Lorde Battles Racism

Between Ourselves is a chapbook that contains seven poems by Audre Lorde, all of which demonstrate Lorde’s contribution to second wave feminism. The cover features two alligators that according to the illustrator, Ashanti Adinkra, “share one stomach, yet they fight over food.” This is a symbolic image for women fighting each other for power when they should be uniting to feed their singular stomach. The book is clad in brown calligraphy and red illustrations with one photograph of Lorde herself at the end. The first poem in Between Ourselves is called “Power.” It is about a boy of color who is shot and killed by a policeman. The poem centers around the boy’s innocence and police brutality. Lorde begins by defining the difference between rhetoric and poetry as “being ready to kill / yourself/ instead of your children.” This contrast comes up again at the end of the poem and makes it come full circle. Lorde is saying that the difference between creative expression in poetry and persuasion in rhetoric is the ability to sacrifice yourself for the next generation. Lorde sacrifices herself in many ways but mostly by putting herself out there with her identity as a black, lesbian, feminist. The poem then details the unjust facts of the case repeating the line “there were tapes to prove it.” This line stresses the matter of fact clarity of the trial. There was no ambiguity, simply prejudice.The cop is set free in the poem after a white jury and a “4’10 black woman” who had been “raked..over the coals” decide to let him free. Later in the poem Lorde lays out the image of a “womb lined with cement” to portray the figurative death of black children before they are born. They are born into a world of injustice without power. They have been buried before birth. . Lorde then states that she is too angry to deal with her emotions at the time. She must control herself or she will “pull the plug” and end up raping an 85 year old white woman. Lorde quotes the public saying “what beasts they are,” referring to blacks as a whole. The treatment of this crime  by the public and the justice system show the lack of power in the black community. This poem serves as an outlet for Lorde’s anger towards these racial issues. Unlike most of her poetry, Lorde confronts the issues and attacks specific people head on. This poem quickly became well-known and served to highlight the incident of police brutality. Lorde travelled the country, reading her poem aloud in congress. This poem drew attention to Lorde as not just a woman but a black woman.


Lorde’s poem “A Woman Speaks,” focuses more deeply on her take on racism. In this poem, Lorde  makes herself seem almost witch-like using mystical words like “magic” and “moonlight” to make herself seem ironically eerie and mysteriously creepy. She is comparing her blackness to being witch-like ironically. Lorde says her “magic is unwritten.” She is playing on the phrase “black magic” because she is both black and has feminine powers. Lorde manages to critique the flaws of racism and homophobia in her poem without putting bigots down. She is able to insult them without doing so overtly or aggressively. She says, “I do not mix / love with pity,” meaning she does not want this poem to come off as asking for sympathy for what she goes through. Lorde summons “sisters,” “witches in Dahomey,” trying to form a united group of those who share her identity. However, then she makes clear that she is not only summoning blacks and females but those who support her and can feel her pain. At the end of the poem, Lorde threatens, “beware my smile.” This adds a creepy tone to the poem, as well as a call to action against men. She uses words again like “fury” and “magic” to liken herself to a witch. “I am woman,” she cries, “and not white.” This last line is like a cliff hanger. She threatens using her unique identity. There is no telling what a black woman is capable of.  Lorde also addresses her breast cancer and how she hopes her poetry will leave a lasting effect on the world even when she is gone. She relies on her poetry to keep her spirit going as she realizes the severity of her disease. This poem is exemplary of Lorde’s non attacking side. Lorde never calls anyone out even though she would be just in doing so. She remains calm and simply pokes fun at people’s prejudice by sarcastically comparing herself to a witch.


In an interview by Adrienne Rich, Lorde discusses how she taught a class at Lehman college on racism. She tells her class about how there is a “black mother” inside each of them. She is referring to the protectiveness of each one of them of their race and culture. When the “black mother” is rejected by society the  power of all black women weakens.


When I talk about the black mothers in

each of us, the poets, I don’t mean the black mothers in each of us who

are called poets, I mean the black mother-

AR: Who is the poet?

AL: The black mother who is the poet in every one of us. Now when

males, or patriarchal thinking whether it’s male or female, reject that

combination then we’re truncated. Rationality is not unnecessary. It

serves the chaos of knowledge. It serves feeling. It serves to get from

some place to some place. If you don’t honor those places then the road

is meaningless. Too often, that’s what happens with intellect and ratio-

nality and that circular, academic, analytic thinking. But ultimately, I

don’t see feel/think as a dichotomy. I see them as a choice of ways and



“Explore Encyclopedia Britannica.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/.

“Audre Lorde.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/ audre-lorde.

Lorde, Audre. The Collected Poems of Audre Lorde. W. W. Norton & Company, 2000.