Monday, January 24, 2011

The Master's Tools

This week, our Lonestar State lovebirds browse bookshelves for contemporary literature to consume during their long-awaited "bon voyage" to the Caribbean.

A literature section in the “Old Honky-Tonk Store” ... who would've thought?

No kidding, and such an extensive one, at that. Find anything, babe?

Yeah ...

Condoleeza Rice’s latest memoir.

I’ve read great reviews online. How about you?

A new book by a former professor, Tony Ardizzone.

It’ll give me something to read on our wedding/honeymoon trip to St. Lucre.

My home sweet home! I can’t wait for my family to meet you, Beau!

Yes, all 100+ of them at once, a mere 3 days before we are to be wed … No pressure.

They’ll find you adorable, babe ... your stereotypical American tendencies and all.

And I’m sure I’ll love them— ... Wait, what "stereotypical tendencies?"

Oh ... er, uh ... nothing, babe. Let’s go check out!

Hold up a second, Barbara … You’re calling me a stereotypical American?


No offense, honey, but in your own way, yes, you very much are.

But the stereotypical American looks nothing like me.

Sure, I’m a not-yet-married, middle-class 30-something, but I thought from the outside looking in, most non-Americans saw us as a nation of cast members from Friends or How I Met Your Mother ...

Or any of those other completely white sitcoms I’ve never watched.

True, but, skin color aside, you exhibit the common psychosis of characters from another popular all-white sitcom: Seinfeld

Perhaps the most American of all recent television shows …

... Paranoia.

What?? ... Moi?

After all, you are the man who just finished lecturing me on America's racial caste system ...

And how it's being perpetuated by a regional restaurant chain.


Look, the fact that this book is even available in the Cracker Daryl’s gift shop debunks your whole theory.

A well-educated, extremely successful black woman shares the hardback shelf with the likes of Tobias Wolff, Tim O'Brien, and David Sedaris—all, as you'd argue, "privileged" white male authors.

Racism isn’t nearly as prevalent as you perceive it to be—hence, your paranoia.

... The therapist has spoken.


Allow me—the cultural critic—then, to retort.

First, let’s recognize the equivalence that’s being posited here: The fact that the work of a black woman can be found on the same shelf as a white man amounts to, you argue, an absence of racism …

Or at the very least, to a non-starter when it comes to making an argument for the presence of institutional racism here.

Wouldn’t you agree?

On the surface, sure. But let’s contextualize a bit.

I’ll grant you that, from an historical perspective, having these two books on the same shelf is a remarkable achievement in the challenging of racist traditions of our—well my—nation’s past …

Especially considering that it was once illegal for blacks to even learn to read and write.

In this context, the equivalence you’re positing falls in line with Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s endorsed strategy of “dismantling the master’s house using the master’s tools” …

Specifically, in this case, Rice “dismantles” traditional barriers to black self-expression and education by using the “master’s tools” of the publishing industry, which once catered only to whites.

Perhaps ... if you—due to paranoia, I’d argue—perceive such barriers to still exist in the first place.

Either way, I find it highly ironic that Gates’ assertion was later undercut by police officers in his own town of Cambridge …

Who arrested Gates for attempting to enter his own front door.

Despite his “dismantling” of traditional racial barriers by using the “master’s tools”— namely by holding a position as a prestigious and widely published professor at Harvard University—

It was his own literal house he was, in the end, denied access to.

OK, but how does that have anything to do with these two books?

Right, so let’s take a look at Dr. Rice.

Stepped in as Secretary of State for Bush 43’s administration after General Colin Powell stepped down …

The latter no doubt wary of continuing his involvement in a hastily and dubiously justified second war in Iraq, which he knew threatened to destabilize the entire region.

And Dr. Rice performed her job well, adopting the administration’s hawkish rhetoric, effectively dodging questions in interviews regarding the location of Saddam’s WMDs.

But, ultimately, as Powell no doubt feared, unseating the dictator led to factional turmoil in the country, provided the fodder Middle Eastern terrorist groups needed to boost recruitment.

But arguments for and against the war in Iraq aside, you’re conflating two issues here:

The racial oppression of black Americans and the plight of civilians in a Middle Eastern country thrown into disorder by war. How does one have anything to do with the other?

And, besides, by holding that position, Condoleeza Rice shattered a ceiling for black American women ...

She served as a shining example of, as you put it, “dismantling” racial barriers using the “master’s tools”—specifically by climbing the ladder of federal government.

Granted, but allow me to address that conflation.

Womanist scholars such as Audre Lorde—who, by the way, wrote the 1984 essay “The Master’s Tools will Never Dismantle the Master’s House,” to which Gates was responding—make the case that the plights of all marginalized peoples are linked …

That the forces keeping women socially second class are the same ones threatening the well-being of minorities, homosexuals, and Third World citizens.

As MLK put it, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

Hence, a war perpetrated by powerful American elites destabilizes the Middle East and adversely affects Third World citizens there …

Sparking increased terrorist recruitment …

Which, in turn, threatens the lives of American citizen of all races …

And which even affects your home sweet home, St. Lucre, which sees decreased tourist revenues due to less air travel by American tourists and world markets rendered vulnerable under the specter of international terrorism.

So, to circle back to these two books, yes, considering the implications of Dr. Rice’s past involvement on the national stage ...

Placing her book on the front shelves as an implicit endorsement of what powerful elites consider to be a model African American woman does, in a sense, serve to secure rather than dismantle racial barriers—

Or at least modify them—just as placing predominantly white, male, heterosexual authors on the shelves encodes an implicit message regarding what race, gender, and sexual orientation are most suited to write and publish ...

In that both acts endorse a legacy that historically marginalizes Third World citizens, women, minorities, and gay men and women.


… That’s my short answer, at least.

I’m still going to buy the book.

... Be my guest.

Me, on the other hand, I’ll be ordering Tony’s book online.

New post next week!!