“Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference“
by Audre Lorde (excerpts)
Much of Western European history conditions us to see human differences in simplistic opposition to each other: dominant/subordinate, good/bad, up/down, superior/inferior.
In a society where the good is defined in terms of profit rather than in terms of human need, there must always be some group of people who, through systematized oppression, can be made to feel surplus, to occupy the place of the dehumanized inferior.
Within this society, that group is made up of Black and Third World people, working-class people, older people, and women.
Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all.
This results in a voluntary isolation, or false and treacherous connections.
Either way, we do not develop tools for using human difference as a springboard for creative change within our lives. We speak not of human difference, but of human deviance.
Ignoring the differences of race between women and the implications of those differences presents the most serious threat to the mobilization of women’s joint power.
As white women ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define woman in terms of their own experience alone, then women of Color become “other,” the outsider whose experience and tradition is too “alien” to comprehend.
Refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women.
Thus, in a patriarchal power system where whiteskin privilege is a major prop, the entrapments used to neutralize Black women and white women are not the same.
On the other hand, white women face the pitfall of being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretense of sharing power.
Change means growth, and growth can be painful.
But we sharpen self-definition by exposing the self in work and struggle together with those whom we define as different from ourselves, although sharing the same goals.
For Black and white, old and young, lesbian and heterosexual women alike, this can mean new paths to our survival.
This is a long way of saying: Netflix’s new series, Orange is the New Black is pretty fantastic. I highly recommend it; I’m currently still savoring the last couple of episodes of its solid first season. Not only does it have a strong ensemble and killer one-liners but it is also a scathing commentary on American culture. It plays nicely with well-known racial, social and sexual stereotypes and uses them to indict white-privilege without letting prickly racially motivated identity politics off the hook. It’s no surprise Lorde kept echoing through my head: this is an entertaining show with a keen eye for non-didactic social commentary.