“American racism was a new and crushing reality that my parents had to deal with every day of their lives once they came to this country. They handled it as a private woe. My mother and father believed that they could best protect their children from the realities of race in america and the fact of american racism by never giving them a name, much less discussing their nature. [...] It always seemed like a very strange injunction coming from my mother, who looked so much like one of those people we were never supposed to trust” (Lorde 69). She was that “problematic color so different from … me … who [was] somewhere in-between” (69).
Examples of this, which also double as ways Audre’s mother protected her from–or attempted to protect her–from racism in the United States:
Earlier in the chapter Audre writes that she “wanted to eat in the dining car … but my mother reminded me for the umpteenth time that dining car food always cost too much money,” but then she, as a narrator, older and wiser and conscious of racism, writes that “My mother never mentioned that Black people were not allowed into railroad dining cars headed south in 1947″ (Lorde 68).
This really beautiful scene on page 74 where Audre stubbornly decides she wants souse for dinner, and then runs to grab the mortar and pestle:
“I thrust sharply downward, feeling the shifting salt and the hard little pellets of garlic right up through the shaft of the wooden pestle. Up again, down, around, and up–so the rhythm began. The thud push rub rotate up [...] The feeling of the pestle held between my curving fingers, and the mortar’s outside rounding like fruit into my palm as I steadied it against my body.” (Lorde 74)
I’m enthralled by Lorde’s evocative, intimate, and powerful language (I can’t call it poetry or prose; it’s shimmering somewhere in between, subtly making its own way through expression and meaning, not quite typical). This moment of words intertwining with foods and spices is personally just marvelous for me. (Food and language both make my whole body sort of pleasantly hum.)
Lorde makes a fascinating connection between this act of preparing food (a typical task of women) and becoming a woman herself. The narrative skips four or five years into the future, when Audre starts her first period and her mother, as if in some way rekindling past memories of Audre as a girl and also celebrating her passing into womanhood, suggests Audre prepare souse. Lorde describes this moment similarly, but with maturity, with understanding, with delicacy, as her 15-year-old self begins a new relationship with her own body and identity:
I felt the slight rubbing bulge of the cotton pad between my legs, and I smelled the delicate breadfruit smell rising up from the front of my print blouse that was my own womansmell, warm, shameful, but secretly utterly delicious.” (Lorde 77)
Here’s what I’m thinking about for my paper (some stuff’s pertinent; some stuff isn’t):
“Once home was a long way off …” (Lorde, 13, 256).
As Audre Lorde develops into a strong black lesbian, her sexuality isolates her, pushing her away from her family, the Black community, and the gay community. When she was a young girl, she found home in the folds of her mother’s body, and in the rich fragrances of her mother’s cooking, delicately and lovingly describing these moments and their intimacy, whose strong presence sheltered Audre from the harmful and hateful realities of 1950s America. Lorde writes in the preface to the book that “images of women flaming like torches adorn and define the borders of my journey, stand like dykes between me and the chaos” (3).While Audre was still living with her family, her mother stood between her and the white chaos of racism. Eventually, Audre grew apart from her mother and she turned to other women for protection. These women, “kind and cruel,” help Audre find her way home, where she emerges “blackened and whole” (Lorde 3, 5).
Main points to support my argument that Audre finds her home and sense of security in her self, her identity, and her sexuality through other women “who stand like dykes,” who imprint themselves upon her like “an emotional tattoo,” who teach her “roots” and “new definitions of our women’s bodies” (Lorde, 250). Because of these women, both good and bad, she is able to accept the importance and knowledge of her mother and is able to be visible, to see, to find herself in a racial and prejudice 1950s America.