Surviving Together: Lessons from Audre Lorde

The Covid-19 pandemic has negatively affected hundreds of thousands of humans across the world. These historic months have terrified all of mankind in such a short period of time. People’s physical and mental health are at serious risk. As humans, we have been told to isolate ourselves and do our best to stay inside. While self-isolation remains crucial, now that we are a few months deep into social distancing, it has begun to severely affect people’s mental health. As positively effective as social distancing has been, it can also induce feelings of stress, loneliness and isolation, which will ultimately lead to increased issues for those who already suffer from mental illnesses (McIntyre,“Coronavirus and Mental Health: How COVID-19 Is Affecting Millions of Americans.”). Fortunately, there are many ways to maintain stability in your mental health during these trying times. The American Psychological association recommends engaging in self care, turning to those you trust and seeking help from a mental health professional to preserve your mental state during a time of crisis. In addition, the work of Audre Lorde, a self-identified black lesbian feminist poet, can help us think about the importance of community in these times of social isolation. 

Obtaining help from those around you can make you feel a sense of community, something Lorde advocated for throughout her life. It is crucial that in a traumatic time like now, we come together as a community and make each other feel safe and loved. Lorde stood up for those who didn’t feel a sense of community in their lives. She gave a voice to those without one, so they can come together as one. In a time of trauma like the present, Lorde’s work can be beneficial in helping us to understand how important community can be for those in isolation. Lorde dedicated her life to living as her true self, advocating for women’s movements and civil rights. She began writing poetry at the age of twelve and went on to be the first black student at Hunter High School. After high school, she went on to attend Hunter College where she began to surround herself with other poets and lesbians. She started to realize the racial inequalities around her. Lorde felt as though she was isolated because of her sexual preferences and skin color. Her motivation to keep going was to imagine a community she would one day fit into. In a biography written about her called Warrior Poet, Lorde said “it was only the consciousness, the vision, of a community somewhere, someday, it was only my vision of the existence and possibility of what it is…” (Lorde qtd. in DeVeaux, 255). This quote directly connects to how those who are self-isolating feel during these hectic times. We imagine the day this pandemic is under control and we can all come together as a community and feel the love we haven’t felt in months. Having a sense of community can make us feel like we belong to something that is bigger than just ourselves. It can allow us to feel comfortable enough to reach out to those we feel safe with. Lorde’s idea of imagining what we one day will have can be a helpful tool in maintaining our sanity during these difficult times. Although we all had certain expectations for this year, we must take a step back and practice isolation in order to thrive once again.

Lorde’s experiences with Breast Cancer emphasize the importance of having a sense of community in order to make it through traumatic times. Her world was turned upside down when she located lumps in her breast. When Lorde discovered she had breast cancer, she began to embrace the idea of mortality. This experience prompted Lorde to ask questions: “What is there possibly left for us to be afraid of, after we have dealt face to face with death and not embraced it? Once I accept the existence of dying as a life process, who can ever have power over me again?” (Lorde, The Cancer Journals). She chose to tackle the fear of death head on and prepare for her future. She did not allow her fearfulness to take control of her. Instead, she became educated on her cancer and chose to take it day by day. Lorde, having become a strong part of the black lesbian community, was now creating a community of her own, one that spoke to those who are also fighting a deadly diease. Lorde never stopped advocating or teaching others during her time with cancer. She chose to share her experiences and hardships during her time with cancer and create The Cancer Journals. Lorde once shared “I wanted to write in my journal but couldn’t bring myself to. There are so many shades to what passed through me in those days. And I would shrink from committing myself to paper because the light would change before the word was out, the ink was dry” (Lorde, The Cancer Journals). This statement is truly devastating, but also inspiring. Although she couldn’t write down her feelings in that moment, she eventually gained the strength to relive those harsh days and document them, so others could learn from her experiences. While a breast cancer diagnosis and a global pandemic are hardly identical experiences, Lorde’s words urge us not to succumb to the fear invoked by our current crisis. We must use Lorde’s battle as a lesson in how to manage our panic and worry. When Lorde decided to get a mastectomy, she had the encouragement of her new community, which she claimed was a vital part of her recovery. We can take this sense of community and support and apply it to those suffering from the pandemic that has overtaken our world. We can act as each other’s support systems and help our communities during these unpredictable times. It is crucial that we are there for one another and help those in need who cannot advocate for themselves, like Lorde did for much of her life.

