Radical Empathy & Intersectionality

Audre Lorde boldly proposes radical empathy in the work of redefining identity as a liberating form of resistance. This outlook, which grows out of Baldwin’s assertion that love transcends, renews the life force fighting against the intersecting oppressions of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy. Radical empathy opposes stagnation by emphasizing unity and harmony through difference and understanding.The way forward requires active listening. For example, Lorde challenges white women in the academy to examine “the needs and living contexts of other women” (Lorde). Lorde doesn’t stop by challenging white feminists to a more honest, nuanced, and selfless allyship. She also acknowledges her own personal strivings to witness to her fellow WOC’s pains. She demonstrates how to listen by sharing “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” (Lorde) For Lorde, the stakes of this call to radical empathy are high. They demand an ego death that allows for unity and real witness. It requires a transcendence of paralyzing guilt, which Lorde identifies as “only another form of objectification” (Lorde). Lorde seems to carve space into the civil rights movement for the wisdom and power of Black women with this approach. It is both bold and welcoming in its intersectional embrace. 

This carries on the legacy of Baldwin’s artistic empathy and passion. His gospel of love lays the foundation for the kind of listening that makes Lorde’s intersectionality possible. After the different moments of misogyny in this course, it was striking to hear Lorde call out toxic masculinity, stating “it’s so entrenched in him that it’s part of him as much as his Blackness is” (Baldwin and Lorde). Like in our discussion of Native Son, Lorde points out the way certain conceptions of Black masculinity rage against emasculation and impotence in a way that needlessly kills Black women. It was refreshing to hear our class’ critique validated in this way. Baldwin then shows us how to push forward, beyond guilt, in difficult conversations. The pair practice radical empathy and witness by allowing different experiences of gender to inform and harmonize their insights.