The inspiration for this title, adding a sprinkling of mathematical symbols, comes from a speech given by Audre Lorde, lesbian writer, feminist and civil rights activist. In 1984 she published a book called Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. In this book Lorde reflects on the ways society and its dominant power structure has defined and used our differences – social, racial and cultural.
She believed in the need for us to challenge the role that difference plays in our lives and in society. Emphasising a need for different groups of people to recognise and embrace difference:
‘We have been taught either to ignore our differences or to view them as causes for separation and suspicion rather than forces of change…Divide and conquer, in our world, must become define and empower’.
Old Tools > New Masters
Old Tools “greater than” New Masters
One particular essay holds an important quote:
‘The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s House. They may allow us to temporarily beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change’.
This was initially a speech given at a white-feminist conference where Audre had been invited to speak at the last minute. Commenting on the very few women of colour at the conference, she mounted a criticism on the feminist establishment saying that there was no excuse to not have a more inclusive representation of women.
She urged them to look critically at themselves and challenged them for repeating the same mistakes, following the same movements of the past. She laid the claim that they were playing the master’s game, still using the master’s tools to shift dominance within the same power structure – in this case, a racist patriarchy.
‘When the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of the same patriarchy. It means that only the most narrow perimeters of change are possible and allowable’.
≠ New Futures
“not equal to” New Futures
Speaking at the first Black feminist retreat, Audre urged us not to see difference as a dividing force, which would inevitably lead us down the same paths and into the same traps – a cycle of elevating one group at the expense of another. Rather, she asks us to criticise the power structures and redefine our relationship with one another.
‘This will result only in the rise of yet another oppressed group, this time with us as overseer…it is our visions which sustain us. They point the way toward a future made possible by our belief in them…There is a world in which we all wish to live. That world is not attained lightly… If as Black Feminists, we do not begin talking, thinking, feeling ourselves for its shape, we will condemn ourselves and our children to a repetition of corruption and error’.
If these old ways of thinking, or old tools, won’t lead us to new futures. Then what will? What new tools must we use to bring about genuine change?
Last week when I stepped into rehearsals, the room was silent. In groups of two, facing one-another, pen and notebooks in-hand, couples examined each other. Perhaps they’re sketching each other, I thought. I wasn’t far off. They were ‘feeling for each other’s futures’ and writing what they expected each other’s future to look like. An exercise borrowed from the acclaimed playwright and poet Ntozake Shange.
It isn’t easy to imagine our own futures, let alone someone else’s. And when it came to sharing what they had written, most of the group felt uncomfortable, saying they felt themselves assuming a lot about their partner.
And of course, this was the point. It was about examining their own set of assumptions, the insidious ways the ‘Master’s Tools’ have fed into our understanding of ‘the Other’. In her conclusion, Audre writes:
‘I urge each one of us to reach down into that deep place of knowledge inside herself and touch that terror and loathing of any difference that lives there. See whose face it wears. Then the personal and political can begin to illuminate our choices’.
Equipped with some new tools and promising to scratch below the surface, Contact Young Company and Young Identity, are heading to Manchester Art Gallery to explore new futures, and to show us what our galleries and institutions might look like down the line. Can you imagine it? Perhaps, as it turns out, the first place to look is within yourself.
Contact Young Company + Young Identity: Old Tools > New Masters ≠ New Futures
Wed 12 Jun – Sun 16 Jun (not Sat)
Manchester Art Gallery
What does a postcolonial future look like?
Maybe it looks like Beyonce in the Louvre or a Black Panther out-take or maybe we can come up with something even better…