Reflections on “There is No Separate Survival: Reading Audre Lorde in These Times” by Meagan G. Washington

This post was written by Contributing Author Meagan G. Washington, Adjunct Lecturer at Hunter College, CUNY.

The community read-in of Audre Lorde’s work has generated an opportunity to reflect deeply on how her work offers ways to think about the current socio-political situation. The history of anti-black racism and more contemporary anti-Asian violence leave students and CUNY community devastated and struggling to come to grips with the violence. Lorde’s work in ‘A Litany for Survival’ as well as her other prose and poetry ground the experiences of violence by braiding together individual experiences with systemic structural violence. The reflections by Meagan G. Washington and Dillonna C. Lewis, show just how rich the conversation Lorde’s work provoked in the breakout rooms.

Two critical notions that carried over from the panelist discussion into the breakout groups were the importance of community building and the concept of surviving. As the breakout group continued to interrogate Audre Lorde’s poetry and prose, many participants fixated on the use of the collective pronoun “we” throughout the selected readings. The virtual room ruminated over the ways Audre Lorde’s intersections overlapped with their own identities. Using the poem “A Litany for Survival” as a springboard into the conversation about what it means to “do our work”, all the participants reiterated the importance of acknowledging our individual differences to support a collective survival. As a homogeneous room of cis women and non-binary individuals, we discussed how surviving in today’s society means finding a community of individuals who support and protect you from racism, homophobia, and misogynistic rhetoric. In that same vein, we considered how difficult it had to be for Lorde to confront the same issues decades before our gathering. We fixated on how Lorde used her personal experiences to call other women to recognize their anger and fears. In that recognition, we explored ways we could siphon off some of Lorde’s courage to take with us into communities. 

As a group, we examined how miraculously the “we” in Lorde’s work extended to each person in the room and shared our experiences with bigotry  Mainly, the group discussed how their mothers, LGBTQIA+ chosen families, and mentors were the reasons they continue to their work as students and in civic engagement. Even within the short discussion, everyone in the group’s spirits were visibly lighter and the bounds of the virtual space dissipated. In our brief interaction, we had navigated the throes of our daily burdens and in our discussion found some ease in the fact that we each had a guide in Lorde’s work. 

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