The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.

20 Oct

The quote that serves as a title for this entry is by the great Audre Lorde, a black woman scholar who, no pun intended, knew how to call a spade a spade!

Colleges and universities all over America claim to want diversity. Unfortunately, the majority of them, in my experience, have no idea what diversity is, why they want it or how to achieve it.  In some cases it might appear they have achieved at least one or two forms of diversity. They may have a large number of students of color, an LGBTQ and Women’s Center, but are any of these entities or populations empowered to make decisions, set policies or effect change? The power in higher education remains the purview of the white male. Even those who manage to enter the hallowed  and ivy covered halls of academe who are not white and/or male generally report to a white male. That means if the white male does not like something it is not going to be around long. This rule applies to people, processes, policies, curricula, philosophies and organizational structure. Heck, for all I know it applies to paint color and the kind of mustard provided for the hot dogs at the football games.

As a result when someone is hired who is not a white male they have to quickly understand  the need to stay on the good side of the white male if they want to survive. The white women and people of color who thrive on our college campuses-faculty, staff and students,  at predominantly white institutions have learned this skill and practiced it until it is second nature. I doubt they even know they are the Master‘s Tools.

Now, think with me a moment. Exactly how likely is it that the group in power, white males in this case, would want to make sweeping changes, some of which might chip away at or compromise that power? I know if I was in the power elite I would be working like the dickens to make sure things stayed as close to the same as they possibly could. Who wants to ruin a perfectly good system???

The presumption is that if you hire a person of color, or in some cases a white woman, he or she will be a social justice advocate. Oh, if only that were true. Putting self  before cause or the greater good is increasingly becoming the American way and this is no where more true than in academe. Can you blame them? Surely you cannot blame the employees. I am going to offer you a nice office, a handsome salary and the admiration of your peers and colleagues. You are going to be our shining example of how one of “those” people can succeed!  All you have to do in return is nothing, and continue to do nothing. You will be even more handsomely rewarded if, while doing nothing, you are able to pretend to be doing something!

The primary method of pretending to do something while actually doing nothing is to fail to have any kind of transparency about what it is you are trying to do and refusing to have any objective metrics to judge whether you are actually doing anything. if you are questioned or criticized for doing nothing you can always fall back on the tried and true and greet any criticism of your social justice efforts with cries of racism, or sexism, or homophobia.

So we see money being spent on programs for white women and minorities. Recruitment programs, orientation programs, support programs, special events. Does anyone ever evaluate the overall impact of these programs on the outcomes for minorities and white women? How often are they objectively evaluated?

I am not suggesting we do away with targeted anything. I am suggesting, however, that if universities want to be truly diverse–which, horror of horrors includes having white women and people of color in decision making roles too–we need objective measures to see  what is working and what is not to allow our diverse populations the best possible chance to succeed.

Running programs for students, faculty or staff that someone dreams up and institutionalizes and never questions again is a sure way to pretend to be doing something. Unfortunately, it also allows the institution to shift the blame for failures onto the white women and minorities. “We gave them these programs and still they do not succeed, it is not us, it is them. We tried our best, look at all the money we spent on special programs and still they do not thrive!” And, they have the Master’s Tools standing behind them nodding in agreement the entire time.

I am afraid the Master’s house is safe for a good long time!


Posted by on October 20, 2010 in Education, Race, Social Justice


2 responses to “The Master’s tools will never dismantle the Master’s house.

  1. Byron k. Ward

    October 20, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Cookie, your message is so true. I was quite surprised to have come to this revelation after becoming a volunteer with a local community college, four years ago. So your experience and view appears to be consistent regardless of the level of the institution. The challenge is how do we change this sad state of affairs? To view these circumstances in the broad spectrum of our society, the only conclusion that I come to is to renew the activism and advocacy of the sixties. And to correct the error we baby boomers made – by reemphasizing and renewing a strong awareness and urgency in our children that injustice, inequality, Jim Crow, racism, and the other isms are resurgent and require vigilant immediate and consistent action now. We need to engage, energize, and train the next generation quickly. Unfortunately, it’s their mess now!

    Look at the attacks on President Obama. We must renew our quest for political and social justice, as a primary component in our daily activities. If not, we will regress as a society, as evidenced by the appallingly toxic political climate in the country today. More importantly, as this happens the marginalized peoples of our society will be most significantly negatively affected by this deteriorated condition. And our young people should be positioned to lead the way to counter this dynamic!

  2. minerva5

    October 22, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Hi Byron!
    I am afraid we cannot change this state of affairs. Far too many people are so busy keeping their jobs and pleasing their bosses that they do not take a stand for virtually anything, and they join in the vilification of those who do.

    Courage seems to be an endangered characteristic in our culture, sacrificed on the alter of personal gain.


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