Audre Lorde, a Black lesbian feminist, was invited to speak on a panel at New York University. Though feminism was the major topic of the conference, Lorde acknowledged that she also belonged to marginalized groups, Black and Lesbian. Addressing a mostly White, politically liberal group of feminist academics, she noted that racist, patriarchalpower systems continue to dominate the narrative. Her famous statement “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” challenged Western feminists, defying them to address the racism and homophobia they had experienced as well as the “fear and detest of any diversity that resides inside each of us.” The metaphor “master’s tools” implies exclusion.
White feminists repeat the power dynamic and create otherness, but Lorde argues that one can’t change anything by repeating the power dynamic.
Even if we aren’t aware of it, many of us are intricately linked to power structures that contribute to oppression. Lorde asks the following question: What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? Itsuggests that only a few alteration parameters are viable and acceptable. Lorde’s key point is that fighting oppression through the methods of an oppressive society is impossible. Instead, we must understand and respect the true power of difference.
Though Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality,” Lorde created a new language to express the concept, giving us the language to critique. She also emphasizes the notion of “the personal as the political,” which has been broadly used in feministtheories. In her essay, Lorde questions the presumption that we can achieve equality ortolerance without a genuine and profound knowledge of difference: “Advocating the mere tolerance of difference between women is the grossest reformism.”
In Lorde’s argument, tolerance implies something negative; it is not about respecting or celebrating difference but about bearing it. Academic feminism ignores the restorative power of female interdependence when it only pays lip service to these distinctions, tolerating them rather than appreciating them. Women who rely on one another despite their differences provide mutual stability, enabling them to achieve liberation. Lorde’s call to accept diversity is more than ideological. White feminists struggle to comprehendracism. They genuinely and firmly hold that racism is bad but cannot comprehend that theirway of life may repress others and polarize social groups.