Why does my Puerto Rican, Jewish, Lesbian Mother Use the Master’s Tools?

When I recently saw a cartoon of President Trump sticking a post-it note with the word “Sucker” written on it on Senator Susan Collins’s back, I immediately thought of my mother. Only my mother is not a wealthy white woman Senator from Maine. She is a lower-middle-class Puerto Rican Jewish lesbian woman who lives in Old Bridge, New Jersey. She is even more of a “sucker” than Susan Collins, who voted to appoint Brett Kavanaugh on to the Supreme Court. My mother blindly follows a racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic man just because she wants to suppress her own identity and make herself seem different than who she really is in order to be accepted. Since the 2016 election, I never understood how so many LGBTQ+ people and women of color voted for Trump.

My high school feminism class. Credit: Julie Zeilinger

This year, I have the opportunity to take a high school class on feminist theory and literature, and over the past few weeks, I have read works by Audre Lorde, Angela Davis, The Combahee River Collective, and many more feminist writers and activists. Reading the work of Black feminists has made me realize just what my mom was thinking when she voted for Trump.

After reading Audre Lorde’s essay, “The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” I realized that my mother was using the master’s tools to comply with and uphold the patriarchy. The master’s tools are the vehicles through which systems of oppression are kept in place, and my mom was using a lot of them because she thought they would bring her up in life. In her essay, Lorde writes, “For 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. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”

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Audre Lorde. Credit: K. Kendall

Lorde goes on to talk about the ways in which internalized oppression and power dynamics cause us to digress and restrict us from reaching liberation as a society.
My mother is the perfect example of upholding whatever the master wants. She has quite a bit of internalized oppression which she uses to put herself above others, and in this sense, she tries to mimic the behaviors of big and powerful white men. She subconsciously uses the master’s tools of heterosexism to perpetuate the patriarchy by supporting docility and complacency in women as well as upholding assumptions about gender roles and sexuality. As bell hooks says, “patriarchy has no gender.” My mother doesn’t understand that the systems of oppression in which she takes comfort in are actually bringing her down as well. She raised me in a way that conditioned me to be the perfect wife.

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bell hooks. Credit: Montikamoss

I was taught proper manners and politeness since I was a child. She told me to sit up straight, close my legs and never shout or question adults. I was socialized to be a quiet and well-behaved young girl. In middle school, my mom bought me foundation powder and mascara and taught me how to put it on to get rid of all my imperfections. Around the same time, she taught me how to cook. Every day after school she would make me help her with dinner and teach me new recipes. She thought she was teaching me everything I needed to know to be a good and useful wife. She prepared me for the inevitable life of routine, docility, and self-censorship as a woman.

Only now that I am breaking away from what my mother told me, do I realize how wrong she was. In a nutshell, she is internalizing her racism and sexism against herself and voicing her beliefs outwards to deny herself of her own identity as well as make sure that white patriarchal power stays at the top. I know now why some women of color and LGBTQ+ people I know are sometimes conservative: they are taking their internalized oppression and using it to keep white, straight patriarchal power on top. We need to look inwards and liberate ourselves before change can come to the world. Only when we let go of all our internalized oppression, can we reach liberation as a society.

It is very frustrating for me to know that my mother has so much internalized oppression and I’m not doing anything about it. Women and girls of color are forced to do the mental and emotional work involved in our liberation simply because we are unable to remain in our positions of subservience. I, as a young queer woman of color, feel like it is my job to describe to my mother the ways in which she is perpetuating larger systems of oppression that are restricting her from becoming liberated. However, as her daughter, I feel that I cannot tell my mother what to do and how to think.

Although there is no clear path to follow for everyone to reach liberation, it is important that we look into ourselves and realize the ways in which we are perpetuating the master’s tools. I am not finished in decolonizing my own mind, but I am optimistic in my journey to self-liberation and helping my mom liberate herself as well.

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