quote is super powerful, for Lorde has every right to be angry and use her emotions to combat injustice, yet society, or in this case, the white woman implies an angry tone to an inability to control her emotions. Audre Lorde should not have to control her emotions while coming face to face with injustice! She is literally teaching her students and readers all throughout the world that their feelings are validated and that their circumstances could alter the society and change the notion that emotions are a sign of weakness. 

Lorde is very powerful. She is unapologetically herself, and wants each and every person to feel comfortable enough to express what they feel. Society has created social constructs that Lorde constantly tries to break down. Especially when it comes to injustice, every single person should raise their voices and combat the racist, sexist, homophobic society we live in. While speaking out, people should recall their privileges and remember that even though some cases are more difficult to discuss, they are still important to speak about. While she speaks on how to interpret injustices, we as a society can learn how to discuss our feelings in a time like today. We as people can grow and encourage others to speak their truths even if it’s uncomfortable.

Works Cited

Lorde, Audre. “Poet As Teacher – Human As Poet – Teacher As Human.”

Lorde, Audre. The Uses of Anger. academicworks.cuny.edu.

3 Replies to “Difficult Dialogues and Emotional Expression in Audre Lorde’s Life and Work”

  1. Hey Mike,

    I really liked your description of Lorde as a “black lesbian warrior of injustice” and from what I’ve learned about her this semester, I think she would appreciate it. Lorde tackles a variety of subjects which are still difficult to talk about to this day. However, she recognizes why it is necessary to discuss these subjects and, in doing so, implies her belief that system of oppression function so well due to our ignorance towards them. Lorde is not only a “black lesbian warrior” but also, a rebel in many areas. Lorde’s morals consistently trump what is generally believed to be socially acceptable, which is what makes her a great poet, writer, and teacher. I think most people suppress their emotions because they don’t correlate with what is socially accepted, however, Lorde’s greatest advice is to channel your emotions and use them as a source of power and I think Lorde’s poetry is an excellent example of this. Lorde embraces intimacy and the pursuit of the erotic, which is one of the reasons why she is considered by many to be a warrior. The social and professional settings are designed to encourage us to suppress these desires, whereas, Lorde challenges us to embrace them. She makes the claim that there are uses for commonly depicted negative emotions and that we should learn how to use them so that we can live at our highest potential.

  2. Hi Mikey! Your blog post was so well written and a pleasure to read. Audre Lorde’s poems where she talks about teaching are some of my favorites that we read this semester. I feel like she really describe teaching in a new and exciting way. Since I want to be a teacher I have heard the phrase “your classroom needs to be a safe space for your students” thousands of times. However I love how Lorde says, ““I hope I have not lost you nor frightened you merely because I am speaking of the intimate exchange that takes place when true learning — teaching –occurs, of feeling myself and the perception of and reaction to the feelings of other human beings.” I feel like this is Lorde’s way of describing what she wants her classroom to be like. She wants the students to go beyond the ‘book’ learning and learn about relationships and connections.

  3. Hi Mikey,
    Such a beautiful and powerful blog. I was legitimately very moved by what you wrote and a little jealous. But the way you explained Lorde and her ideas as a teacher just took my breath away. Well done.

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