Speak UP & Speak OUT


There is a quote that says “those who know, don’t speak” but the quote should read “Everyone who knows, should speak”. Not speaking and speaking are both humane ways of interacting with the world but from a very young age, black children are taught that being silent is expected of them. The act of being silent was reinforced every day in the family structure, schools, and churches. However, American poet, feminist, lesbian icon, civil rights, and human rights activist Audre Lorde challenges us to deviate from this notion that has been embedded into our existence to break free of racial silence and become develop a sense of empowerment. 

Audre Lorde was one of the most influential people of her time and she still is today. Lorde uses brilliant writings and speeches to address different issues affecting Blacks, women, lesbians, and other minorities in America and by extension the world. Lorde’s work is unapologetic as she defined and inspired the American feminist, lesbian, African-American, and Women of Color movements of the 1970s and 1980s. (Poetry Foundation). In this blog post, I will be analyzing her essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” from her book “Sister Outsider” and how it relates to black people in America. Lorde argued throughout this essay that although racial silence is often seen as a positive thing, it often creates pathways towards racial and self-oppression. 

 Lorde urges black people to become self-advocates. For example, when she wrote that black people have to stop sitting around waiting for others to speak on our behalf rather we should advocate for ourselves(Lorde, 41). For a lot of us, this might be easier said than done because we are sometimes fearful of what others might think or do to us when we advocate for ourselves and other black people but the danger is around the corner and we simply cannot sit in our corners mute forever according to Lorde, while our brother, sister, children and even ourselves are suffering from racial oppressions in American whether it be in our workplace, the community is school systems. If we allow ourselves to become complacent and don’t speak up because of fear we will be destroyed. Lorde also talks about when we advocate for ourselves, we gain access to an inner source of power and confidence. The power can then be used to evoke change and transformation with or self or within society.

Lorde tells how that breaking our racial silence is our moral responsibility no matter what the outcome is. For example when she said “I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood. That the speaking benefits me, beyond any other effect”(Lorde, 40).Lorde believes that she has a moral right to speak up through verbal language as well as written. She expresses that words and thoughts need to be shared openly and freely because being silent is one of the ways systems of oppression are grown and maintained. In this quote, she also showed the gravity that is speaking and how making thoughts known aloud is very powerful because it begins to break down the oppressive forces around us. When we begin to speak up, we also inspire others to speak up. 

As racial silence increases, fear also increases but we should be persistent in not letting this fear stop us from speaking up and breaking the racial silence in America. Lorde expressed that we often remain silent because we are fearful of breaking the racial silence and we think that others will pass judgment or annihilate them. For example when she said “I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live. Within this country where racial difference creates a constant, if unspoken, distortion of vision, Black women have on one hand always been highly visible, and so, on the other hand, have been rendered invisible through the depersonalization of racism”(Lorde, 42). In this quote, Lorde states that black women think they fear judgment the most, but what we truly fear is being invisible because of our blackness. But to thrive in a country that we were not meant to survive in, we shouldn’t be afraid to break our racial silence because when we do so we are rock the very barriers of oppression and racism. We lose a part of our essence when we allow fear and racial silence to control us and this is where one loses hope. 

Lorde highlighted that our racial silence doesn’t protect us from racism and oppression but rather it promotes it. For example when she said “ My racial silence had not protected me. Your racial 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. And it was the concern and caring of all those women which gave me strength and enabled me to scrutinize the essentials of my living” (Lorde, 41). We have nothing to gain from being silent, and it negatively affects our mental health. I think Lorde made a very strong point here. She reinforces the idea that racial silence will never protect you, will never bridge those connections between people, and can never fix nor heal. To speak up is to reach out, grasping at anything and anyone who is willing to help and feels the same way, and eventually, someone will always reach back. She also expresses that racial silence is different when chosen rather than inflicted. 

We need to learn to turn our racial silence into language because with language comes transformation. Lorde states that “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 racial silence for that final luxury of fearlessness, the weight of that racial silence will choke us. The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that racial silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but racial silence. And there are so many racial silences to be broken”(Lorde, 44). This passage shows that change must be made and black people, need to keep “breaking their silences” to become better thinkers, speakers, and most of all better initiators of change. The only way to unite people of all different backgrounds and experiences is by breaking the racial silence. By doing so we are enabling ourselves to learn about the experiences of others and that our differences can be used to strengthen our platforms.

