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Oppressive Patterns Explained by Audre Lorde

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Audre Lorde was an African American poet who used her personal experiences as an African American lesbian woman to explain the oppression women of different social classes, races, and ages are faced with. She uses her writing to speak out against injustice and inequality of race, sex, and class. In 1984, Lorde published an essay titled “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference” which underlines the necessity for social change by accepting and altering the current perception of difference throughout the melting pot we live in.

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Differences, according to Lorde, refers to anything that is not defined under mythical norms. Mythical norms are people who are considered regular, average, and beyond characteristics that make one different, unique, or individualistic. Lorde describes mythical norms as “as white, thin, male, young, heterosexual, Christian, and financially secure.” She explains that people who are different are often trapped and categorized due to their differences. She emphasizes that power and authority within society lays with people who fit within the mythical norm’s category, which further contributes to the oppression and negative outlook on difference

In Audre Lorde’s essay she discusses the lack of foundation, or in her words, blueprints, we have had relating to our differences. Our blueprints are our way of thinking, our history, and our subconscious habits/thoughts. These blueprints have been so ingrained in our everyday lives that we have been ignorant towards the oppression towards difference. Lorde writes that “we have built into all of us, old blueprints of expectation and response, old structures of oppression, and these must be altered at the same time as we alter the living conditions which are a result of those structures. For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. Master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Lorde argues that we need to change our blueprints in order to begin to rebuild our perspective of civilization. We cannot change history but instead we need to use our history as a tool we can learn from: we cannot exclude details from our history because we don’t like what we read or because we are ashamed, we need to accept the past in order to shape the future: we need to recognize that western civilization has been successful off (racism) difference: most importantly, we need to acknowledge that difference is not going to be accepted if we do not advocate or promote change. We cannot keep using the same tools and hope the common idea of difference changes to one of positive nature- we need to change our approach if we hope to transform difference into something positive.

Lorde argues that our differences should be embraced rather than viewed as something that isolates us; our differences should be a positive project that leads to growth and transformation and calls upon us to do a certain amount of learning as a society. Lorde writes “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…” Lorde highlights the fact that we are programmed to detect differences and how we are allowing our ignorance of difference to cause a division in our society. Lorde believes that we should embrace our differences and use them to connect. More often than not, we connect with people who are similar to us because it is “easier”. By connecting with someone who is different, we are making more of an effort to build a relationship and relate to someone by getting to know people on a more personal level.

In Western Civilization, we are conditioned to see differences in people; we have been taught that difference is something negative making it near impossible to accept and cherish those differences. Society sees difference in three ways “negatively, neutrally, and positively… we have all been programmed to respond to the human differences between us with fear and loathing and to handle that difference in one of three ways: ignore it, and if that is not possible, copy it if we think it is dominant, or destroy it…” Viewing difference in a negative light is equivalent to bigotry or prejudice which would be segregation/separation (which is a geographical reality in America). Today, we have so many blueprints for the negative. For example, TV series and books are an example of us looking at our differences in a negative light. Neutral is the indifference of the well-meaning which equates to an unwillingness to learn or avoidance to speak about identity. Lastly, looking at difference through a positive lens would be a way in which society embraces and accepts our differences. Instead, we need to find positive ways to accept our differences. Lorde argues that we lack blueprints for relating positively to our differences- her goal for society is for deeper social bonds.  

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