“This then is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to ‘soften’ the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’ which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source… True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.” (The Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
Monthly Archives: November 2016
In his sermon “Shattered Dreams,” (you can find it in Strength to Love, pp. 87-98) Martin Luther King Jr. reminds us of the sad final years of the Apostle Paul’s life. At the end of his letter to the Romans (15:23-29), Paul expresses his desire to come and visit the churches there so that they may be mutually encouraged. He had finished his work in Asia Minor and Greece and was ready to head westward to Spain. He was planning his visit to the Roman churches after a quick stop in Jerusalem to drop off the offering that the Gentile churches had collected for the church. If we take Acts at face value, instead of the long awaited visit to Rome, Paul was instead arrested in Jerusalem and eventually sent to Rome in chains. Tradition has it that he was never released from prison and was ultimately beheaded by Nero in the persecution of Christians that followed the great fire in 66 CE.
King reflects on this painful end:
Paul’s life is a tragic story of a shattered dream. Life mirrors many similar experiences. Who has not set out toward some distant Spain, some momentous goal, or some glorious realization, only to learn at last that they must settle for much less? We never walk as free people through the streets of Rome; instead, circumstances decree that we live within little confining cells. Written across our lives is a fatal flaw, and within history runs and irrational and unpredictable vein. Like Abraham, we too sojourn in the land of promise, but so often we do not become “heirs with him of the same promise.” Always our reach exceeds our grasp.
I have long known that there are many forces working against the just world we seek. Tuesday reminded me just how far “our reach exceeds our grasp.” I guess it’s time for us to extend a little further.
As the results of the election became clearer I acerbically tweeted that perhaps the arc of the moral universe does not bend towards justice. It was half sarcasm, half honest sentiment. Yesterday I spent a lot of time ruminating about the loss of a narrative.
I started paying attention to politics and social issues in the late 90s. Although there were ebbs and flows, until yesterday I could see steady movement towards a more just world. Progress was incremental (far too slow for my liking) but it seemed that we were at least moving in the direction of equality and justice. The small gains we’ve made over the last 20 (50?) years feel lost. Hate and bigotry have been mainstreamed again.
This presents a challenge to me. I work for justice and teach about social change because at some level I believe it can happen. But maybe it can’t happen, at least not in the way that I want it to. I don’t want to let disenchantment lead to inactivity but I feel the seductive pull.
I’m wrestling with two questions and I hope that you, dear reader, might be able to help.
- Is there a narrative to be found? Those wiser, and likely older, was my narrative falsely constructed? Did such a story never exist in the first place? What story do you see?
- Why do you seek justice? What motivates you when despair and disenchantment creep in? How do you work when the results are so tenuous and fleeting?
Chime in. I need some help here.
Some thoughts as I process last night…
Ian was in tears about the result. He asked if he could miss school today because he is worried about what his classmates might say. Since we’ve just sent a clear message that bullying and hate are totally ok–even rewarded–I don’t blame him.
I worry about Ela. The glass ceiling is fully intact and I worry that she will not be given the opportunities that she as a smart and resilient person should be afforded. I’m also worried about her safety because we apparently don’t mind powerful (and not so powerful) men grabbing women by the p***y.
Dylan seems unfazed. I’m glad. As he gets older we’ll continue to work on a hunger for compassion and justice.
I’m listening a lot to this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qv05US9f_vM. A lot.
Apparently I need to keep at it with justice issues. We are so much further away from our ideals than I had imagined. I am doubling down on my commitment to walk with and amplify the voices of those who are marginalized and vulnerable. I will be doing some thinking about my strategies (maybe you have some suggestions for me).
I’ve been reading Paulo Freire with my students. Two ideas he expresses seem apt: 1) Those who are oppressed never do violence first. It is always a response to the oppressors. Whites and Christians did great violence last night. 2) The oppressors cannot liberate anyone. Those who are oppressed are the only ones who will bring liberation, to themselves and to their oppressors. I defer to the wisdom, resilience, and agency of Women, Muslim, Black, Brown, LGBQT, poor, and other marginalized people (we disenfranchise in so many creative ways, it seems that the above have borne the brunt in recent months).
When I was in high school and college I raced road bikes. I loved the hills. I thrived on them. The pain and willpower required to conquer them energized me. The next four years (and beyond) look like a big fucking mountain. Bring it.