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"Andrea Kim Addy" <akaddy@.ilstu.edu> Review: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name(Addy)

Date: Sun, 30 Apr 1995 17:00:06 -0500 
From: "Andrea Kim Addy" <akaddy@rs6000.cmp.ilstu.edu> 
Subject: Review: Zami: A New Spelling of My Name(Addy) 

Review of Audre Lorde, ZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME

Reviewed by Andrea K. Addy Illinois State University April 30, 1995  

Do you know who you are? Do you know who you really are? Some people spend there entire lives trying to answer that one question. Some figure it out, while others feel they will never know. ZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME is Audre Lorde's answer to that question. This is a story of a Black homosexual woman discovering herself in a racist, homophobic american society. This is a story of a person surviving.

Lorde calls this story a biomythography, which means, a invented or made-up life story. Aside from the literal definition, after I read the book, I thought Lorde was also describing how she viewed the way she was raised by her parents. When she was young until she moved out on her own, Lorde lived a very sheltered life and protected life. This isolated world she lived in had great effects on how she viewed herself and other people. Her protected life lead her to only know what she was told by her parents and this was not to trust white people. She never knew why and this was what confused her the most. Because of this limited life as a child, she went into the "real world" unaware of who she was. She grew up with a mythical or made-up life that she created until she was able to find out the truth for herself.

Her parents were from the West Indies and had moved to the united states during the late 1920s or early 30s. Her mother's skin color was so light that she could pass for white, while she and her father were a few shades darker and her two sisters were somewhere in-between. This skin color differentiation caused Lorde a lot of confusion because her own mother's skin was the color she was told not to trust. Her parents told her how to act and how to feel, but never explained the reasons why she had to behave that way. They felt that avoidance was the best way to combat discrimination and racism because without giving it a name, it wouldn't really exist. This type of protection was very important to Lorde's mother. Her mother was also a significant role in her life because as a child , Lorde saw her nother as a very strong and powerful woman that people counted on. She always knew her mother was different from other mothers and at times she felt this difference made people like her less. But for the most part, she described her mother's difference as "...like the season or a cold day or a steamy night in June. It just was, with no explanation or evocation necessary"(Lorde, pg. 16). Lorde knew people counted on her mother, but she never knew why and this gave Lorde the illusion that her mother had more power than she really had. Her mother, as well, believed in the image and went through a great deal of trouble to hide how powerless she really was. Her mother's belief in her own power contributed to Lorde's mythical life image. Her mother's view of reality was to change it and if she couldn't, then she would change the perception of it. This idea was not only carried out by her mother, but the entire family.

There were several instances when Lorde and her family were discriminated against, but when they went to Washington, D.C. as a graduation gift for she and her sister, it was the first time Lorde realized how american racism effected her family. They took a train to D.C. from New York City, but when it was time to eat, they had to stay in their seats and eat because they weren't allowed to eat in the dining car. Her mother told her that the food was too expensive and that it could be contaminated, so they would eat the food they brought. Lorde knew her mother was probably right, so she didn't question her response. Once they got to D.C., they decided to get some ice cream at a drugstore near their hotel. The waitress told them that they could order their food and eat it outside, but that they couldn't eat at the counter. Her parents response to this was to just leave the restaurant and ignore the comment. This made Lorde furious because this time she knew what was going on and so did her parents, as well as her sisters and yet nobody acknowledged this anti-american action. Her family was outraged also, but they felt the best thing to do was ignore the response in hopes that it would go away. These experiences stayed with Lorde until she began to grow up and see things for herself.

As Lorde got older, she began to realize what being Black meant. When she was in high school, she hung around a group of white girls who called themselves the Branded. Race was something they never discussed. They only liked to talk about the things that united them against "others". Because of Lorde's mother's philosophy of ignoring issues, she started carrying this same mentality. She began to feel that she could conquer it by ignoring it. But soon, Lorde began to wonder what was wrong with her. She couldn't understand why she was never invited to her white friends houses, but they visited each other. For a long time Lorde never saw her differences between she and her friends as something racial, she saw it as just being herself. After she graduated from high school and she got out into the "real world", she began to see that color was the difference. She said that being Black was an irrevocable fact: armor, mantle and wall(Lorde, pg, 180). Lorde realized what her color meant and admitted to her homosexual preference and she found a group of friends, black and white, that she felt she would be comfortable with. Even with her new friends, she still tried to focus on the similarities and ignore the differences, but she couldn't.

She started to understand how difficult it was at times for people to see who or what they were looking at, particularly when they didn't want to(Lorde, pg. 183). She also realized that being together wasn't enough because they were different. Being women together was not enough. We were different. Being gay-girls was not enough. We were differnt. Being Black together was not enough. We were diffenent. Being Black women together was not enough. We were different. Being Black dykes together was not enough. We were different (Lorde, pg, 226).

Everyone had their own needs, goals and dreams and when Lorde recognized this, she began to know who she was. Who she really was. She actually started to "see" herself as a Black lesbian instead of an invisible person taking up space. The visibility Lorde gained allowed her to accept who she was and spell her name in a new way.

Audre Lorde's book ZAMI: A NEW SPELLING OF MY NAME, was a story about a Black homosexual woman discovering herself in a racist, homophobic american society. There were two things that intrigued me the most about this book. One was the words Lorde used to tell her story. She used very vivid and descriptive words which flowed beautifully throughout the book. Her style of writing is very imaginative and free-spirited. And I also liked the fact that Lorde never capitalized the words "america" or "united states". This was a very subtle way of showing her disgust and dislike of the american society. This book also caught my attention because of the story it told. Lorde told her story of having to face the reality of a very unfair world by herself. Seh told of her struggles of coming to grips with the fact that she would never truly be valued in american society. What Lorde was searching for was acceptance. She wanted to know that it was okay to be Black, female and homosexual. She wanted people to validate her and make everything alright, but when she finally realized that wasn't going to happen, she learned to accept herself. And once she did that, she was able to survive.

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