Lorde, A. 1984. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.”

Lorde, Audre. 1984. “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” In Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Pp. 114-123. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press.

Western European history frames difference through oppositional dichotomies, resulting in hierarchies and oppression. Oppressed expected to bridge gaps to “explain selves” – share knowledge, correct behaviors – this allows oppressors to evade responsibility, participate in social change.  Rejection of difference as a means to create “surplus people” – no patterns for relating across difference, only to act on difference as means to separate.

“Certainly there are very real differences between us of race, age, and sex.  But 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” (115). Ideal type of raced, classed, abled, religious power – difference from this often becomes primacy in identity. Demeaning of different types of knowledge, based upon categorical participation; can the experience of WOC only be taught by WOC, rather in the context of women’s studies? White women cast through lens of ignoring difference.  “To allow women of Color to step out of stereotypes is too guilt provoking, for it threatens the complacency of those women who view oppression only in terms of sex.  Refusing to recognize difference makes it impossible to see the different problems and pitfalls facing us as women” (118).

For Rebel paper – “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. For example, it is easy for Black women to be used by the power structure against Black men, not because they are men, but because they are Black.  Therefore, Black women, it is necessary at all times to conflicts within our communities.  This same problem does not exist for white women. Black women and men have shared racist oppression and still share it, although in different ways.  Out of that shared oppression we have developed joint defenses and joint vulnerabilities to each other that are not duplicated in the white community, with the exception of the relationship between Jewish women and Jewish men. On the other hand, white women face the pitfall of being seduced into joining the oppressor under the pretense of sharing power.  […] Today, with the defeat of the ERA, the tightening economy, and increased conservatism, it is easier once again for white women to believe the dangerous fantasy that if you are good enough, pretty enough, sweet enough, quiet enough, teach the children to behave, hate the right people, and marry the right men, then you would be allowed to co-exist with patriarchy in relative peace, at least until a man needs your job or the neighborhood rapist happens along” (118) – this same peaceability does not exist for Black women; erasure of race serves whiteness.  Further identity or location fragmentation creates further difference and divides, such as lesbianism.

“As a tool of social control, women have been encouraged to recognize only one area of human difference as legitimate, those differences which exist between women and men. […] 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” (122).


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