Fulani's Tools and Results: Development as Black Empowerment?
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Fulani's Tools and Results:
Development as Black Empowerment?

The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.

—Audre Lorde1

Standing in front of a mostly white audience at the Second Sex Conference held in New York City on September 29, 1979, the black feminist Audre Lorde offered a searing critique of white feminists for using what she called "the master's tools." Lorde argued that whether self-consciously or not, white feminists were reproducing patriarchal forms of oppression by using old conceptual tools, only now directed toward women who do not fit the dominant straight, white middle-class model of being a woman—that is, "those who stand outside the circle of this society's definition of acceptable women . . . those of us who are poor, who are lesbians, who are Black, who are older."2 Several years later, and building on Lorde's critique, the poet and author Alice Walker proposed the concept of "womanism" as a way of getting at the particular role that women of color can, and should play in the making of "a world in which we can all flourish."3

But if the master's tools can't be used to dismantle the master's house, what tools are needed to build "a world in which we can all flourish" (i.e., develop)?

Alongside black feminist discussions about the role of women in the making of a new world, a different path was being forged—a path that encompassed the progressive perspective of womanism, even if it did not come out of that particular intellectual tradition, but did not hold to the [End Page 31] proposition that any one group of people were necessarily in the best position to end oppression/promote the development of all people.4 This other path was, and continues to be practical: building programs to facilitate human development using the most advanced approaches, practices, and breakthroughs in science, philosophy, and community organizing. Since the mid-1980s the African American developmental psychologist, educator, and independent political leader Lenora B. Fulani has been building a series of developmental projects (supplementary educational, therapeutic, and cultural) drawing principally on the methodological and conceptual insights of the philosopher of science Fred Newman and the developmental psychologist Lois Holzman.5

Mostly known for her work in the electoral arena—in 1988 becoming the first woman and the first African American on the ballot in all fifty states running for president, and more recently known as an outspoken advocate for nonpartisan reform—Fulani is less known for her longtime work as a leader of a "development" movement.6 Taking Newman and Holzman's insights and discoveries into the black community, she has not only helped to generate new discoveries (namely, the use of "performance" as a powerful developmental tool), but she has directly impacted on the development of tens of thousands of young and older African Americans. At an education panel hosted by the National Action Network in New York City on April 15, 2010, Fulani spoke to a mostly black audience about the importance of learning about and using the various "scientific breakthroughs" in the area of human development. Fulani's poignant and provocative remarks, in which she began by stating that she wanted to "close the discussion on the achievement gap" (along with the endless analysis and descriptions of black underdevelopment), were received with a standing ovation:

[In] international circles the conversation among educators, social scientists, and intellectuals is not about the consequences of underdevelopment . . . it is about scientific breakthroughs in human development. It's about the work of radical psychologists, such as Lev Vygotsky, who championed the idea that relating to children as "a head taller" than they are, allows them to grow and to learn. It is about the work of unorthodox philosophers, like Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose thoroughgoing re-examination of philosophical assumptions buried philosophy, dramatically turned linguistics, and left psychology in the intensive care unit—where it belongs! It is about the theory and practice of my mentor, Dr. Fred Newman, whose teachings about the developmental powers of performance and the idea that growth is collective, rather than individual, have revolutionized standard approaches...