“For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” - Audre Lorde

I am stopped in my tracks every time I reconnect with Audre Lorde’s powerful words:

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.

These words completely redirect my thinking. For me, they are the most disruptive language for social change I have ever heard.

I now use it all the time to distinguish the kind of social engagement and social activism that is required of all of us. For me, at its base, the statement says we need to change how we participate in this country’s social economic system.

We can’t keep doing what we’re doing, because the inequity that our social economic system keeps churning out continues to divide us. That’s unacceptable. 

Here’s a good analysis of Lorde’s framing of social change from writer Terrence Johnson in “No More Tinkering, Tear Down the Master’s House”: Black Feminists and Black Lives Matter:

“As Lorde saw it, the existing language and way of imagining freedom and justice assumed that America was built to protect the rights and dignity of every human being. Clearly it was not…She gave us permission to insert our voices and bodies as reference points for thinking anew about race and gender during a time when many felt forced to mask their differences.”  

I had heard Lorde had a particularly distinctive way of introducing herself. When I went looking for the exact wording, I found what writer/columnist Parul Sehgal called Lorde’s “garland of identifiers”

“In her public appearances, Audre Lorde famously introduced herself the same way: ‘I am a Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.’ There were occasional variations. ‘I am a Black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet doing my work, coming to ask you if you’re doing yours,’ she’d sometimes say. But there was always that “garland of identifiers,” — and not just because she couldn’t be defined by one word. She wanted, as Angela Davis said, to ‘demystify the assumption that these terms cannot inhabit the same space: Black and lesbian, lesbian and mother, mother and warrior, warrior and poet.’”

This is also so powerful, especially the “coming to ask you if you’re doing yours” part. 

Bring it, Holliston!

Robert Principe

Member, Diverse Holliston Strategic Planning Team