Living in the ‘white’ American society, African Americans experience the consequences of prejudice and discriminating actions not only because of their race but also because of a range of associated factors. Thus, the issues of race discrimination towards African Americans are closely connected with gender and sexual orientation issues.
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In their poems, Audre Lorde and Essex Hemphill discuss the question of how the difference in skin color can provoke the further accentuation of differences in gender, social position, and even sexual orientation.
Lorde’s “Now That I Am Forever with Child” and Hemphill’s “Condition XXI” are the examples of the poets’ vision of the specific role of women in the society with references to their gender and sexuality. As a result, the African American poets Lorde and Hemphill stress not only on their racial identity but also on their homosexuality to challenge the aspects of social prejudice.
Audre Lorde’s “Now That I Am Forever with Child” is the author’s manifestation of motherhood and the close connection between a mother and a child. Frederick Douglass’ claimed that all the people in spite of their race and gender were equal, and he paid much attention in his speeches to the struggles of ‘black’ mothers to protect the lives of their children. Douglass’ words can also be interpreted with references to Lorde’s poem.
The woman’s role of a mother is accentuated in the text as one of the main roles in the woman’s life. From this point, the question of race is insignificant to speak about motherhood because all women are equal in their love for children and try to protect them. Furthermore, referring to the author’s biography, it is possible to state that mothers are equal in spite of their sexual orientation.
The problem of judging a woman is discussed by Essex Hemphill in “Condition XXI.” Hemphill states that African American women have to suffer from their submissive position in society and because of the males’ attitude which is based on prejudice. According to the author, there are always triggers to oppress and judge a woman because she is a ‘black’ female.
These ideas are correlated with Douglass’ claims that there are always triggers to stigmatize African Americans as slaves and not equal to the ‘white’ people. Hemphill accentuates that ‘black’ men are cruel about their women. Thus, Hemphill states, “we so-called men, /We so-called brothers” (“Essex Hemphill” 2646).
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And the explanation to the issue of gender oppression within the ‘black’ community is provided in the next lines when the author pays attention to the fact that “we’re about loving them / the way America / loves us” (“Essex Hemphill” 2646). In this situation, it is rather difficult to be free and emphasize the ‘different’ sexual orientation or a definite point of view while being an African American.
The themes of the poets’ works and their ideas should be discussed with references to the authors’ biographies. The focus of Audre Lorde on motherhood in “Now That I Am Forever with Child” is correlated with her self-description as “a black lesbian feminist mother lover poet” (“Audre Lorde” 1919). All the mentioned roles are important for the poet that is why they are reflected in Lorde’s works with great sensitivity.
Thus, the intimate feelings presented “Now That I Am Forever with Child” help understand only one side of Lorde’s personality and the author insists on perceiving her as a personality with the complex identity which reflects in her works the struggle for self-expression (“Audre Lorde” 1919).
The emphasis on homosexual orientation is the way to overcome the accentuation of differences and categorization in the American society in which personalities with complex identities live. In her works, Lorde tries to reflect on the homophobic attitudes of the ‘white’ people against the African Americans because of their choice which seems to be more immoral with references to their race.
As a result, Lorde discusses the issue and states in her works that sexual orientation is not a kind of opposition to discrimination, but it is only a part of the personality as well as the role of a poet or a mother (“Audre Lorde” 1919).
In his poems, Essex Hemphill is inclined to convince the public that to be a homosexual as well as to be an African American does not mean to be a sinner. From this point, the question of discrimination is close to Hemphill because of many aspects associated with his personal life.
Thus, the focus on the submissive black women in “Condition XXI” contributes to the struggle against the racial, gender, and sexual prejudice developed within the society (“Essex Hemphill” 2644). Hemphill reveals a lot of controversies in restrictions imposed by the ‘white’ people on the African Americans, and the author draws the public’s attention to the problem with references to his tragedy.
The society is hostile about ‘different’ people because of their race. If the ‘other’ people are homosexual, the hostility can increase enormously. Thus, in their poems, Audre Lorde and Essex Hemphill focus on the precariousness of such biases.
“Audre Lorde”. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates and Nellie McKay. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 1919-1922. Print.
“Essex Hemphill”. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates and Nellie McKay. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 2644-2646. Print.