Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Ed. Audre Lorde & Cheryl Clarke. Berkeley, CA: Crossing, 2007. 114–123. Print.
In this article, Lorde argues that “The need for unity [within black communities] is often misnamed as a need for homogeneity, and a Black feminist vision mistaken for betrayal of our common interests as a people” (283). She advances the same argument in terms of feminisms that erase class and race differences among women, arguing for the productive value of difference at a time when others were arguing for unity/sameness (282). Yet she notes that “it is not those differences between us that are separating us. It is rather our refusal to recognize those differences, and to examine the distortions which result from our misnaming them and their effects upon human behavior and expectation” (281). For example, race operates differently for black women and white women: because of their race, black women are identified with the oppressed; because of their race, white women are inclined to identify with the oppressor (283).
Lorde notes the ways that the oppressed are asked to educate their oppressors “Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises. … In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes” (281). Given the power imbalance, the problems of this arrangement are manifold.
“Somewhere, on the edge of consciousness, there is what I call a mythical norm, which each one of us within our hearts knows ‘that is not me.’ In america, [sic] this norm is usually defined as a white, thing, male, young, heterosexual, christian, and financially secure. It is within this norm that the trappings of power reside within this society” (282). Lorde is identifying the hegemony of the free, rational agent, the birthright of the Enlightenment.
Lorde notes the way that women’s “recogni[tion of] only one area of human differences” functions as a “tool of social control” because it distracts from other forms of oppression (285). Drawing on Paulo Freire’s work, Lorde says that “As women, we must root out internalized patterns of oppression within ourselves if we are to move beyond the most superficial aspects of social change” (285). “For we have, built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time as we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (285).