The Master's Tools
“The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House” by Audre Lorde is an article on Black feminism written in 1984 and it has aged well. While a queer, feminist piece, it does not exclude men from the conversation and the points made on racism are relatable no matter your gender. I love this article for many reasons, but I will start with the title.
The title is heavy and memorable. You know whatever statements follow a title like that are going to hit home (and they do). What are the Master’s Tools? Oppression. Plain and simple. You cannot dismantle oppression with the same tools used to build it. Division builds oppression. Silence builds oppression. Apathy builds oppression. These are the Master’s Tools.
“What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable.”
Or in other words, what happens when you let a criminal be his own judge and jury? He will ultimately decide that he is not guilty.
She goes into great detail about how tolerating differences between races and genders is actually a hindrance:
“Difference must be not merely tolerated, but sees as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.”
This statement brings home my personal hatred for the phrase “I’m colorblind.” I want you to see my color and know all the struggle and pain associated with it. You need to see my history and acknowledge my pride in my own culture and appearance. I can’t help but feel whitewashed when someone says this to me.
When I’m told that by someone that they don’t ‘see color’ I feel that they are resetting my entire being to their own factory settings and that setting is usually associated with whiteness. Saying they don’t see color is problematic because it is just another way of making people of color acceptable in a white world rather than them trying to understand a non-white one.
Lorde goes on to say “we have been taught to ignore our differences, or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than as forces for change.” Instead of saying “I’m colorblind,” the better statement is “I see you.”
Her segue into the toxicity of white feminism is iconic:
“What is the theory behind racist feminism?”
People who have been oppressed should understand oppression. Racist feminism recognizes this and uses it to their advantage. Once white women who fall in line with racist femininity have achieved their goals, they are no longer interested in the ongoing oppression of people of color.
This act of division is another of the Master’s Tools.
“In our world, divide and conquer must become define and empower.”
Lorde also brings up whether or not it is our job as people of color to educate white people about ourselves and the short answer is no. If white people are curious about us, they must make learning about us as important to themselves as they have made learning white history to people of color. They must do the work and then meet with us for discussion and healing.
You don’t chain someone down and then ask them to help you find the key so that they can help you free them – especially when they know where to find those keys. Those keys lie in articles like “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House.”
“This is an old and primary tool of all oppressors to keep the oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is the task of women of Color to educate white women — in the face of tremendous resistance — as to our existence, our differences, our relative roles in our joint survival. This is a diversion of energies and a tragic repetition of racist patriarchal thought.”
This article is important reading for anyone hoping to learn more about bridging the gap between racism and forging new tools to fight division. It’s a short read with so many powerful statements that help all of us learn what the correct tools are for dismantling the house of oppression.
“Those of us who stand outside the circle of this society’s definition of acceptable women; those of us who have been forged in the crucibles of difference — those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older–know that survival is not an academic skill. It is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They will allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”
– Audre Lorde, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” 1984
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