There are so many roots to the tree of anger that sometimes the branches shatter before they bear. Sitting in Nedicks the women rally before they march discussing the problematic girls they hire to make them free. An almost white counterman passes a waiting brother to serve them first and the ladies neither notice nor reject the slighter pleasures of their slavery. But I who am bound by my mirror as well as my bed see causes in color as well as sex and sit here wondering which me will survive all these liberations.
This poem, “Who Said It Was Simple” was published in Lorde’s third volume of poetry, From a Land where Other People Live in 1973. Some things to note about Lorde is that she was an American writer, feminist, womanist, librarian, and civil rights activist. She described herself as “Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and dedicated her life and works to confronting and addressing injustices of racism, sexism, classism and homophobia. Furthermore, this poem was written during a time in which abortion was made legal (Roe vs. Wade 1973), and five years earlier, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and President Johnson expanded the Civil Rights act of 1964.
In this poem, Lorde scrutinizes those who define themselves as feminists but do not act when other groups are oppressed, and even benefit from the oppression. She portrays this in the first stanza with the “tree of anger,” for she is furious at the exclusivity of the so-called feminists who are sexist, racist, and homophobic. Her “tree of anger” has roots that go down to encompass hundreds, if not thousands, of years of oppression—denying basic human rights or protections just because of her race, gender identity, and sexual orientation.
The second part of the poem talks about her experience “sitting in Neidicks,” an East Coast chain restaurant, and listening to the white women talking about the non-white ‘girls’ that they employ to clean their houses and/or take care of their children, right before they go to a women’s rally where they march for women’s rights. They want equal rights yet they benefit from the oppression of the girls that they employ.
Lorde’s intersecting identities as a black, homosexual women make her more oppressed and each one pulls her to and fro to lead her to some sense of liberation, but she wonders “which me will survive / all these liberations.” The women’s movements seems to solely wants her to focus on women’s rights, while the civil rights movement wants her to focus on black rights. Either way, a part of her identity is denied.