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Sister Outsider

You might have heard iconic phrases by Audre Lorde like “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” – nowadays, all kinds of activist social media channels pick them up. The person behind these statements and her body of work deserve more nuanced engagement: the African-American, lesbian, feminist poet and activist Audre Lorde was an absolutely important person for Black and feminist movements – also in Germany. In the 1980s, Lorde spent some time in Berlin. She provided an impetus for finding political language among Black Germans and spreading the idea of intersectionality, even though the term did not exist then.

For this reason alone, her volume of essays Sister Outsider, initially published by Crossing Press in 1984, deserves attention. A large number of the essays were published in German translation by Orlanda Frauenverlag some 30 years ago. But this year, 2021, the complete volume appeared in German translation by Marion Kraft and Eva Bonné at Hanser Verlag. Since this is a major publishing house, the hope is that Lorde’s important texts will now be read and known outside of Black and feminist communities.

Lorde’s essays, as well as her biomythography Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, speak of the pain that racism and heterosexism cause her. She analyzes the society in which she lives and notices that “those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them” (114). Everything Lorde writes still rings eerily true. Yet Lorde, for all her anger, always remains constructive in her critiques and struggles. She proposes transforming anger into language and action, always insisting on self-definition. Her path is one of self-revelation – making visible not only unjust structures, but her own vulnerability within those structures. Lastly, she makes it crystal clear: there are no easy solutions to dealing with structural discrimination – for no one. Sister Outsider is a foundational text for anyone interested in intersectionality and reflecting on their own social positions.

In the German translation by Eva Bonné and Marion Kraft, all translation decisions seem to have been made with political sensitivity. As they say, they often stuck to the source text – so Black is capitalized, white is in lowercase and italics. They generally retain the term Race in German. There is hope that Hanser Verlag itself, as well as other publishers, will take this exemplary translation as a model for others in the future.

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