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Unlearning, after Oppression

Close to two years ago, I read excerpts of the book – Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire, for a class that I was taking. Till this day, some of the main points of those pages that I read are still stuck with me and actually help me in understanding the world we live in, to some extent.

One of those main points was that when people are being oppressed, they get so used to this way of living that they are reluctant to free themselves. They even begin to aspire to be like the oppressor.I may have just perplexed my readers but I will explain. Let us apply it to real-life occurrences.

I was born and raised in Nigeria, a country that went through the torment of colonization. We gained our independence on October 1st, 1960. Much was stolen from us but thankfully, our ancestors also preserved a great deal, especially the richness of our diverse Nigerian cultures. Although it has been several years since gaining independence, I do see that in Nigeria, we unconsciously and consistently aspire to be in the like of those who oppressed our people. Nigeria was colonized by the British and given the time that it was, you just like me can probably imagine it was White men and women. And it actually was.

In Nigeria today, some aspire to have the skin colour of Caucasians. Skin bleaching is popular in our cities (not everyone does this however), the darker skinned Africans are made to feel inferior because the Africans/Blacks of lighter skin around you are hailed like royalty and you are not. We even judge our development and intelligence based on Western standards. For example, if you cannot speak English in Nigeria, you are an illiterate (I used to think this way too) – seems like we have forgotten that before and even after the coming of Whites to our land, our ancestors made their own equipment, could tell what time it was without a clock, could speak their native tongue with envy-inducing fluency. Just to mention a few. So, how dare we reduce ours and others’ intellect to ‘nil’ or ‘smart’ or ‘genius’ or ‘literate’ based on whether or not they can speak English? I feel sorry that I used to look at intellect that way. But I am on a journey of continuous enlightenment  and decolonizing my mind.

These kinds of issues do not just persist in Nigeria. I have noticed similar attitudes in Blacks from different nations and continents.

One might wonder why many of us of African-descent unconsciously strive to have similarities with the oppressors of our ancestors. Maybe we feel that, when we have the features of those who oppressed us and our ancestors, we gain power – because the oppressors dominated. However, I know not any power greater than that which comes from the love of oneself. This kind of power stays unshaken even in the midst of a world of  suppression of your kind.

Love & peace,

Chiamaka

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