opinion: race & class – is there liberation in trying to be like those who oppress you?

April 27, 2012

“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” – Audre Lorde- Sister Outsider
I got into a discussion about race and class and a question was posed- in this society, are we enslaved mentally according to race and/or class? I took this to mean- does race and class dictate our “social mobility”. Does it confine us in the social (and private!) spheres? Do we buy into these arbitrary confines and are we therefore mentally enslaved by them?
Hmph. Race. Race… so arbitrary and ascientific. Designed as just another way for the “white man” to show their superiority. Just another way to subjugate and divide. The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond has an incredible analysis on this. Whiteness…. white supremacy. Power. Privilege.

Words by Toi S.

The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. It means different things to different people. For me, in this context, it means- all of ya’ll who are struggling to “get that paper”, to have “upward mobility”, to “assimilate” into a system built for us not to survive- there is no liberation in that. There is no liberation in striving to be “upper middle class”. There is no liberation in acculturation, forgetting our roots to “play the game”. The more we buy into the limitations of race and class and the supposed freedom inherent in “upward mobility” (read: assimilating into whiteness and perpetuating white supremacy, since they are seen as the top of the totem pole), the more we are bound.

The master’s tools will NEVER dismantle the master’s house.

We think we can play the system. We think we can code switch, get these degrees, forsake our roots, and that we will be rewarded the good life. We buy into all the white man tells us in school. We let white folks hand us our history and tell us “Shhhh forget, forget…your ancestors are long gone. Here… take this spiritual path, our spiritual path. Here… here’s some history about us and what we think of you.” And we take it.

Some don’t bother to question it. Their ideas on education- we buy them. Their ideas on family, we buy them. Their notions of patriarchy and the way women should be subjugated, and relegated to only certain spheres…yes, yes…subconsciously we buy that, too. The way we form relationships, the way we value college degrees over elders and wisdom, the way we turn our nose up at our African roots, the way we judge body types, intelligence, the way we buy into colorism. You think we thought this way before the master built his house on our lands? Brought us into his mess. Set up shop …appropriated all of us brown folks’ culture- music, art, even parts of our history.

And then they sell it back to us. They take our homes and sell it back to us. They take our music and sell it back to us. Blackness has been co-opted in this country. They take blackness, brownness and sell it back to us. They go to India, come back and teach us some kind of diluted, variation of their interpretation of the spirituality they see- yoga, ayurveda and such. They go to Africa and do the same. White yoruba priestess’? Come on now!

Reggae, Ska, Punk, Rock, Country, R&B, co-opted….Shamanism, Yoruba, Rastafarianism, co-opted.

And yet…we should be like them? We should use their tools of higher education, their religion, their ideas on how a society should be built: capitalism, patriarchy to “get ahead”, to “progress”.

Nobody else sees something wrong with this?

We are not whole. We as brown people cannot be whole while buying into this mentality. This is why we are spiritually, mentally and emotionally sick. We can’t heal ourselves through acculturation or looking for the answers in someone else’s heritage and history. Though white folks could stand to learn some things from the other umteen hundred countries on this planet (that their ancestors have tried to dominate and subjugate). And I do mean LEARN from, not co-opt. Not think you can make them “better”. Not subjugate them. Not “master” them. LEARN FROM.

It is time, brown people, that we see how beautiful we are. How rich our culture is. It is time that we look at these tools that were put into our hands at birth, the master’s tools, and decide that they aren’t going to dismantle this house, this system. We have to go back to our roots. Re-discover our values. OUR values. Not the white man’s values. And if we can’t find answers…we need to create new ones. We need to create new solutions for this nation’s problems. Not rely on a constitution written by white men 200 something years ago. Not try to write policies and adhere to laws when that whole system needs to be toppled and recreated. Not try to fix a system that was doomed to fail due to the principles it was built upon. We need to create something new. We aren’t going to salvage this one- not with all the racism, classism, ableism, sexism…etc.

Folks, we have got to stop valuing white heritage, values and characteristics over our own. We have got to stop this cycle of assimilation and acculturation or we will surely perish. Vanish. We have got to help each other remember who we are. Even white folks. What is “white” anyway? Someone I really respect once told me that whiteness is a set of privileges, not a race. Where do “white” folks come from? What is their real history? I encourage folks to check out the People’s Institute and to read articles like: The Point is not to interpret whiteness but to Abolish it.

We have a LOT of unlearning and reconstructing to do.

* Toi S.’s blog Philosophactivist