Lorde’s feelings of isolation are similar to how many people have felt across the world, especially during these hectic times. She always fought hard to make sure that others did not have to experience the feelings of isolation, as well. She spent much of her time in Berlin, Germany sharing her teachings with “Afro-German” (Opitz, Showing Our Colors) women. These women grew up very isolated from one another in a primarily white Berlin. They weren’t considered to be German by the white Germans, even though they spoke the language and were born there. They were often called derogatory terms such as “half-breed” (Opitz, Showing Our Colors). They were left to feel like they were different and unwanted. Although Berlin was their home, they felt extremely unwelcomed. Lorde preached that the Afro-German women must “identify [them]selves, recognize each other and to listen carefully to each other’s stories”  (Lorde qtd. in Michaels, 28). She encouraged these women to embrace who they really are and take control of their identity, before the world does. This kind of isolation takes a heavy toll on a person’s heart and mind. Similarly today, xenophobic actions have taken place towards Asian Americans. Because the first case of Covid-19 occurred in Wuhan, China, many Americans believe all Chinese people are to blame. In New York, specifically, there have been countless racist acts towards Chinese people. It is unfair to discriminate against people just because of their heritage. Whitney Wu, a New York city council candidate, stated “You come to a place like New York City, and you assume you’re free from all the bullying because it’s multicultural, but then you realize that the solidarity isn’t there and how quickly people isolate themselves when a crisis like this comes up.” Similar to how the Afro-German women in Berlin felt constantly judged, Asian Americans are being exposed to daily racism. Although the premise of these racist behaviors are different, both the Afro-Germans and Asian American people feel isolated in their own homes. This negativity brings out the need for a sense of community that Lorde so strongly encouraged. The Afro-German women found a community within one another because of Lorde’s teachings. As a nation, we need to come together and instead of pointing blame, we must face this difficult time as one and listen to Lorde’s ideas.

Lorde’s work influenced many different types of people all around the world. Her inspiring teachings made so many people gain a sense of community and togetherness, something they’ve never felt before. In a time like now, reaching out to those you love and trust can be a vital part in coping with isolation and trauma. We can utilize Lorde’s experiences creating communities to maintain our mental well beings during this pandemic. Lorde once said “In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction” (Lorde, Conversations with Audre Lorde, p.86). It is important for us to see that, although we are all unique individuals, we are all a part of one united community right now that is fighting for a common purpose, which is to end the virus and be able to reunite together again.

Works Cited 

“Audre Lorde Quotes.” BrainyMedia Inc, 2020. 29 April 2020.

DeVeaux, Alexis De. Warrior Poet: A Biography of Audre Lorde. Norton, 2006.

Lorde, Audre, and Joan Wylie. Hall. Conversations with Audre Lorde. University Press of Mississippi, 2004.

Lorde, Audre. The Cancer Journals. San Francisco :Aunt Lute Books, 1997.

McIntyre, Megan. “Coronavirus and Mental Health: How COVID-19 Is Affecting Millions of Americans.” – Mental Health Treatment Resource Since 1986,

Michaels, Jennifer. “The Impact of Audre Lorde’s Politics and Poetics on Afro-German Women Writers.” German Studies Review, vol. 29, no. 1, 2006, pp. 21–40. JSTOR, Accessed 23 Apr. 2020.

Opitz, May, et al. “Showing Our Colors”: Afro-German Women Speak Out. Univ. of Mass. Press, 1992.

Ramirez, Rachel. “How a Chinese Immigrant Neighborhood Is Struggling amid Coronavirus-Related Xenophobia.” Vox, Vox, 14 Mar. 2020,

“The Great Unknown: 10 Tips for Dealing With the Stress of Uncertainty .” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association,

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