There Is No Hierarchy of Oppression

“There is no hierarchy of oppressions” was published by the Council on Interracial Books for Children in a bulletin on “Homophobia and Education” in 1983. Of the works included in “Leaning into Lorde,” it is the last to have been published and, predictably, the most direct in its treatment of identity. Lorde wastes no time in establishing the piece’s message: the title is the work’s thesis.

Lorde begins the short essay with a characteristic claiming of identities, writing, “I was born Black, and a woman.” She later expands on this self-labeling and describes how these aspects of herself interact: “As a Black, lesbian, feminist, socialist, poet, mother of two including one boy and a member of an interracial couple, I usually find myself part of some group in which the majority defines me as deviant, difficult, inferior or just plain “wrong.” Lorde clarifies that sexism, heterosexism, and racism are all rooted in the same struggle for power. She emphasizes that no aspect of one’s identity can benefit from injustice done to another aspect of it.

Towards the end of the piece, Lorde uses the intersection of her own racial and sexual identities to demonstrate the inherent inseparability of elements of one’s experienced existence. Putting it plainly, she writes:

Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black.

“There is no hierarchy of oppressions” unites and further clarifies tenants Lorde has put forth time and time again in various poems, essays, and speeches from prior years. In it, Lorde widens the theme of these antecedent writings to address power more broadly. In doing so, she identifies power as the basis for social identities and thus, obliges her readers to reconceptualize all forms of oppression as inextricably linked. This message, by virtue of its focus on connection and similarity (as opposed to separation and difference), directly aligns with Lorde’s overall distinguishing approach to feminism and the world.

Source: Lorde, Audre. “There is no hierarchy of oppressions.” Bulletin: Homophobia and Education. Council on Interracial Books for Children, 1983.