Updated: Jul 21, 2022
Note: I look forward to developing this thought more in the future, but for now, please enjoy my takes on Audre Lorde and Mariama Ba.
In the technological age, where the world is viewed as more interconnected, and where access to different regions of the globe is more attainable, the phrase “it’s a small world” is becoming less of an aspirational hyperbole and more of a standard truism. Globalization follows the idea that with greater interaction and integration our social systems will be improved. The logic is that with increased contact with other people and cultures one would find more things that unite than divide. Unity is a concept that is often framed as a positive right—especially in feminist discourse. The feminist project is often described as gaining social, political, and economic equality of the sexes, yet the notion of equality is too often conflated with unity. Unity implies a singularity in body and mission. It is a oneness. In some instances, one regards unity as a prerequisite for working together. Yet oneness often creates the risk of suppressing diversity and rejecting human particularities. Equality can sometimes be viewed as synonymous with unity, although in this paper I will take the position that equality is more of a social-political tool whereas unity is more of a communal ideal. One instance where the problem of unity versus equality can be tracked is through the discourse on black women and their feminist prerogatives. Black women are very diverse. They come from many different regions of the world and face multifaceted experiences. The problem here is that through convoluted conceptions of race and ethnicity many Black female groups are seen as one. This manifests sometimes in an erasure of the perspectives (i.e. African, Caribbean, Afro-Latina, etc.) in the conversation of feminism for black women and often results in the framing of “feminism” being seen under one huge, objective umbrella propelling towards the same ends. In this essay, I will like to shed light on the different prerogatives and definitions of feminism presented by Mariama Ba and Audre Lorde who are two black feminists from distinct regions of the world and compare and contrast their evaluations. I will then specifically argue how the black American feminism of Audre Lorde fails to incorporate the specific experiences of black Senegalese feminists of Mariama Ba and vice versa. Specifically drawing from Mariama Ba’s So Long A Letter and Angela Davis’s “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role” Audre Lorde’s “I Am Your Sister”, in no way am I arguing that they should be viewed as mutually exclusive, but rather, that their differences and specific feminist demands should be acknowledged individually. In this way, I will emphasize the point that striving for equality calls for different appeals than striving for unity.
Audre Lorde’s feminism is marked by hate and non-acceptance. Audre Lorde comes from the context of being black and lesbian in America. In her essay, “Black Woman Organizing Across Sexualities” from her book I Am Your Sister (1985), Lorde speaks out against homophobia in the black American community and calls for a recognition of her identity as an activist/reformer while also being a black lesbian and concurrently posits her essay as a feminist text. Nevertheless, she does not use the term “equality” even once in her essay. In this way, Lorde’s feminism is already distinct from the conventional sense. From here, while characterizing unity at the beginning of the article, she writes “as with all families, we sometimes find it difficult to deal constructively with the genuine differences between us” (Lorde 57). Here Lorde speaks to the difficulty of having differences. This is a tremendous barrier for her. She further writes in the same breath, “Black women are not one great vat of homogenized chocolate milk. We have many different faces, and we do not have to become each other to work together” (Lorde 57). This is Lorde’s moral of her article, which ideologically is similar to my thesis. However, Lorde’s thesis follows that the reason why it is possible for black American women, homophobic and gay, to work together is because they have been working together all along (Lorde 60). Nonetheless, the history that Lorde speaks to here shows that her participation was contingent on the fact that she suppressed her sexual identity. Additionally, she states that her acceptance in the community that matters the most to her is predicated on “mutual stretching” (Lorde 57). In this way, we find Lorde advocated for a need that simply surpasses gaining equal rights in a social/political atmosphere. Her efforts in this essay were toward a more communal ideal, where her community that she cares about can accept her identity fully.