Black Lives Matter Interview: Tieneke Sumter remembers Audre Lorde

Long before the current buzzword intersectionality was coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, lover, poet” as well as author-feminist-activist-lecturer Audre Lorde (1934 – 1992) was the living image of it. Decisively dropping the y from her name, Audre in her last years was ordained as a Yoruba priestess [Nigeria] under the gender-bending name Gamba Adisa. A boy’s name typically, [the] she-warrior who makes herself clear, Ms. Lorde did not live long enough to trade by her new nom de guerre dueto cancer. 

I spoke to Tieneke Sumter, who had the pleasure of hosting Gamba in Amsterdam for the promotion of the critically acclaimed Sister Outsider (Crossing Press, 1984).

Sonny Jermain [SJ]: Who was Gamba Adisa?

Tieneke Sumter [TN]: She was an amazing woman! She described women as being “strong and dangerous” and was about reclaiming our power as black women and the many people who have been other-ed and made to feel like outsiders in systems and places. I was fortunate to work with her in 1984.

SJ: What do you think she would say about the state of intersectionality for black women right now?

TN: She would have said the same messages like “Your silence will not protect you” as she did back then. Unfortunately, nothing much has changed. We need to continue to dare speak up, to be proud of ourselves and find common ground. We live in a more rightwing world and we can’t be afraid to speak out. Her poem For Each of You, reminds us that “your mother was a princess in darkness,” and so we are the ones to step into the light.

SJ: How do you respond to usually men who say the feminism is “angry and bitter?”

TN: (Laughs) Ah yes, she also she wrote about that. Men say women are being “hysterical” and that is a way of trying to silence us and to diminish our strength. That [narcissism] does not and will not work!

SJ: As the Black Lives Matter movements spread across the word including queer and trans lives, how do we respond to the people who jump in and say “All Live Matters!”

TN: Basically, all lives matter. Everyone knows that. However, we cannot close our eyes. We [black and queer people] are coming from far with a long history of being other-ed, locked out, locked up and looked down upon. True, all human lives matter and that is why we are fighting for equality be a part of all lives in that matter.

I was brought to the Netherlands when I was 6-years-old and at 26 I went back to Suriname.  I lived there for 27 years and I am shocked and surprised being back here how the right-wing has become openly racist using freedom of speech. Back then the racism was hidden back but it was still so bad that I left. I am still processing what is happening and if I will stay or go back. Racism is such a waste of human capital.

SJ: What advice do you have for new black LGBTQIA+ people in the Netherlands?

TN: Be a part of the movements. Don’t distance yourself. You cannot be silent. Equality and our rights, especially as a queer person, require you to be active so as not to be an outsider. Audre with Sister Outsider, inspired me not be afraid, not to fit in and instead be creative.

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