Audre Lorde Quotes Every Activist Should Know

African American Woman in jean jacket - Audre Lorde
04/20/2021

There is power in speaking your mind, sharing your story, and using your voice. Audre Lorde and her works embody this power, and showcase what can be done when we use our voices for change. As a writer and civil rights activist, Lorde has infused her works with this sense of justice, feminism, and activism.

Through her poems, speeches, and memoirs, she has shared her experiences as a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and helped many others to express and connect with their true self.

Here we have gathered a list of some of her most powerful quotes about revolution, using your voice, self identity, education, and injustices to inspire and motivate the activist within.

Quotes on Revolution and Using your Voice

As an activist, Lorde has a lot to say about standing up for your beliefs, rights, and freedoms. Through her works and audiobooks, she shares a strong sense of justice and action, which calls others to make change and take positive steps. Here are a selection of quotes about using your voice, speaking up, and taking part in social revolution.

1.“It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

2.“You do not have to be me in order for us to fight alongside each other. I do not have to be you to recognize that our wars are the same. What we must do is commit ourselves to some future that can include each other and to work toward that future with the particular strengths of our individual identities. And in order for us to do this, we must allow each other our differences at the same time as we recognize our sameness.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

3.“How much of this truth can I bear to see and still live unblinded? How much of this pain can I use?” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

4.“Revolution is not a one time event.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

5.“Sometimes we are blessed with being able to choose the time, and the arena, and the manner of our revolution, but more usually we must do battle where we are standing.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

6.“The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted deep within each of us, and which knows only the oppressors' tactics, the oppressors' relationships.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

7.“Through examining the combination of our triumphs and errors, we can examine the dangers of an incomplete vision. Not to condemn that vision but to alter it, construct templates for possible futures, and focus our rage for change upon our enemies rather than upon each other.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

8.“As Black people, if there is one thing we can learn from the 60s, it is how infinitely complex any move for liberation must be. For we must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those oppressive values which we have been forced to take into ourselves.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

9.“Your silence will not protect you.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

10.“What are the words you do not yet have? 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.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

11.“Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

12.“Tell them about how you’re never really a whole person if you remain silent, because there’s always that one little piece inside 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 from the inside.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

13.“We can learn to work and speak when we are afraid in the same way we have learned to work and speak when we are tired.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

14.“How are you practicing what you preach—whatever you preach, and who is exactly listening?” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

15.“We know what it is to be lied to, and we know how important it is not lie to ourselves. We are powerful because we have survived, and that is what it is all about—survival and growth.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

16.“When there is no connection at all between people, then anger is a way of bringing them closer together, of making contact. But when there is a great deal of connectedness that is problematic or threatening or unacknowledged, then anger is a way of keeping people separate, of putting distance between us.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

Quotes on Injustice and Oppression

Lorde doesn’t shy away from hard truths. With a passionate, confident voice, she speaks out about injustices and brings light to ongoing instances of oppression in our society. These quotes highlight the injustices she has seen and felt, as well as speak to the need for and possibility of change. Here are some powerful quotes about injustice and oppression to spur any activist towards change.

17.“The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

18.“The fear that we cannot grow beyond whatever distortions we may find within ourselves keeps us docile and loyal and obedient, externally defined, and leads us to accept many facets of our oppression as women.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

19.“Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

20.“For within livin structures defined by profit, by linear power, by institutional dehumanization, our feelings were not meant to survive. Kept around as unavoidable adjuncts or pleasant pastimes, our feelings were expected to kneel to thought as women were expected to kneel to men. But women have survived. As poets.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

21.“Women of today are still being called upon to stretch across the gap of male ignorance and to educate men as to our existence and our needs. This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master's concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women—in the face of tremendous resistance—as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

22.“What better way is there to police the streets of a minority community than to turn one generation against the other?” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

23.“The way you get people to testify against themselves is not to have police tactics and oppressive techniques. What you do is build it in so people learn to distrust everything in themselves that has not been sanctioned, to reject what is most creative in themselves to begin with, so you don’t even need to stamp it out.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

24.“Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own actions or lack of action. If it leads to change then it can be useful, since it is then no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge. Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

25.“Decisions to cut aid for the terminally ill, for the elderly, for dependent children, for food stamps, even school lunches, are being made by men with full stomachs who live in comfortable houses with two cars and umpteen tax shelters. None of them go hungry to bed at night.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

Quotes on Feminism and Identity

Being true to yourself and your own inner identity is a core value of Lorde’s. Throughout her audiobooks, poems, and speeches, she grounds herself in a sense of who she is as a person. She identifies as black, lesbian, feminine, and a warrior, to name but a few self-given labels. Her works emphasize the importance of showing your true self with pride and power. She also roots herself deeply in a sense of femininity and womanhood, drawing on that sense of community and unity within women. Here are some of our favourite Lorde quotes about the self, identity, and feminism.

