“Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not, in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather the restorers of the humanity of both.” — from “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” by Paulo Freire
In yesterday’s post, I talked about how we, those of us in marginalized groups, can have margins within our own ranks. When I reviewed the post today as I was getting ready to write this one, I was drawn to revisit Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” The quote above jumped out at me, and I think it’s an important concept to think about when working to end oppression.
Many progressive folks are railing against Kim Davis and her refusal to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples. She is, as far as we know from her actions and what the media has told us, in the ranks of the oppressors: those who don’t want same-gender marriage to exist because of their belief that the Bible says it is wrong (generally white, cis, heterosexual, and Fundamentalist Christian).
The first reactions, and the easiest reactions, that we can have are the anger and need to fix things right away. It is a righteous anger that is well deserved: there’s no denying that what was done was wrong. It is right and good to fight against the oppressive laws and actions that the oppressors use.
But the danger in the fight, and the danger in riding the emotions that come with it, is becoming like the oppressors themselves. As my wife put it on Facebook today, “If I let people like her take away my compassion, I essentially become just like them. No, not going there.” Kim Davis is still a human being, even if we don’t like what she’s doing. I’ve seen and heard of many memes from the progressive side of the street that are body shaming her, calling her all sorts of names, calling her faith stupid, among other things.
How does calling her a “stupid Bible-thumping bitch” move our cause forward? How is using the words and tactics of the oppressor changing anything, especially in the long term?
This is a hard thing to do since, as I mentioned previously, human beings are very fond of “us v. them.” But as we seek to end oppression, we have to remember that we are just as much the “them” as we are the “us.” We all have the ability to be the oppressor just as much as we are the oppressed.
This is part of a series of writings on social justice for 30 days. You’re welcome to join me.