Thinking About Charlottesville Through the Lens of Freire

I’ve been reading Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed for about two months now. Slowly but surely I’m getting through it, as it is a heavy read, but I wanted to share my thoughts on the book as I finish reading it, as well as give my two cents on the events in Charlottesville, Virginia through the lens of this book.

Paulo Freire is a huge name in education and is constantly cited whenever someone talks about liberation of any kind. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire contends that for true liberation and revolution to take place, we must work with the people instead of for the people. In a word, the target group of people that you wish to “help” or “liberate” have to be actively apart of that liberation for true change to take place. Perhaps most amusingly, Freire affirms this idea and emphasizes the importance for revolutionary leaders to include the oppressed in the act of liberation by noting:

“We cannot say that in the process of revolution someone liberates someone else, not yet that someone liberates himself, but rather that human beings in communion liberate each other.”

The largest takeaway that I got from this quote was the necessity for communication and teamwork within the networks of those who are oppressed and between the oppressed and revolutionary leaders. This is particularly novel to me as the structures for “liberation” and false generosity we see today (namely, in the government) rarely ever or completely omit truly including the people in action. We can look to the phenomenon of gentrification to find an example of this. In Atlanta, Turner Field was sold to Georgia State University, well under the noses of the low income residents who lived in the area surrounding the stadium, the West End neighborhood. The residents knew this was an invitation for other Georgia State enterprises to buy up property in the historically black district, and so staged protests and sit ins to demonstrate their anger at the powers that be to begin the process of gentrification without their input. However, the deal was already done and the stadium belongs to Georgia State University today.

This example illustrates the opposite of what revolutionary leaders should strive for, according to Freire. True liberation would have included town hall meetings with the people of the neighborhood to think about what impact it would have on the residents of the West End neighborhood. As the protests would suggest, the residents would have vehemently vetoed the proposal, but as residents of that neighborhood, they had (and have) every right to do so. However, agency is the enemy of oppression, and so it makes sense that the residents were not notified of the proposal. You can read this article for more information on the protests.

 

My thoughts

 

This book is an electrifying piece for me. I find myself constantly screaming at the pages saying “That’s what I BEEN tryna say!” or “FORREAL THO!”. Not unlike others who have read this work, I found solace in Freire’s words and ideas. It was like life-giving water to read that it was a crime for politicians and officials to have huge homes and enjoy in excess while kids went to school hungry. His ideas of working with the people, not on behalf of them, was relieving to see on paper. Reading his words affirmed what I already felt was right and wrong with the world.

I especially appreciated Freiere’s emphasis on education—that it is not apolitical, but a medium through which teachers can teach students to continue to be oppressed or an instrument for self-liberation and actualization. This made me think back to my educational career and analyze teaching methods; what teachers taught me to be apart of the oppressive system we found ourselves at the mercy of, and which teachers showed me what position I was at in society and how we could work to transform it. Naturally, I chafed hard against teachers of the former school of thought. But what Friere has revealed to me is language and vocabulary to explain their actions, that they are acting to preserve unjust systems because they think they will benefit from it. But what Friere warns is that proximity and service to power is the illusion of such and it will never save the oppressed.

 

Using Freire’s words to think about Charlottesville

 

I am finishing Pedagogy of the Oppressed as I am watching the events in Charlottesville, Virginia unfold. Honestly, all I’ve been able to think about is “Neo Nazis are not the worst thing that could happen to us”. Now, living in this dark skinned body, I obviously would not like to interact with any Nazis or KKK members, but I think it is important to use works like Freire’s to provide a lens to look at these flashpoints of violence.

First, I think of this event as a really sore pimple that has finally made a head. If you pop it without cleaning your hands or washing your face, the underlying bacteria that made the pimple in the first place will be there again, ready to terrorize that beautiful skin of yours again in the near future. Likewise, the resurgence of the ultra right and Neo Nazis are a result of built up pressure and colonialist ideas white people already had. The oppressors defending their power through violence and scare tactics (reminds you of big stick diplomacy, no?) are the “whitehead” of the oppressor bacterium. What I am actually afraid of are the powers that be that I cannot yet name, that work in such an abstract and hands-off fashion that they can hide in plain sight. I’m afraid of whoever wrote the order for Stokley Carmichael to get prostate cancer. If there is anything that I have learned from history and reading books like Freire’s, it’s that those in power send Neo Nazis out as powerful, attention grabbing, magnetic distractions to ruffle our feathers and occupy the airwaves of our attention. But we must always be critical, friends.

Second, it is imperative that we arm ourselves with theory to predict when these things happen and to act against them accordingly. More specifically, Friere spoke of events like this in Pedagogy of the Oppressed. While discussing on how some oppressed people work to keep their oppression intact, he also speaks on horizontal violence between oppressed peoples. What incites this violence, he claims, is a word or action “which threatens the oppressor housed within them” (Freire, 135). What Freire means by this is that there are certain words or actions which threaten the power system in place, and therefore threaten the oppressor housed within oppressed people. In Charlottesville, for instance, the Black Lives Matter movement and efforts to tear down Confederate statues directly threatens the oppressor housed within those who participated in the rally at Charlottesville. As a response, these people took to the streets to reclaim the oppressor’s power. Books like Freire’s tell us what happen when power is threatened and the lengths oppressors will go to in order to get it back, and also to remind us that our necks are under the boot of white supremacy. Theory and language gives us a “theoretical roadmap” for the twists and turns of revolutionary struggle, and arms us with knowledge to defend ourselves, intellectually or otherwise.

