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The Master’s Tools Will Never
Dismantle The Master’s House
Comments at ‘The Personal and the Political” Panel
(Second Sex Conference, October 29, 1979/.

Audre Larde

I agreed to take part in a New York University Institute for the
Humanities conference a year ago, with the understanding that I
would be commenting upon papers dealing with the role of difference
within the lives of american women; difference of race, sexuality,
class, and age. For the absence of these considerations weakens any
feminist discussion of the personal and the political.

It is a particular academic arrogance to assume any discussion of
feminist theory in this time and in this place without examining our
many differences, and without a significant input from poor women,
black and third-world women, and lesbians. And yet, I stand here as a
black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the
only panel at this conference where the input of black feminists and
lesbians is represented. What this says about the vision of this con-
ference is sad, in a country where racism, sexism and homophobia are
inseparable. To read this progam is to assume that lesbian and black
women have nothing to say of existentialism, the erotic, women’s
culture and silence, developing feminist theory, or heterosexuality
and power. And what does it mean in personal and political terms
when even the two black women who did present here were literally
found at the last hour? 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 perimeters of change are possible
and allowable.

The absence of any consideration of lesbian consciousness or the
consciousness of third world women leaves a serious gap within this
conference and within the papers presented here. For example, in a
paper on material relationships between women, I was conscious of
an either/or model of nurturing which totally dismissed my knowl-
edge as a black lesbian. In this paper there was no examination of
mutuality between women, no systems of shared support, no interde-
pendence as exists between lesbians and women-identified women.
Yet it is only in the patriarchal model of nurturance that women “who
attempt to emancipate themselves pay perhaps too high a price for the

. results,” as this paper states.
-“t For women, the need and desire to nurture each other is not patho-
logicaCbutredemptiVe~ and_ff.iswith1n that knowledge that our real



-i ·,



Audreforde 99

power is rediscovered. It is this real connection, which is so feared by
a patriarchal world. For it is only under a patriarchal structure that
maternity is the only social power open to women.

Interdependency between women is the only way to the freedom
which allows the “I” to “be”, not in order to be used, but in order to be cre-
ative. This is a difference between the passive “be” and the active “being.”

Advocating the mere tolerance of diff erenc~ between women is the
grossest reforrriisin. His a total denial of the creative function of differ-
ence in our lives. For_~~ff~_r~1.1c:~_m.ust b~_!)Ot n.1e~ely tolerated, but ~~n
as a_fllE_d._ ()i !W9~S§i:IQ’. QC>l~1rities b~!””._e~n ,yvhic~ our creativity can
spark like a dia_l~~!Lc. Only then does the necessity for interdepend-
ency become unthreatening. Only within that interdependency of dif-
ferent strengths, acknowleged and equal, can the power to seek new
ways to actively “be” in the world generate, as well as the courage and
sustenance to act where there are no charters.

Within the interdirpendence of mutual (non-dominant) differences
lies that security which enables us to descend into the chaos of knowl-
edge and return with true visions of our future, along with the con-
comitant power to effect those changes which can brin$ that future
into being. Difference is th~ raw and powerful conriection from
which our personal power is forged.

-~~- A~ women, we have been _taught_~? eith~~-i_g!’lore_ our differences or
}f–10 view t!]_em as causes for separation and suspicion rather thaq as
‘1 forcesTor change. Without comrriu-n1ty;·t11eie is no liberation, only the

mostvulnerable and temporary armistice between an individual and
her oppression. But community must not mean a shedding of our dif-
ferences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.

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 oC:
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 stand alone, unpopular and sometimes reviled, and how to
make common cause with those other identified as outside the struc-
tures, in order to define and seek a world in which we can all flourish. It
is learning how to take our differences and make them strengths. For the :
masters tools will never dismantle the masters house. They may 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

Poor and third world women know there is a difference between the
daily manifestations and dehumanizations of marital slavery and
prostitution, because it is our daughters who line 42nd Street. The

ray san diego
Typewritten Text
In This Bridge Called My Back. 1981. Cherrie
Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua, eds. Persephone Press. (Copyright 1981 Audre Lorde).

100 Audrelorde

Black panelists’ observation about the effects of relative powerless-
ness and the differences of relationship between black women and
men from white women and men illustrate some of our unique prob-
lems as black feminists. If white american feminist theory.need not
deal with the differences between us, and the resulting difference in
aspects of our oppressions, then what do you do with the fact that the
women who clean your houses and tend your children while you at-
tend conferences on feminist theory are, for the most part, poor and
third world women? What is the theory behind racist feminism?

In a world of possibility for us all, our personal visions help lay the
groundwork for political action. The failure of the academic feminists
to recognize difference as a crucial strength is a failure to reach
beyond the first patriarchal lesson. Divide and conquer, in our world,
must become define and eropawet..

Why weren’t other black women and third world women found to
participate in this conference? Why were two phone calls to me con-
sidered a consultation? Am I the only possible source of names of black
feminists? And although the black panelist’s paper ends on a important
and powerful connection of love between women, what about inter-
racial co-operation between feminists who don’t love each other?

In academic feminist circles, the answer to these questions is often
“We did not know who to ask.” But that is the same evasion of responsi-
bility, the same cop-out, that keeps black women’s art out of women’s
exhibitions, black women’s work out of most feminist publications ex•
cept for the occasional “Special Third World Women’s Issue,'”” and
black women’s texts off of your reading lists. But as Adrienne Rich
pointed out in a recent talk, white feminists have educated themselves
about such an enormous amount over the past ten years, how come
you haven’t also educated yourselves about black women and the dif•
.ferences between us – white and black- when it is key to our survival

/ as a movement?
W~en of today are still being called upon to str~h across

of male ignorance, and to educate men as to our existence and our
neec:ts. This IS an old and primary tool ofalfoppressors fo keep the
oppressed occupied with the master’s concerns. Now we hear that it is
the task of black and third world women 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.

•Conditions of Brooklyn. NY is a major exception. It has fairly consistently published
the work of women of color before it was “fashionable” to do so. (editor’s footnotel

Audre Lonie IOI

Simone DeBeauvoir once said:
“It is in the knowledge of the genuine conditions of our lives that ~Y’
must draw our strength to live and our reasons for acting.” V

Racism and homophobia are real conditions of all our lives in this
place and this time./ urge each one of us here to reach down into that deep
plare o( knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing o(any
difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal as
the political can begin to illuminate all our choices.

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