26.“Men who are afraid to feel must keep women around to do their feeling for them while dismissing us for the same supposedly "inferior" capacity to feel deeply. But in this way also, men deny themselves their own essential humanity, becoming trapped in dependency and fear.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

27.“The love expressed between women is particular and powerful because we have had to love in order to live; love has been our survival.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

28.“Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

29.“When we define ourselves, when I define myself, the place in which I am like you and the place in which I am not like you, I'm not excluding you from the joining - I'm broadening the joining.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

30.“I cannot shut you out the way I shut the others out, so maybe I can destroy you. Must destroy you?” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

31.“Within each one of us there is some piece of humanness that knows we are not being served by the machine which orchestrates crisis after crisis and is grinding all our futures into dust.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

32.“I find I am constantly being encouraged to pluck out some one aspect of myself and present this as the meaningful whole, eclipsing or denying the other parts of self.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

33.“Nothing I accept about myself can be used against me to diminish me.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

34.“The white fathers told us: I think, therefore I am. The Black mother within each of us — the poet — whispers in our dreams: I feel, therefore I can be free. Poetry coins the language to express and charter this revolutionary demand, the implementation of that freedom.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

35.“As a Black lesbian mother in an interracial marriage, there was usually some part of me guaranteed to offend everybody's comfortable prejudices of who I should be.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

36.“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

37.“I wish to raise a Black man who will not be destroyed by, nor settle for, those corruptions called power by the white fathers who mean his destruction as surely as they mean mine.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

38.“If what we need to dream, to move our spirits most deeply and directly toward and through promise, is discounted as a luxury, then we give up the core -- the fountain -- of our power, our womanness; we give up the future of our worlds.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

39.“These places of possibility within ourselves are dark because they are ancient and hidden; they have survived and grown strong through that darkness. Within these deep places, each one of us holds an incredible reserve of creativity and power, of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling. The woman’s place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

40.“If I participate, knowingly or otherwise, in my sister's oppression and she calls me on it, to answer her anger with my own only blankets the substance of our exchange with reaction. It wastes energy. And yes, it is very difficult to stand still and to listen to another woman's voice delineate an agony I do not share, or one to which I myself have contributed.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

41.“In the interests of separation, Black women have been taught to view each other as always suspect, heartless competitors for the scarce male, the all-important prize that could legitimize our existence. This dehumanizing denial of self is no less lethal than the dehumanization of racism to which it is so closely allied.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

42.“Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows “that is not me.” In america, this norm is usually defined as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, christian, and financially secure. It is with this mythical norm that the trappings of power reside within this society.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

43.“One thing has always kept me going—and it’s not really courage or bravery, unless that’s what courage or bravery is made of—is that sense that there are so many ways in which I’m vulnerable and cannot help but be vulnerable, I’m not going to be more vulnerable by putting weapons of silence in my enemies’ hands.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

44.“I know the anger lies inside of me like I know the beat of my heart and the taste of my spit. It is easier to be furious than to be yearning. Easier to crucify myself in you than to take on the threatening universe of whiteness by admitting that we are worth wanting each other.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

Quotes on the Importance of Education and Breaking Biases

Just as she focuses on revolution and change, Lorde also looks to the systems which create and perpetuate biases. Many of her essays and speeches call attention to entrenched beliefs, and encourage the listener to break these ideas we have built for ourselves. She teaches that through education and understanding, biases can be shifted and broken, but only if we are open to learn. Here are some great quotes about bias, otherness, and education to help open your mind.

45.“Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex. But it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

46.“Institutionalized rejection of difference is an absolute necessity in a profit economy which needs outsiders as surplus people. As members of such an economy, we have all been programmed to respond to the human difference between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it if we think it is subordinate. But we have no patterns for relating across our human differences as equals. As a result, those differences have been misnamed and misused in the service of separation and confusion” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

47.“As white women ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define woman in terms of their own experience alone, then women of Color become ‘other,’ the outsider whose experience and tradition is too ‘alien’ to comprehend.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

48.“Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

49.“Did you ever read my words, or did you merely finger through them for quotations which you thought might valuably support an already conceived idea concerning some old and distorted connection between us?” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

50.“Black and Third World people are expected to educate white people as to our humanity. Women are expected to educate men. Lesbians and gay men are expected to educate the heterosexual world. The oppressors maintain their position and evade their responsibility for their own actions. There is a constant drain of energy which might be better used in redefining ourselves and devising realistic scenarios for altering the present and constructing the future.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

51.“We do not have to romanticize our past in order to be aware of how it seeds our present. We do not have to suffer the waste of an amnesia that robs us of the lessons of the past rather than permit us to read them with pride as well as deep understanding.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

52.“Sometimes we drug ourselves with dreams of new ideas. The head will save us. The brain alone will set us free. But there are no new ideas waiting in the wings to save us as women, as human. There are only old and forgotten ones, new combinations, extrapolations and recognitions from within ourselves--along with the renewed courage to try them out.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde

53.“We are all more blind to what we have than to what we have not.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches —Audre Lorde


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