This collection of 15 essays and speeches examines oppression in many forms, from racism to sexism, heterosexism, colourism, or classism. Audre Lorde described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” and thus was a target of many of the various isms; due to this, her thoughts on intersectionality are especially potent. Differences must be acknowledged because, for instance, “black feminism is not white feminism in blackface,” and I think that her observations on this issue are especially astute because through them she exposes some uncomfortable truths about the exclusionary actions by white feminists that still apply. However, she underlines the importance of intersectionality by writing:
I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free as long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any of you.
… 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 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 support.
The differences are there, but they can and should not separate people that are fighting for equality, no matter what kind of discrimination they face. She writes about the rage and the anger, the victim blaming, the frustration, and the sheer inequity of it all that often leaves behind only silence, but she warns that the “silence will not protect you.”
The strongest and most impressive essay in this collection, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” is as close to mandatory reading as you can get, but really all of the essays and speeches included are worthy of attention. Lorde gives her readers much to think about because she underlines that few people are exempt from oppression and discrimination. Not many fit into the “mythical norm” of being white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure, so it should be of wider interest to abolish existing power structures.
This is a great work by a great activist, it is thought-provoking and inspiring, and the observations and conclusions are on point. There are many quotable passages, which highlights just how good of a writer Lorde was; she could bring her arguments across in an impressively concise and memorable way. Although all the essays and speeches in this book were written in the 70s and early 80s and then current events are often referenced, the thoughts expressed in this book are as relevant now as they were then. It is sad and disheartening that so little has changed in the last forty years, but maybe now the time for some fundamental change has come. Audre Lorde wrote about the war against the tyrannies of silence, and if we learn anything from her work, it is that we must come together and wage it, still.