Like a Tsurezuregusa for a philosophy grad student.
Paulo Friere presents dehumanization as the end result of situation which generates a self disposed towards the exercise of violence in the oppressor, which is then enacted against the oppressed. While Friere recognizes the historical concreteness of the dehumanization of oppressed people, he maintains that this violence must not be considered as an ontological fact of the being of the oppressors: oppressors are not oppressors because of something in their nature, they become oppressors through “a distortion of becoming more fully human,” that occurs as a result of being within the situation the conditions oppression and violence against the oppressed.
To this end, Friere defines liberatory praxis as activity: it is the reflection of the oppressed and their allies upon the world in order to transform it. Reflection presupposes action, transformative action, which is only authentic liberatory praxis if the consequences become the object of critical reflection. Put another way, those engaged in the process of liberation must, at every step of their praxis, reflect upon the consequences of their action. For Friere, these consequences need to be in line with the aim of transforming the situation that generates the violence doing self in the oppressed, and making present the oppression of others within the situation. Authentic liberatory praxis thus demands the recognition of the humanity of other oppressed peoples and the oppressors themselves.
Oppression, as a situation, generates a certain kind of consciousness within the oppressor. The consciousness that tends towards violence is readily apparent, though not all encompassing. More specifically, the climate of oppressive systems generates consciousness of possession: the world, the people in it, are things to be possessed. Further, the quality that is “human” becomes an exclusive right of the oppressor, and thus the humanization of those considered to be “things” is an anomaly: in their mind, humanization of others appears as a subversion of full humanity. Thus, violence is enacted in the attempt to remind the oppressed of their status as objects to be possessed.
In demanding a change in the situation, Friere demands that the praxis of liberation not seek to reproduce those conditions that enable the creation of a consciousness described above. The oppressed, in their drive to restore their humanity, must not regard humanity as an exclusive right of some individuals and not others. To do so results in the reproduction of the consciousness of the oppressor within the oppressed, which then perpetuated the dialectic of oppressor and oppressed without addressing the situation that enables oppression to continue.
Further, the oppressed must come to see themselves as not just the victims of oppression: this commits them to remaining within the oppressive situation. To achieve full liberation and humanity, the oppressed must come to see themselves as men and women first and oppressed second: the struggle for humanity must not be entered into from a position of considering oneself as ultimately the oppressed, but as a human being who affirms their humanity in spite of the situation that attempts to reduce them to a mere object, animal, or machine.
the recognition of the humanity of the oppressor, of the oppressed, and other oppressed groups within the situation of oppression is a necessary condition of liberation from oppression. Put another way, liberatory praxis must affirm the humanity of its participants, otherwise it runs the risk of generating another situation where in some groups are stripped of their humanity, while other groups come to see that humanity is their exclusive right, the extension of which to other non-humans becomes a subversion of humanity.
There is a question that is often demanded of philosophy of liberation from those engaged in the fight for liberation: “why should I acknowledge the humanity of someone who has made a life of denying my humanity?” The response that I have generated is simply, “why shouldn’t you?” If we are to seek freedom from oppression, then we must recognize the humanity of our oppressors: if we deny them their humanity, we risk the reproduction of the situation that enables oppression. More specifically, we engage in the praxis of our oppressors, the very praxis that we are trying to stamp out.
A desire for liberation foregrounded in denying the humanity of an oppressor is not a desire for liberation, it is a desire for vengeance. The consequences of such a praxis of liberation are not the elimination of the conditions that legitimize oppression, rather, it is the usurpation of the role of oppressor where by the previously oppressed can enact the same violence they experienced against those who have held them down for so long. That is to say, this is a desire not for freedom, but a desire to be the arbiters of freedom; it is a desire located in the need to avenge one self upon one’s oppressors.
This brings to mind the aim of the liberatory practice, the consequences. We know of the consequences that denying the humanity of one or more groups has upon the world and the social structures in which we find ourselves: we live these consequences daily. Bearing this in mind, why should the argument persist that our oppressors are without humanity, or that we should continue to regard them as inhuman?
I speak of the “aim” of such a liberatory praxis because it is bound with the consequences. If the consequences are merely the acquisition of more material wealth, then the oppressed are simply reproducing the conditions that generated within their oppressors a consciousness that desires nothing but the reduction of the world to things that can be possessed. To that end, the oppressed will provide tacit support for the structures that oppress them: it would be such that the oppressed see what it is that the oppressors have constructed and attained (dominion over the world forever and ever, in the words of W.E.B DuBois) and seek to take it for themselves. That is, they have internalized the acquisitive mindset of the oppressor. This is not freedom.
