Today I want to share some words from Audre Lorde’s essay “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.”
If you’re looking for Lorde’s whole essay, you can find it here
Lorde was a black feminist poet, essayist, and activist, and she’s one of my heroes. She wrote this essay after a false cancer scare; confronted with her own morality, she came more fully into herself and into her voice.
In this essay Lorde claims her position, her self, in language, which she is able to do in part, she says, because of the community of women who have supported her. And she calls on her readers to do the same— to claim their full complex identity and to transform their silences into action for a more kind, just, courageous world and for a more whole self.
Though Lorde wrote “The Transformation of Silence Into Language and Action” in 1977, it could have been written yesterday.
When we look at the world around us, we see that we need to keep stepping forward, showing up. We do this for ourselves and for others; and that the two go hand in hand.
Here’s a section of Lorde’s essay:
“In becoming forcibly and essentially aware of my mortality…what I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I ever been afraid? To question or to speak as I believed could have meant pain, or death. But we all hurt in so many different ways, all the time, and pain will either change or end.
Death, on the other hand, is the final silence. And that might be coming quickly, now, without regard for whether I had ever spoken what needed to be said, or had only betrayed myself into small silences, while I planned someday to speak, or waited for someone else’s words.
And I began to recognize a source of power within myself that comes from the knowledge that while it is most desirable not to be afraid, learning to put fear into a perspective gave me great strength.
I was going to die, if not sooner then later, whether or not I had ever spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you….”
I want to pause here a moment and repeat that line: “Your Silence will not protect you.”
Aware of her own mortality, of the shortness of life, Lorde realizes that not speaking has not kept her healthy. With the urgency of one given a potentially terminal illness, Lorde encourages us also to speak, to cast off our own silences. She continues:
What are the words you do not yet have? 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?
Perhaps for some of you here today, I am the face of one of your fears. Because I am woman, because I am Black, because I am lesbian, because I am myself – a Black woman warrior poet doing my work – come to ask you, are you doing yours?”
Lorde’s words are powerful and inspiring. I invite you to ask yourself: What is your work to do? What silences can you cast off? What silence can you transform into language and action?
And how can we call upon one another to help us do our work and transform our silences into language and action, into self acceptance and self love so that we may love one another better?
I encourage you to take some time to listen to whatever your voice is calling you to. What have you pushed aside and not listened to? What would happen if you gave it your attention, respect and voice?
Often we have been intimidated, mocked, threatened if we speak out. Whole systems of oppression and whole systems work on other people’s silences.
But the first step to change is to notice those silences and speak out. And to do that, we must find supports–of our sisters and a community around us, and of our own internal supports.
We can’t change on our own. We all need supports.
I invite you to practice with my meditation and writing prompts to tap into the power of your own voice.
When we center first and come into a more meditative silence, we have the tools to break through the oppressive silences that have for so long kept us small. Meditation gives us the supports we need to enter into the fullness of our knowing and our voices.
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