Nobody is just one thing. For Audre Lorde – a black, feminist, lesbian – who was writing during a time before intersectional feminism was really a thing, it was sometimes hard to reconcile the different parts of her identity.
In her poem Who Said It Was Simple, Lorde discusses both feminism and racism, and the ways they intertwined in the early-70’s when it was written. She begins the poem with the line
“There are so many roots to the tree of anger”
Powerful words, but which tree of anger is Lorde talking about? She was writing in a time when she had reason to be angry for the treatment of any of the various facets of her identity: black, lesbian, or female. What I personally believe she is referring to with the tree of anger is the fact that those facets of her identity could not always fit together. The poem then goes on to talk about the disconnect that feminists of the time had when dealing with issues of race. She calls the women rallying to march for their rights out on their hypocrisy when it comes to race. The women do not even seem aware of the racism they are perpetrating. However Lorde is very aware of it. As a woman of color, she feels almost as if she is stuck in the middle of these two important causes. In the final lines of the poem, Lorde says that she is:
which me will survive
all these liberations.”
She is asking the question: which takes precedence, issues of gender or racial liberation? Obviously, the answer is that no one should have to choose between them, as both are of extreme importance. But Lorde, who was multi-faceted, as all people are, felt as if she was expected to choose one version of herself to focus on, one piece of her identity to fight for. Lorde was a woman before her time, an intersectionalist in a time where that wasn’t really a thing. Maybe if she had been born a little bit later, she may not have felt torn between the different sides of her identity.