On a social level, there is the question of HOW the oppressor is dehumanized. Generally, it is assumed that the desire to oppress is ontologically situated within the oppressor. The oppressor is thus nothing more than he who oppressed, they lack an identity apart from their oppressive nature. That is, the oppressed engage in a process of dehumanization where by they deny that the oppressor has any qualities that make them human, up to and including a lack of a soul. Simply put, how could ones oppressors be human if they visit such horrors upon the oppressed?
The primary objection to be raised against the possibility of oppressed peoples dehumanizing their oppressors is the presence of institutional structures which prevent the dehumanization of the oppressor. This, I think is an a-social understanding of the processes of dehumanization, something pointed to by Nick Haslam. He states,
Rather than applying only to extreme cases of antipathy, in which the denial of humanness to others is explicit, dehumanization occurs whenever individuals or outgroups are ascribed lesser degrees of the two forms of humanness than the self or ingroup, whether or not they are explicitly likened to animals or automata. - Haslam (2006)
The two kinds of dehumanization that Haslam articulates in his piece are “animalistic dehumanization” and “mechanistic dehumanization.” In animalistic dehumanization, others are reduced to the status of animals and are thus treated with contempt and disgust. They are pushed “downwards” on a ladder of social orientation. Mechanistic dehumanization likens the individual to an automaton, generally considering them cold, aloof, or unfeeling. These individuals are pushed away from the ingroup, rather than downwards.
Dehumanization does not require the explicit presence of an institutional structure that legitimizes it, though it would certainly accelerate the process. By institution, I mean the definition that has been adopted by anti-racism activists, critical race thinkers, and the social justice community. An institution is a societally sanctioned ideology that is usually supported by legal structures that enable its perpetuation. As oppressed groups do not have access to the means of perpetuation of institutions within society, the ideologies that the oppressed generate remain local: they are applicable within group and intragroup, but they never rise to the level of institutionalization. At best, ideologies of the oppressed can only participate in what Patricia Hill Collins calls the symbolic and interpersonal dimensions of oppression.
To put this simply, the oppressed can generate a dehumanized image of their oppressor as nothing more than their oppressive ideology. However, due to their lack of access to the means of producing institutions, the dehumanized image of the oppressor which the oppressed generates cannot be made into an institutional structure except within the oppressed group. That is, it is not a true institution which is sanctioned by society, but remains and ideological force that orients and organizes the objectives of the oppressed group. Any attempt to strive for liberation from this stance will carry with it the image of the oppressor as inhuman, less than human, other, and a legitimate target for violence of all kinds.
Dehumanizing the oppressor also serves to upholds the dialectic of oppression: an oppressor cannot exist without the oppressed, which thus reifies oppression, or the experience there of, as an ontological necessity for being a member of those groups we class as oppressed. There is no transcendence of the oppressed/oppressor dichotomy when the oppressor is reduced to nothing more than their oppressive ideology: we remain trapped within the structure or, at worst, we invert the structure and become the oppressor.
In recognizing the humanity of the oppressors, oppressed peoples do not need to give up the anger that they experience at their oppression: this is an important part of their lived experience. Recognition of humanity does not presuppose abandoning the desire to do violence against one’s oppressor, however, it does demand that any violent action emerge from a context of mutual humanity. Put in more direct terms, it is a call to remember that there is a human on the other side of your gun. Violence is an ontological necessity to change a situation, be it the reorienting of patterns of thought, a realization of ones own complicitness in oppression, or a realization of one’s own internalized oppression: all of these actions require a shift away from established modes of thinking and acting in order to enable moving forwards.
Friere supports this proposition in the following:
“Yet it is—paradoxical though it may seem—precisely in the response of the oppressed to the violence of their oppressors that a gesture of love may be found. Consciously or unconsciously, the act of rebellion by the oppressed (an act which is always, or nearly always, as violent as the initial violence of the oppressors) can initiate love. Whereas the violence of the oppressors prevents the oppressed from being fully human, the response of the latter to this violence is grounded in the desire to pursue the right to be human. As the oppressors dehumanize others and violate their rights, they themselves also become dehumanized. As the oppressed, fighting to be human, take away the oppressors power to dominate and suppress, they restore to the oppressors the humanity they had lost in the exercise of oppression. It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors”
Violence on behalf of the oppressed is the fight to be recognized as human, rather than the fight to subordinate the oppressor. It is to engage in conflict with the aim of dismantling the situation and conditions that enable the creation of a consciousness that oppresses and is oppressed. In order to be liberating in the authentic sense, the violence of the oppressed does not emerge out of a desire to make the oppressor subordinate to the oppressed, to deny their humanity, but to free themselves from the cycle of oppression, the dialectic of oppressed/oppressor.
