A vintage jade bracelet gifted to me by A while I was in 丽江. The centerpiece is of a 辟邪 (I think?).
The two posts I made about Enlightenment thinkers and Kant are examples of my interpretation of Audre Lorde’s “The Master’s Tools” thesis. That’s the one where the master’s tools will not dismantle his house. Most people interpret the statement as an argument that we should disregard everything that emerges out of systems of oppression lest we become part of those systems. This reading has the implication that the very use of the tools denies them the power, the capacity to dismantle the systems that created them. I think this is a shallow reading.
It is not the tool that is the problem, but the way the tool has been used. Put in the context of those last two posts, the “master” taught me how to read and understand Kant, the “master” taught me the intellectual history of Western Philosophy, and the “master” trained me to find the errors in systems of thought so that I could produce those posts. I have been through the same intellectual training that has produced some of my colleagues who refuse to recognize the racist/imperialist/colonialist origins of their prized thought, yet I do not accept these theses without critique.
The distinction here is because of my social and historical horizons which present “the masters tools” to me in different ways. Because I experience oppression, I read Kant’s anthropology and his later moral theory as designed to uphold my oppression. Because “the master” has stolen from people like me, I do not accept that his idea of “Greece” came fully formed from his brow. Because “the master” has shown little willingness to help me, I recognize that his system is designed not to admit of my experience. All of these things inform “how” I approach “the master’s tools,” philosophy among them.
Too often I seen people who are fighting oppression discard a potentially powerful weapon because of the fact of it’s use by “the master”, without realizing that their own social and historical orientations will not allow them to use that tool to uphold the systems of oppression. On the other hand, I have seen oppressed peoples take create their own tools to duplicate the master’s systems of oppression in new form. That is to say, “how” we use the master’s tools or our own tools determines whether or not we will continue to keep the master’s house intact, not merely “what” the tool is.
In spite of what I said above, I will be the first to admit that some tools, like Kant’s moral philosophy or Aristotle’s Natural Slave argument as taken up by the canon of philosophy, are so thoroughly implicated with oppression that they cannot be used without taking them apart. But even this is a new “use” for the master’s tool: if we can dismantle the tool and see the way in which that tool serves to maintain oppression, we can, again, pull apart the house that the tool built by exposing it’s weaknesses.
Finally, I would like to root this statement in East-Asian Philosophy (since race and feminism are really sub-disciplines of mine) by appealing to Sun Tzu:
It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.
When we discard the master’s tools without examining them, as has become the de-jure practice in some social justice circles, we fail to discern how the master works beyond “he is oppressing us.” Our oppression is merely the “what” that the master accomplishes his tools, true liberatory praxis must not merely examine what the master does, but how he does it so that we can best regain the humanity that he has taken from us.
In so far as we understand ourselves as oppressed subjects (and in keeping with the quote, we must see ourselves beyond the fact of our oppression), we need to understand our oppressors beyond the fact of their oppression. Merely stopping at the fact that our oppressors have constructed a system intended to keep us oppressed, while barely attending to the tools he uses for it, seems to be a foolhardy way of going about it.
Thus, I would go so far as to say that rarely have we, as oppressed subjects, bothered to try and understand our oppressors beyond the fact of their oppressive nature. In this, we constantly find ourselves imperiled in the battle for liberation because we do not understand how our oppressors can see us as less than human, or be ignorant to the suffering they cause. Those are “non-facts” for the oppressor as part of their privilege. What we must endeavor to do is understand how the oppressor fails to see our oppression as such, our suffering as such, and our humanity as such.
Do not mistake me: I am not advocating the adoption of the master’s methodologies, ways of being, or desires. What I am advocating is the understanding of all of these “tools,” by which I mean objects that aid in his mastery of and reshaping of the world, in order to understand the source of our oppressor’s power to oppress as well as their inability to see the oppressed as such.
"Stand to attention," barked the class monitor as we walked into the classroom at the Shahe Primary School, an hour’s drive from the county seat of Tengchong, a remote region in China’s Yunnan Province.
This ridiculousness was written after a visit to classrooms where TFC fellows teach. I wish I could say this article, with all its (racist, narrow-minded) stereotypes about (rural) Chinese society and education, was satire.
What one woman learned from 10 years of teaching in a New York City public school
We point to mainstream feminism as emerging from the lived experience of white cis-sexual heterosexual women, and thus concerned with the aims of those women to the exclusion of other bodies. To this end, we can recognize that what is colloquially called mainstream feminism engages in the reinscription of forms of oppression along the lines of race, class, and sexuality. We recognize this because it is easy to see the way in which bodies which bear privilege continue to act to maintain that privilege as opposed to risk losing it.
What scares me about the thought that emerges on the margins of mainstream movements is the way in which the reinscription of oppression, of oppressive hierarchical structures, or the generation of whole new structures, proceeds unchecked and unabated. My argument is that bringing to light the generation of new structures of oppression, or the preservation of the old structures in new form, would be viewed as an obstruction to the overall goal of liberation of the particular group about which this thought is concerned.
That is, in the push to generate our own thought, or thought that represents the lived experiences of minority groups, we fail to realize how we are perpetuating the forms of oppression that we are actively struggling against. Beyond that, a failure to look critically at the cornerstones of “our” thought, leads to the construction of entirely new hierarchies of oppression or the silencing of some voices.
In terms of the “academy” that is constituted by Africana Philosophy, Critical Race Theory, and Philosophy of Race, we can look at the privileging of a certain kind of experience as “the black experience” as the ground of all critical thought on what it is to be black in America. Further, the assumption of an American subject position that is then exported, or forced onto the totality of all African diasporic experiences, is itself the reinscription of a structure of oppression (colonialism) that we are struggling against.
That is not to say that the projects above are not valuable, but they should be engaged with full recognition of the subject positions occupied by the thinkers. It is not enough to recognize that we do occupy different subject positions, but that these subject positions matter in the experience of oppression and how that oppressive structure is made manifest against a racialized body. There is not one experience of oppression, but multiple experiences of oppression, and the recognition of this through critical examination of our thought can allow for a more nuanced understanding of how systemic oppression operates in our daily lives.
When my parents were like “写汉字比写英文快多，就用中文吧” over WeChat/Weixin:
(image description: Gia of Real Housewives of New Jersey shaking her head)
Since coming to China, I’ve gained a new sense of self and relation to the world; realizations about reality and hopefully some wisdom; the confidence to be unapologetic; a friend who has helped me realize self-love and the possibilities ahead; a family.
This weekend in 丽江: hiking 象山 and getting a gorgeous view of 玉龙 雪山; burger and fries at N’s Kitchen; views from R’s new place, Rhizome, which also serves as one of the major art galleries of 丽江.
Something we don’t talk about enough in TFC is that all of our communities are suffering from toxic stress. That has real ramifications, from how our kids and community members act to the fact that these two years are the first time many TFC fellows will deal with toxic stress and that perhaps bleeds into their mental health and well-being.