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“Your silence will not protect you”: Healing with Audre Lorde

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“Your silence will not protect you”: Healing with Audre Lorde

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I don’t have much more to say. We are waiting, and fighting, but fighting without knowing can be as hard as knowing without fighting. We push against a water that we feel on our skin, but that we cannot see. It’s frightening. But in these moments, we can ground ourselves with strength through others, such as the incredible Audre Lorde.

This is an excerpt of Audre Lorde’s essay in “Sister Outsiders: Essays and Speeches” published in 1984. It makes you think.

“I was going to die, if not sooner than later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.

What are the words you do not have yet? What do you need to say? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.

And, of course, I am afraid– you can hear it in my voice– because the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation and that always seems fraught with danger. But my daughter, when I told her of our topic and my difficulty with it, said, “tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside of you that wants to be spoken out, and if you keep ignoring it, it gets madder and madder and hotter and hotter, and if you don’t speak it out one day it will just up and punch you in the mouth.”

I began to ask each time: “What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth?” Unlike women in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, “disappeared” or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.

Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.

And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realized you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And you will still flirt and paint your nails, dress up and party, because, as I think Emma Goldman said, “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution.” And at last you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”

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About the Writer
Soline Van de Moortele, News and Web Editor

From slam poetry to women’s basketball, senior Soline Van de Moortele has seen it all. In her third year as a staff member she serves as the News and...

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“Your silence will not protect you”: Healing with Audre Lorde