This violence is aimed at changing the situation and to do so, it must engage the institutions that perpetuate the situations of oppression. It is targeted at eliminating the ground upon which oppression stands, rather than exercising retributive violence against those who have benefited from the oppressive situations. That is not to say that those who actively perpetuate structures of inequality are not to be called to justice, rather, they can only be brought to justice if they are recognized as human and as humans, ultimately guilty of their crimes.
Thus, recognizing the humanity of the oppressors is not a call to avoid violent confrontation with the oppressor: as they are submerged in the oppressive situation, it will take violence to break them, and the oppressed, free of the situation. When an entire society legitimizes a form of oppression, violence (broadly construed) is often the only way to break the system and recover the humanity of the oppressed. However, it is violence against the system that is necessary: the oppressed need to recognize that the individual oppressor are merely an arm of the system, submerged to the point where they do not even see the system that they are complicit in.
Here is where education comes in. Friere, in discussing pedagogy itself, makes the argument that teaching is to be done in dialogue with students who also teach the educator. Teacher and student becomes responsible for the education of the other and create a situation wherein both grow towards a fuller education. This model of pedagogy treats objects of cognition as a medium to evoke critical reflection on behalf of the teacher and student: the aim of the pedagogy is to critically investigate the way in which people exist within the world, and the world in which they find themselves. Put simply, the process of pedagogy is crucial to the recovery of humanity by the oppressed, and the discovery of the oppressive situation in which they find themselves.
By engaging in this process, a process of becoming, Friere presumes that the oppressed will discover that it is the situation that enables their oppression and the oppression of others. Further, this process of investigating the world and the way in which we are in the world will, in Friere’s view, lead to the recognition of the humanity of the oppressed. While not explicit in Friere’s text, there is an implication that, since the consciousness of the oppressed is conditioned by the oppressive situation, this pedagogical process can reveal to the oppressed the way in which their own humanity is being subverted by their praxis of oppression.
This is not inconsistent with Friere’s conception of violence: we cannot engage in this process unless the situation has been sufficiently changed such that we can engage in the kind of pedagogy that Friere intends. Violence is needed to break the system before meaningful conversation can occur, but this violence must hold in mind a desire to reclaim humanity, which can only be possible once the system has been broken such that the oppressor’s capacity to exercise their oppressive ideology has been severely limited.
We need to fight, to exercise violence, that much is true, however the aim of our exercise of violence matters. How we achieve liberation and the reasons for our liberation matter. If we seek, through our liberatory praxis, the reversal of the oppressed/oppressor dialectic, we have done nothing but perpetuate a system that we swore we would escape from. In doing so we enable the creation of conditions where by we become the oppressors, we become the jack-booted thugs, we cultivate within us a consciousness of the world and those within it as objects to be possessed.
This is not a call to love our oppressors, for color blindness, to ignore the very real way in which these people have perpetuated violence against us. This is not a call to ignore those who actively seek to perpetuate injustice, oppression, and all of the -isms in the world. This is not a call to ignore the way in which oppressors have a historical legacy of oppression or to ignore that history in favor of an idealistic world where we live together in harmony. There will, likely, not be a happy ending here.
Instead, this is a call not to become our oppressors, not to take up “the master’s tools,” in the context of Audre Lorde. This is a demand that when we exercise violence, when we seek to reclaim our humanity, that we do not become that which we despise. This is a demand that, as we seek our liberation from the conditions and situations of oppression, we do not become that which we struggle against.
Our liberation from oppression should not come at the cost of our souls.
Not too terribly. I’d probably become an internet celebrity pretty quick. It depends how you mean embarassing: do you mean the time where I ran into a tree on my bike or the time where I ran right into a door.
This is a tough one. I’m leaning towards 50 Shades or Twilight. I’d be curious to see what would happen if the Christian Bible were simply erased from people’s minds. Does this erasure include the doctrinal and social effects that the book has had.
