Baldwin and Lorde’s perception of what it means to be black in America is clearly distinguished by gender. Baldwin initially argues that the American Dream is desirable by all black people. However, it is an experience that they cannot attain due to their blackness. Lorde argues that this is not the case for her and she knew that the American Dream was something that she had no interest in because the American Dream did not include her. I agree with Lorde on this part because the American Dream is not an idea that was created for the oppressed. Most notably, Lorde touches on how black men and women destroy each other due to that oppression. She states, “Differences and sameness. But in a crunch, when all our asses are in the sling, it looks like it is easier to deal with the sameness. When we deal with sameness only, we develop weapons that we use against each other when the differences become apparent. And we wipe each other out – Black men and women can wipe each other out — far more effectively than outsiders do.” I find this statement to hold a lot of truth today. In my experience, I have found that there is a lack of desirability of black women in the eyes of black men. Black men find proximity to whiteness by partnering with white women as more desirable and this is also pushed through the media. How black women are treated by black men significantly impacts how black people are viewed by society. If they are not taking care of each other then the rest of the world will treat them poorly as well. Baldwin states, “In both cases, it is assumed that it is safer to be white than to be Black. And it’s assumed that it is safer to be a man than to be a woman. These are both masculine assumptions. But those are the assumptions that we’re trying to overcome or to confront…” Baldwin is trying to argue that gender inequality shouldn’t factor into overcoming racism. However, Lorde’s argument against this mindset is so important because gender does matter. She states, “And the fury that is engendered in the denial of that vulnerability – we have to break through it because there are children growing up believe that it is legitimate to shed female blood, right?” I have to break through it because those boys really think that the sign of their masculinity is impregnating a sixth grader. I have to break through it because of that little sixth-grade girl who believes that the only thing in life she has is what lies between her legs…” This conversation highlights the differences in the ways black boys and girls are raised. Black girls are taught to be modest and close their legs so that black boys do not see them as a target. However, as Lorde states to Baldwin perfectly, “But what we do have is a real disagreement about your responsibility not just to me but to my son and to our boys. Your responsibility to him is to get across to him in a way that I will never be able to because he did not come out of my body and has another relationship to me. Your relationship to him as his father is to tell him I’m not a fit target for his fury.” Lorde’s understanding that issues of race must be examined from a standpoint that includes gender and sexuality is imperative and her explanation to Baldwin reveals that understanding what it means to be black in America cannot be understood by only male perspective, because the male lens often leaves out the nuances of the female experience, no matter how much they understand about race.
I found the conversation between Lorde and Baldwin quite illuminating. Baldwin reacted to Lorde with some resistance. At one point in particular, Baldwin asked, “But you don’t realize that in this republic the only real crime is to be a Black man?” and Lorde responded, “No, I don’t realize that. I realize the only crime is to be Black. I realize the only crime is to be Black, and that includes me too.” I loved this response, and I was sort of surprised by this comment from Baldwin. Given the impression of Baldwin that I have gotten throughout the course of this semester, I suppose I would have expected him to empathize with the position of Black women, but it seems that even he too lacked a deep understanding of it. This conversation reminded me of the mission of the Combahee River Collective–which Audre Lorde was also a part of.
The 1977 Combahee River Collective Statement, written by Black feminists and lesbians, states the following: “We realize that the only people who care enough about us to work consistently for our liberation are us…Although we are feminists and Lesbians, we feel solidarity with progressive Black men and do not advocate the fractionalization that white women who are separatists demand. Our situation as Black people necessitates that we have solidarity around the fact of race, which white women of course do not need to have with white men, unless it is their negative solidarity as racial oppressors. We struggle together with Black men against racism, while we also struggle with Black men about sexism.” Occupying arguably the most oppressed position in society, Black women are truly the “outsiders-within,” as Patricia Hill Collins described them. We have had extensive conversations this semester about what it means for Black people to be strangers in America, but as we can see from this conversation, Black women are even strangers to Black men. Baldwin states, “There’s a real difference between the way a man looks at the world…And the way a woman looks at the world. A woman does know much more than a man.” Lorde responds, “And why? For the same reason Black people know what white people are thinking: because we had to do it for our survival…” It is interesting that Baldwin incorporates this idea so heavily into his work, yet seemingly fails to understand how it operates between Black women and Black men.
Reconsidering Baldwin with intersectionality in mind had me thinking about Baldwin’s biggest message being love as a means to liberation, and Lorde’s being anger as a means to liberation. I had never had doubts about Baldwin’s message until now. Perhaps taking up love as arms is only a possibility for those in a more privileged position. Perhaps anger is a means of achieving love.