 

A Short Conclusion to a Long Post

 

This was supposed to be 700 words. Whoops.

In short, Freire’s groundbreaking work and others like it provide a healing center for those lost in the rip current of media outlets and modern activism today. Pedagogy of the Oppressed gave me the mental space I needed to deeply think about power structures and what I would do to work against them. If anything, it gave me revolutionary theory to ruminate on, write about, and apply to current events. Most importantly, perhaps, it showed me that this work can be done.

Anyway y’all, what do you think of the events unfolding in Charlottesville? What book has helped you think of all this? Let ya girl know.

 

Yold

Just Begin.

I’m writing this post thirty minutes before my shift begins. I obviously won’t have time to finish it as I begin, but as the title of this posts suggests, it’s important that I just begin.

Anxiety and perfectionism has strangled my dreams. Worries that I won’t be good enough, this website won’t look professional enough, that I simply won’t have the “stuff” to create and run an educational blog for black students have asphyxiated any hope for myself. So today, I challenge myself, and you, the reader, to just begin.

The idea of “just beginning” is obviously not a novel one. But it is one that I constantly forget in my day to day struggle to be the perfect whatever-the-hell. In fact, I didn’t even know I was being a perfectionist until I would break down because things were not perfect. And if things weren’t as perfect as I wanted them to be, I would not even start. Take this blog for example. I planned to write a blog post once a week, seven hundred words, every week. When I could not meet my first deadline, I totally shut down and decided for myself that I couldn’t write a blog. I simply wasn’t good enough.

Thoughts like these—I’m not good enough”—are an insult to your character and a grand oversight on the idea of “self” in general. You don’t have to take it from me to see that people are varied and complex; we are walking paradoxes—as predictable as we are unpredictable. Every emotion we experience has its own hue, tone, intensity, and value. Reifying your capabilities to “not good enough” does not describe your values, your talents, and your dreams. Instead, I challenge you (as well as myself) to work in spite of yourself for that moment, and just begin. Start writing that poem, no matter where it ends up going. Start running, no matter how far you get. Start sketching that portrait, no matter how disproportional the facial features are. Learn as you go and embrace your mistakes as lessons. Most importantly, perhaps, become aware of the process and learn to enjoy it.

In my frenzy of perfectionism, I can get lost in the planning phase. Fail to plan and plan to fail holds true in many cases, but I can get stuck in the planning phase of any project I undertake for fear of making mistakes. Or rather, I stay in the planning phase to try to minimize the mistakes that I will undoubtedly make to almost zero. For instance, every time I would try to make a blog post, I would get caught up in choosing a topic to write on—is this relevant enough? Will my two and a half readers care about what I have to say? Isn’t that what Buzzfeed is for? As a result, nothing got published. I may read this blog post in three months and cringe at how terribly organized my ideas are in this piece. But the fact that I know it is terribly organized signalizes progress. In a word, obsessive planning does not and cannot replace the grueling work required to do that which you were always meant to do. Bring what you were always meant to in this world. You have something precious, something of inestimable value, that I want to see, that the world doesn’t know it’s missing. Do us all a favor and show us what you were placed here to do. I want to thank you in advance for it.

In this post, I am speaking to myself more than anyone else. If you are reading this post and are thinking “sheesh Yold, it’s far too late to do ___ because ____”, know that today is not the day to do what you have always wanted. Rather, it is the day to begin.

As BHM Looms Ahead

Does anyone else feel that crushing guilt when Black History Month rolls around? The pressure to put on for your people like the founders of Black Lives Matter while constantly researching and paying homage to Harriet and W.E.B.? All while still being in school?

Girl, I feel you on that one. But what I’ve been thinking about lately is the revolutionary act of being. Sounds easy, right? When I think about where I am in the socioeconomic ladder of United States, I am overcome with a wave of gratitude as well as – you guessed it – crushing guilt. Who am I to be able to attend an elite college for free ninety-nine? Who am I to be able to type this piece on a MacBook Air that I didn’t even pay for? The list goes on for things that I have and don’t deserve. But after the self-questioning and guilt, I always circle back an overwhelming sense of duty for those who aren’t here. Obviously, this is not to say that all black people should be in my position. But we should all have the opportunity to do so. And that is simply not the case in this historical moment.

So what do we do with this sense of duty, privileged ones? We exist. Forcefully. Unapologetically. And when we get good at that, we grow, thrive, and take our family with us. Personally, I’m tryna get my duckets up so that I can buy up property in black communities and give it back to our people. But before I do that, I have to finish school and get credentials that will lead to an occupation that will in turn give me the financial security to be able to buy property. So that’s what I’m getting into these days.

It may be mid-January, fam, but its always grind time for us. So what y’all finna get into this Black History Month? Or this year? Or this lifetime? Let ya girl know.

Yold