[SSU staff and faculty chose this book to read together this term – a powerful and painful exposition. Here’s a taste:]
As a means of assigning value to entire swaths of humankind, caste guides each of us often beyond the reaches of our awareness. It embeds into our bones an unconscious ranking of human characteristics and sets forth the rules, expectations, and stereotypes that have been used to justify brutalities against entire groups within our species. In the American caste system, the signal of rank is what we call race, the division of humans on the basis of their appearance. In America, race is the primary tool and the visible decoy, the front man, for caste.
Race does the heavy lifting for a caste system that demands a means of human division. If we have been trained to see humans in the language of race, then caste is the underlying grammar that we encode as children, as when learning our mother tongue.
- Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents
[Another passage from our new collection of daily readings:]
The shift from denial of injustice to recognition of injustice can’t be unmade. What your eyes have seen they have seen. Once you see the injustice, you can never again in good faith deny the oppression and defend the oppressor. What was loyalty is now betrayal. From now on, if you don’t resist, you collude. But there is a middle ground between defense and attack, a ground of flexible resistance, a space opened for change. It is not an easy place to find or live in.
— Ursula Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind
This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power; cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.
- Paolo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed
[A reminder from a familiar source of a great measuring stick for authority – whether for government leaders or in a small community.]
True authority is exercised in the context of justice for all, with special attention to the weakest people, who cannot defend themselves and are part of the oppressed minority. This is an authority ready to give its life, which does not accept any compromise with evil, deceit, and the forces of oppression. A family or communal authority, as well as having this sense of justice and truth, needs personal relationships, sensitivity in its action and the ability to listen, trust, and forgive. None of this, of course, ecludes moments of firmness.
– Jean Vanier, Community and Growth
[Dr. David Moore, visiting from California, stressed the importance of Howard Thurman’s writing for a contemplative basis to activism. If you’re near St. Stephen, come on out for public lectures Nov 1 (7pm) & 2 (6:30pm) on “Standing Up to Domination and Violence with a Calm Soul”]:
The basic fact is that Christianity as it was born in the mind of this Jewish thinker and teacher appears as a technique of survival for the oppressed. That it became, through the intervening years, a religion of the powerful and the dominant, used sometimes as an instrument of oppression, must not tempt us into believing that it was thus in the mind and life of Jesus. ‘In him was life; and the life was the light of men.’ Wherever his spirit appears, the oppressed gather fresh courage; for he announced the good news that fear, hypocrisy, and hatred, the three hounds of hell that track the trail of the disinherited, need have no dominion over them.
– Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited