Audre Lorde’s Anti-Imperial Consciousness

Date01 April 2021
DOI10.1177/0090591720959858
Published date01 April 2021
AuthorJack Turner
Subject MatterPoetry & Politics
https://doi.org/10.1177/0090591720959858
Political Theory
2021, Vol. 49(2) 243 –271
© The Author(s) 2020
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DOI: 10.1177/0090591720959858
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Poetry & Politics
Audre Lorde’s Anti-
Imperial Consciousness
Jack Turner1
Abstract
Providing the first extended analysis of Audre Lorde’s critique of the 1983
U.S. invasion of Grenada, this essay argues that Lorde’s critique models a form
of anti-imperial consciousness that is still morally and politically instructive.
Anti-imperial consciousness entails examining oneself for complicities with
empire’s ravages, on the one hand, and solidarities with empire’s subjects, on
the other. Lorde aims to generate in her readers (1) a sense of horror at the
ways they may be morally implicated in U.S. imperial injustice and (2) a more
intense identification with empire’s non-U.S. victims. Lorde’s goal is to free
her audience from what she calls the “mistaken mirage of patriotism” and
propel them to anti-imperial action. Illuminating Lorde’s economic socialism
and anti-imperialist internationalism—two subjects still overshadowed by
her more famous work on anger, the erotic, and the master’s tools—the
essay contributes to the ongoing elaboration of the Afro-modern tradition
of political thought.
Keywords
anti-imperialism, Black feminism, socialism, Grenada, self-determination,
equal opportunity
On October 25, 1983, the United States launched its first major military
operation since the Vietnam War—a predawn invasion of the tiny Caribbean
island of Grenada. Over the course of a week, 6000 U.S. troops battled
1University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Jack Turner, University of Washington, Gowen Hall, Box 353530, Seattle, WA 98195-3530,
USA.
Email: jturner3@u.washington.edu
959858PTXXXX10.1177/0090591720959858Political TheoryTurner
research-article2020
244 Political Theory 49(2)
stiffer-than-expected resistance from Grenadian fighters and their Cuban
allies. According to U.S. counts, 45 Grenadians died in combat and another
337 were wounded. After winning control of the island, the United States dis-
mantled the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG)—an economically
successful socialist regime that had ruled Grenada since 1979—and installed
a pro-U.S. administration under British governor-general Sir Paul Scoon.1
President Ronald Reagan argued that the invasion was necessary to pro-
tect 1000 American students at St. George’s University School of Medicine
from the fallout of the October 19 assassination of Prime Minister Maurice
Bishop.2 Reagan’s critics deemed this justification pretextual and the inva-
sion outrageous; many speculated that the real intent was to distract the pub-
lic from the disastrous October 23 suicide bombing of a Marine barracks in
Beirut, Lebanon, killing 241 Americans.3
Grenadian-American essayist and poet, Audre Lorde, however, thought
that the motivations were more far reaching: “The Pentagon has been spoil-
ing for a fight it could win for a long time. . . . How better to wipe out the
bitter memories of Vietnam defeats by Yellow people than with a restoration
of power in the eyes of the american public—the image of american marines
splashing through a little Black blood?”4 A U.S. victory over a socialist Black
nation would deflect attention away from the humiliations of the Nixon,
Ford, and Carter years, as well as the 1981–82 Reagan recession. The inva-
sion, according to Lorde, was a window onto larger anxieties of American
national identity; the centuries-old, weaponized racism of U.S. foreign pol-
icy; and the imperial spirit of a nation that refused to acknowledge itself as an
empire.5
Providing the first extended analysis of Lorde’s critique of the U.S. inva-
sion of Grenada, this article argues that the critique models a form of anti-
imperial consciousness that remains morally and politically instructive.
Before explaining the argument, let me first provide background on Lorde’s
relationship to Grenada and an overview of her two main writings on the
invasion.
Lorde’s parents, Linda and Byron, emigrated from Grenada to the U.S. in
1924, ten years before Audre’s birth in Harlem in 1934. Lorde visited the
island for the first time in 1978, a trip she characterized as a return to “the
country of my forebearing mothers.” During the trip, Lorde absorbed the
“lush & beautifully verdant” landscape, met for the first time her mother’s
older sister, “Sister Lou,” and visited important sites in her family history.6
Lorde’s 1978 visit made her televisual experience of the 1983 invasion from
the safety of U.S. shores all the more searing.
The two works Lorde wrote in the six-month aftermath brim with outrage.
The first was the essay, “Grenada Revisited: An Interim Report,” composed

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