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Audre Lorde

Audre Lorde (1934–1992) was, among other things, a philosopher, poet and activist.
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Audre Lorde (1934–1992) was, among other things, a philosopher, poet and activist.

How her many identities intersected were a key part of her work in understanding how to go about making change in the world.

In the late 1970s, Lorde was invited to talk at a conference about progressing feminist theory in America. Instead of serving the purpose of the conference, she subverted it – producing her most famous essay in the process.

In Lorde’s view, the conference didn’t consider how differences of race, sexuality, class, and age inform the lives of American women. She herself was one of only two Black women invited, noting, ‘I stand here as a Black lesbian feminist, having been invited to comment within the only panel … where the input of Black feminists and lesbians is represented’ (25). She would also remark that many of the women in attendance relied on Black women to mind their children while they were there (27). Essentially, the conference organisers’ actions inadvertently perpetuated the ideologies of racism, capitalism, and patriarchy.

For Lorde, this raised the following question (and answer):

What does it mean when the tools of a racist patriarchy are used to examine the fruits of that same patriarchy? It means that only the most narrow parameters of change are possible and allowable. (25)
Her rhetorical answer would give Lorde’s essay its title:
the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. (27; italics Lorde’s)

These ‘master’s tools’ can be thought of as the prevailing methods of discourse, practices, and institutions that inadvertently or overtly maintain current power structures. They might be legislative systems, corporate practices, media platforms, educational curriculums, or other tools that in their own way enable or perpetuate existing hierarchies and norms.

Let’s consider an unusual example of the master’s tools, embodied by a tech solution. Could it bring about genuine change toward disparate wealth, work, and worth?

In 2022, Sanas launched an AI solution that purports to ‘translate’ a speaker’s accent to make it sound ‘local’. The ostensible use is for call centre workers – who are often immigrants – to sound more familiar to customers. Sanas’s website shows Filipino workers having their voices transformed into middle American versions of themselves.

Sanas might argue that this is a way to defeat prejudice, or at least enable more harmonious race relations for a moment (say, the length of a customer service call). So in what ways might it also be ‘the master’s tools’? Well, consider that it’s another tech invention, bringing with it all the prejudices and assumptions of Silicon Valley. Or the way it treats the American accent as the ‘default’.

Here’s one critique of the product. What ideological identities are displayed, constructed, or contested in this interpretation?

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.


Consider these other examples:

  • The lived experiences of families and communities suffering under increasing economic inequality. Will changing interest rates for lenders (a master’s tool) ever ‘fix’ this?
  • Are fact-checkers necessary or sufficient to stem misinformation online? (And isn’t fact-checking an oxymoron?)
  • How do we leverage an economic model to thwart climate change while it is predicated on endless growth?
  • Could the 2023 Indigenous Voice to Parliament be an example of the master’s tools? If it had passed, would it have brought about real change for Indigenous Australians, or was it too entrenched in the systems of power that led to inequality and disadvantage in the first place? (Consider it from a Blak sovereign/‘progressive no’ perspective.)

Share some thoughts in the comments.


Lorde, A. (1983). The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. In Feminist postcolonial theory : a reader (pp. 25–28). Taylor & Francis Group.

© Deakin University
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