We can all oppress.

Nobody’s Perfect. Why would we want to be? What is perfect anyway?

When we think of oppression we are often taken to the history lessons on the full scale crimes our teachers taught us about. From Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin to Mao ZeDong. I know educators and individuals who are well read academic people who would not know who Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi is or what he is doing to thousands of his own, innocent people in Libya RIGHT NOW. Oppression continues today, both on large scales and even within our own classrooms. We cannot ignore that fact.

“Oppression you shall fear me, yes you will.”- Ben Harper

I was asked this past weekend if I would rather be rich or famous. Without putting much thought into it I said,”I would like to be famous for doing something truly amazing. That way I would be rich too.” I was also asked, if I could meet anyone who would it be I responded with, “Martin Luther King Jr or Jesus.” These men weren’t rich but they sure were famous. That paired with readings and discussions about Kevin Kumashiros first few chapters in his book, Against Common Sense (2004)- really got me thinking…

I think when it comes right down to anti-oppression practices we have to begin by saying; “I am an oppressor.”
We can all oppress- now don’t panic and start writing me an email until you read my logic.
I am an oppressor too and being able to actually say the sentence allowed was awkward and uncomfortable.

I run an Aboriginal at risk mentorship program and pride myself on being an individual teacher who preaches and practices inclusive beliefs and honouring difference. I am continually saying phrases like, “A world of the same is a world not worth living in.” When events are happening in the world that could cause my students or those around me to have an opinion that could breed discrimination I am quick to challenge that with facts and working to see both sides.
Take Gaddafi for example. Do I detest his actions. Absolutely a million times- YES!
You don’t kill thousands of innocent people and become a most wanted man through International law for being fair and just.

Do I hate al-Gaddafi himself? No. I don’t know the man and who am I to understand what has pushed him to his actions.
Plus, ‘hate’ is an emotion we should all work very hard to avoid. Hatred only further breeds anger and pain and anger and pain are direct products caused by oppression.

Gaddafi is an oppressor! He will be famous for hundreds of years for the turmoil he has caused people all over Africa and the world.
That said, I to think we all are oppressors to a certain degree.

Now, bear with me. I run an Aboriginal at risk mentorship program within Holy Rosary High School. The program has been funded and operating for four years now and has been recognized by both Saskatchewan and Alberta as pilot programs for both provinces- awesome for sure! We have spoken and shared our stories of success with hundreds of people from all over Western Canada through sessions, conferences and discussions. The students involved in the program have coined themselves ‘The Dream Catchers’. The Dream Catchers are a group of students who want to live and embrace walking in two worlds- the Aboriginal and the ‘western’ worlds. They want to understand and appreciate all people and educate others on the cultures that founded our great nation. Awesome! Sounds very anti-oppressive.
But…
I have to realize that I need to, as Kumashiro does, look deeper into what I am doing everyday to not necessarily see what I am doing– but see, ‘What I am leaving out?‘If I run a program for Aboriginal at-risk students and all of my focus is on these students…
What about the students who are not identified as at risk? They deserve to be included.
How do I include everyone? The idea of it being an ‘Aboriginal’ at risk program…
What about students from the Phillippines, Africa and other countries in the world that are moving into our local community.
They too can benefit from learning to embrace and understanding how we can embrace and honour difference.

Have I included and out stretched efforts for other students in our school to learn more about Aboriginal traditions outside of cultural events? What about staff and newcomers? Have I included them?

Oppression can take many forms. What I believe to be common sense, may not be common sense to another- and what another believes to be true- I may disagree with.

We must be critical, reflective and open and allow ourselves to be vulnerable to holes within our actions and practices- even though our intentions may seem perfectly pure.

Who am I leaving out? What am I failing to do? What could I be missing? What am I neglecting?
What are the needs of others? How will what I do make (all) others feel? Where can problems arise?
The power of reflection.

There is more to every story. If I read a book and someone from another country read the same one- Will our summary’s and interpretation be the same. No, obviously. Interpretations, perceptions and common sense all come into play. Including others, reflecting, problem solving and being cognizant of where oppression can be found even when creating anti oppressive efforts is only the beginning.

By opening doors and creating possibilities we are often closing others.
Even anti-oppression programs can clearly bind others when we least expect it.

We must speak out. We must act. But, it is what we often don’t say and what we don’t do that can work against the very missions and efforts we strive to abolish. We must reflect, we must ask questions, we must work hard!
Jonathon Swift said- “Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” We must DIG DEEP.

It starts with saying, ‘I am an oppressor.’

-It isn’t easy but our students and communities deserve it.

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One comment on “We can all oppress.

  1. Julie Anne Machnaik says:

    Powerful writing! You think deeply and are willing to challenge your way of knowing, thinking and being. It is hard to admit that we are oppressors, we are racist, we are not perfect but it’s hard work that needs to be done. You are doing amazing work, Jessie, and your students are ‘rich’ to have you walking alongside them. In their eyes, you are already famous.

    Excellent blog and one that I look forward to following as you continue your research. It’ll be amazing to see where you and your students go in your technology-rich and endless learning space. I wish you all the best.

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