Book 1 of Aristotle’s Politics is a close second, only if this perpetuates through time: most of the ideological justifications for the inferiority of other people rely upon the appropriation of Aristotle’s philosophy. It might suck, but it would short circuit its appropriation by christian thinkers for use in oppressive ideologies.
Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis commenting on today’s news that the Board of Education has voted to close 50 Chicago public schools.
While only around 40 percent of children in Chicago are black are Latino, 90 percent of children whose schools will be shuttered are black or Latino.
fuck this country. fuck this country. FUCK THIS COUNTRY
Outrageous. The question is, what are we going to do about it?(via disciplesofmalcolm)
- Mass protests hit Chicago over school closures [Salon]
- Chicago School Closings Vote: Board Of Education Votes To Shutter 50 Public Schools [HuffPo]
- Chicago School Closings Spark ‘Wildfire’ of Protest [LaborNotes]
- Chicago Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education (CReATE) released a study that disputes the claims made by CPS. CReATE Research Brief on School Closures [pdf]
- CTU Blog
- CPS Closings: Interactive Map with Affected Schools, Gang Lines
On Catalyst Chicago
The Walton Family Foundation funded a group called Catalyst Chicago that was supposed to appear as a grass-roots organization interested in education reform. It’s site is now down. I don’t know if it’s to provide cover for the conservative organization’s tactics or if it’s merely overloaded now that their coercion has been discovered, but it’s important to highlight that the closings are part of an anti-public-school, anti-teachers-union agenda. This is a political fight being funded by conservative Capitalists lobbying efforts and who see a way to support a supposedly liberal reform movement. CPS is being backed by people who seek to dismantle public education and who are also using rather racist and classist means to achieve their agenda.
From Labor Notes:The second reason the board gave for closing schools was a claimed billion-dollar deficit. But, Ritter said, every year the board projects a deficit but ends the fiscal year with a surplus. A year ago a $700 million deficit was predicted, but by last summer the board was $300 million in the black.
The board claimed that closing the 54 schools would save $560 million on construction and $43 million on operating expenses over the next ten years. But studies by the Pew Charitable Trust and Washington, D.C. auditor have found school closings don’t end up saving much money. School buildings are often difficult to sell and must be maintained, even when empty. Teacher leaders said vacant schools will blight already struggling neighborhoods.
So the teachers union disputes the estimated savings. In Washington, D.C., Chancellor Michelle Rhee said in 2008 that she would save $23 million by closing 23 schools; instead the closings cost the district $40 million.
All along the board cited these budgetary reasons for closing schools, saying any closures had nothing to do with performance. But finally Byrd-Bennett said she would put on the list only the worst-performing schools—the so-called “level 3s”—again, those that had been disinvested from, with constant upheavals in staff and leadership. She promised that children from closed level 3 schools would move only to level 1 or level 2 schools. In a third of the cases, though, the transferred-to schools are also level 3.
The CTU wants the mayor to put more resources into schools, not fewer, and union leaders claim that reforming the city’s tax increment financing system (TIF) could put as much as $300 million back into school coffers. TIF programs were originally established to channel tax dollars directly into fixing up low-income neighborhoods, but now are being used to subsidize development in the city’s glitzy downtown.
On Wednesday Chicago will see a mass rally, led by the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), to protest the planned shuttering of 54 elementary and middle schools before the next school year. Critics of the closures have pointed out that the vast majority of schools targeted (50 are on the West and South Sides of Chicago) provide for black and Latino children. While only around 40 percent of children in Chicago are black are Latino, 90 percent of children whose schools will be shuttered are black or Latino.
At present, the data reviewed in this research brief does not support Chicago Public Schools’ claim that closures are a viable solution to the current issues in the district. Instead, their greatest potential is to inflict deeper harm on African American and Latino/a communities. In addition to the current issues of privatization (via charter school) and displacement, massive school closings are poised to continue the legacy of mass displacement, marginalization and isolation of low-income communities of color in Chicago. Contributing to our concern is the revelation by the Chicago Sun-Times that Tom Tyrell, a former Marine colonel whose military credentials include hostage negotiation in the war in Kosovo, has been appointed by CPS as the official in charge of administering school closings. As CReATE, we are charged to pose the following question: If CPS has hired a former military official to administer school closings, what is the assumption of the central office regarding the potential of conflict if the closures are implemented? In so doing, we predict a heavy-handed response from law enforcement if the current closures, which do not even serve their stated purposes, are implemented.