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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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Who At This Time, Can Boast of Being Free?

Too often, we talk about fighting for the freedom of others, we talk about the people who are not free. But, who are the unfree? Perhaps, we could say – the poor, victims of war, people stricken by a chronic illness, victims of human trafficking, the marginalized racial groups in Western societies; the list goes on. While most of the people who fall into those categories are obviously oppressed, there is something about the usual addressing of the so-called unfree, that seems a little odd. It is possible that because I see myself, we see ourselves – as the empowered, the ones who live in a just society – we do not consider ourselves unfree, as well.

We live in a world that is stricken by injustice, corruption and fear. Victims of war exist in parts of the Middle East; racial prejudice continues to maintain popularity in the United States; Aboriginals for numerous decades have had the poorest standard of living than any other ethnic group in Canada; in April of 2014, over 200 schoolgirls where abducted by an Islamic extremist group (Boko Haram) in Nigeria. These examples encompass only a tip of the iceberg. Victims of such vicious actions were not born unfree, they are people whose fellow people chose to keep in bondage. So, when we categorize people from certain societies, racial groups and gender groups e.t.c, as captives of a sort, there is a problem. The issue is that we forget that all of us are unfree, at the moment.

We are.

We live in a world were black protesters in Ferguson are wearing shirts and carrying signs that read – stop killing us. They are urging not just law enforcement agents but also human beings to have some kindness. When we see such things, surely there must be a lump that goes down our throat. They are urging their fellow human being to love his/her brother/sister. Who is really free when kindness of humanity seems to not be innate? How about hearing that Aboriginal women in Canada continue to be prone to murder – don’t we still wonder where humanity lies in humans and also, who is really free? In fact, the phrase “Missing and murdered Aboriginal women” is a very common one in Canada. In October 2014, some Aboriginal families were dredging the Red River of Winnipeg in search of the bodies of missing relatives. If this happens in a world where the so-called privileged live, we are forced to reflect on the question – who is free? When over 200 girls are abducted from their school, taken away from their families and a bright future, by an extremist group whose name translates to “Western education is sin”, surely, some of us must wonder how innate kindness in humans really is.

The effects of globalization, mainly technological developments, continue to keep citizens of the world informed about vices going on in their society and in different communities of the world. The effects of this ease of information transmission presumably encourage people who are bold enough to advocate for the rights of their fellow humans, to step up and lend their voice. The solidarity being shown by protests in different parts of the world not only gives me faith that humanity still exists in some, it also brings hope that truly, the world can become a better place.

The oppressor (could be an employer, the government, the government executive/bureaucratic executive, a law enforcement agency, a militant group e.t.c.) whether he or she or they, know(s) it or not is unfree. It may not be acknowledged or seen, but the oppressor that puts another in bondage is also enslaved. The oppressor experiences an emotional slavery. The oppressor continues to seek ways to punish, does not learn from past mistakes, continually wishes to dominate, always grips to certain ideologies that create vices. The oppressor is not free. The oppressor is constantly driven in motion by negativity and this causes internal unrest. The oppressor also lives under constant attack (usually verbal) from protesters, governments and organizations that do not support injustice. How can you be free, when you are driven by poisonous emotions and ideals? Is not an enjoyable life one that is lived in peace and love?

Some of us may feel that the an occurrence is “not my issue”, so we do not react, though we may feel empathy for those that are directly and obviously affected. However, we are ALL un-free beings till everyone in this world is free from prejudice (ethnic, racial, gender, class, national origin), senseless violence and other injustices that are tormenting citizens of this world. We are not liberated till our brothers and sisters are free. We are not free because the vices inflicted on our brothers and sisters from the same or a different society, by fellow human beings can also come upon us. The oppressor is also not free but enslaved to wickedness and is constantly pestered by those that do not tolerate the violation of human rights. So, we all covet to be free one way or the other and we can make that change by working together to create more loving and peaceful societies.

In the words of the late Canadian politician, Jack Layton, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world”.

Love & Peace,

Chiamaka

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