I have been immersed in oppression today. Oppression overflowed on my Facebook news feed, and filled the airwaves of NPR. I had a few brushes with people feeling oppressed before I could even get about the work of my day which, for a large part of it, involved working on the syllabus for the undergraduate course on Oppressed Groups that I will be teaching in the Fall.
While I was working on the syllabus for that class, adding in Paulo Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed as recommended reading, I began to think not about oppression itself, but about our relationship with it. My own relationship with it, specifically. I wondered how the world might be different if we willingly danced with oppression, instead of avoiding it. Touched it. Looked it in its proverbial eyes and realized that we might be moving together to the same beat. Its uncomfortable, I know. But, as Friere pointed out time and again across his career…if we are not schooled and educated by oppression, we will never be liberated from it nor can we liberate anyone else.
So, I decided dancing with oppression would be my writing theme today. This exercise is about immersion, not rhetoric. No sides will be taken. We will simply immerse. And dance.
Let’s just go for the gusto with our first dance and begin in Gaza. My Facebook news feed has some strong voices pointing out many important points on both sides of the conflict. But, mostly, those points come down to how the other side is misconstruing the violence. Consider, for just a moment, that everyone in this situation is both oppressed, and an oppressor. Let’s dance with the possibility that everyone is actually correct, and deep hurt that cuts through history, spirituality, culture and philosophy does exist. It exists for Israelis and Palestinians; it exists for Muslims and Jews and Christians, each group in their own way with their own history of being both oppressed and oppressor. The dance of oppressor and oppressed wages on and people die. Every day, real human beings die. Human beings…who at the deepest core of my professional ethics, and my baptismal covenant to preserve the dignity and worth of every human being…are killed. When I dance with this oppression, I could be staring death in the eye. But, there is even in Gaza a glimmer of hope. I give you this music to dance to tonight, from an Israeli-Palestinian group of youth seeking only to see the humanity in each other. This, title translated, is their video “When Pigs Fly”:
Let’s move a little closer to my home, to a dance I still travel in my own heart. I have lost people I love dearly to AIDS, and I have both HIV+ and HIV- people whom I love who have been hit hard by the oppression of a label. It is still too easy for us to oppress those who (we assume) have some control over their health status. It is easy to internalize this oppression and allow it to stand in the way of one’s own sense of integrity, dignity, and life. So, our second dance tonight will be with our own status. Do you know if you are HIV+ or HIV-? Are you making assumptions about yourself, your partner, or people around you based on looks or actions or a perceived category to which it might seem she or he belongs? We are going to dance a difference dance, one that is unconditional, and asks us to step aside from this oppression and move to a common health goal of disease prevention and treatment, instead of oppression and silence:
One last dance for tonight. There is no one of us, not one, who has not danced with oppression in our lives. Maybe we were the lead, maybe the follower, or maybe circles were danced around us. One truth remains: we can all change. We are capable of growth, and a divine light of human dignity shines in each and every one of us. So, draw a breathe as we dance together. How can I change? How can each of us contribute to undoing injustice, and bringing a small point of light into our individual corners of the world. Think on that for this last dance tonight.
Tracy Chapman will send us out on this dance together, spinning our small points of light in our lives and communities…