The Oppressed as Teachers

My comments draw upon the following two quotes from Freire:

"The great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed [is] to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well" (44), and similarly, "It is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors.  The latter, as an oppressive class, can free neither others nor themselves" (56).

I agree with Freire that liberatory revolutions have the potential to awaken former oppressors' own critical consciousness, and I further agree that oppressors generally cannot be relied upon to incite emancipatory change.  However, I am uneasy with how these statements encourage us to rely upon the oppressed as teachers.  This is obviously a difficult (impossible?) dilemma to avoid.  Yet I worry about the ways certain people are tokenized, exoticized, or valorized because of their identity, as well as the exhaustion, frustration, and marginalization people face having to continuously inform others of their oppressive actions and assumptions.  Relying on the oppressed to this extent also excuses those with dominant identities from having to take responsibility, or "do their own homework"--that is, take initiative to explore the histories and theories of various social movements arising from inequality. Weiler picks up on this point when she critiques Freire for consigning women in feminist/liberatory endeavors to the role of "helping" men to confront their own sexism (83).  For a feminist classroom that relies upon epistemologies built on consciousness raising and personal experience, straddling these poles can be a difficult project, with the potential to both enhance or diminish feminist aims.


I have a question about using guest speakers. I have taught a sexuality education course for youth at my church. One of the things the program does is have several guest speaking panels with one person representing each of several categories. For example the sexual identities panel has one each of GLBT. For some youth this may be the first transgendered person they interact with on any kind of personal level. While this particular transgendered person has chosen to put themselves in this educative position, it still creates a tricky problem of tokenism. And students easily overgeneralize the perspectives of one person to everyone else they perceive as belonging to the same group. I think that guest speakers and panels are valuable tools but I wonder how these factors could be mitigated.