Lorde believes that we fear the visibility without which we live with, but she suggests that the visibility which makes us vulnerable is the source of our strength (Lorde, 42). She urges us to embrace our fears and become resilient in breaking the racial silence because in doing so we free ourselves and others. Martin Luther King is an amazing example of how we should not fear speaking up and because he broke his silence, his words are remembered throughout the world even to this day.

In conclusion, black people are affected by the invisible enemy we call racial silence and by breaking that racial silence and speaking out against our racial silencers, we can transform it into self-confidence and power. Lorde believes that this destructive racial silence creates and fosters a lot of negative results, in particular, the racial silence that is imposed upon underrepresented groups in society like women and minorities. In “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”, Lorde shows us the negative impact that racial silence can have on us both internally and externally. These acts of silencing are often committed by systems of racism, oppression, and individuals who believe in inequality. 

Work Cited 

Lorde, A. (2016). The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action. In Sister outsider essays and speeches (pp. 40-44). Berkeley, CA: Ten Speed Press.

Audre Lorde. (n.d.). Retrieved April 17, 2020, from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/audre-lorde

Image source: https://opmed.doximity.com/articles/we-need-to-speak-up-to-avoid-death-by-silence?_csrf_attempted=yes

4 Replies to “Speak UP & Speak OUT”

  1. Hey Roshawna,
    As I was reading your blog post I found myself nodding in agreement because you made valid and outstanding points. I love how your blog post carries activism to stand up against discrimination and influence others to take a stand with solidarity. The quotes you used made your stance more powerful and had a great flow. I agree with this point you made, “As racial silence increases, fear also increases but we should be persistent in not letting this fear stop us from speaking up and breaking the racial silence in America.” I personally advocate for people to raise in solidarity to address the injustice within our society. If we have a voice, we should not take it for granted and help other marginalized groups who may not have that voice. Overall, I enjoyed reading your blog post, well done!

  2. Hey Roshawna,
    First, I really liked the picture you used! It really grabbed my attention. Throughout your post I could hear your voice. I could tell this is a topic you felt passionate about which made it enjoyable to read. Your post was overall very powerful, I really liked when you said, “The only way to unite people of all different backgrounds and experiences is by breaking the racial silence.” To me, that was one of Lorde’s goals, to unite people to try to end the injustices her and others faced. It also reminded me of our classroom setting while we were still on campus. Everyone in our class had a different background but we were all comfortable enough to share our opinions and sometimes even our struggles and stories.

  3. Hi there Roshawna! I loved your blog post and found there to be so many relevant details and quotes. Breaking racial silence is such an imperative concept and I thought it was so powerful how you related this to Audre Lorde and her work. Further, I loved that you incorporated other examples, such as your quote, “Martin Luther King is an amazing example of how we should not fear speaking up and because he broke his silence,” and interweaving this comparison into your work showed a deliberate intention to convince your audience of the immense importance of breaking silence. Lorde was evidently an influential figure that inspired people of all cultures, genders, and sexualities, and speaking to her ability to inspire others to speak up is quite an important topic that you covered beautifully.

  4. Heyyyy Roshawna, you did an amazing job on your blog post. I also did my blog post on a topic similar to your post’s message of speaking up and speaking out (great title btw 😉 Your initial analysis of Lorde’s essay, “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action” was both cohesive and thought-provoking. I was especially interested in how you thought about Lorde’s message to those living in marginalized bodies; you state that Lorde tells us that breaking our racial silence is our moral responsibility no matter the outcome. When I read that, at first, I posed the question, “Why must the oppressed always educate their oppressors on the wrong that they have done?”. But as I read further, you explored Lorde’s connection between fear and invisibility; that the oppressed, more specifically black women, don’t fear judgement but rather remaining invisible. And in that, Lorde’s message of speaking up and speaking out becomes crucial in black women’s efforts to gain visibility in a society that tries to erase them.

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