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Savior/victim mentality: a western tradition?

et502's picture

Reading Pedagogy of The Oppressed is making me question my own status: am I oppressed or oppressor? Could I be neither? Being an American, I think, sets me up as a colonizer/oppressor/privileged person… so I thought, perhaps I might be an ally, joining in solidarity with the oppressed. But that role is questionable too. It could easily (unintentionally) posit the oppressed as "victims" and myself as a kind of "savior." I see this all the time with nonprofit organizations, youth groups, missions projects, etc. What entitles westerners to conceive of themselves as capable of changing the world, one person at a time? I think Friere would tell them that individuals can only change themselves: "Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects with must be saved from a burning building" (47). Further, "it is only the oppressed who, by freeing themselves, can free their oppressors" (38). So maybe there's more to be explored in the the "with, not for" (30) concept: the savior/victim mentality is just as oppressive as the oppressed- or oppressor- status. 

This makes me question the notion of "empowerment": What is the act of empowerment? Who can empower? By empowering someone else, are you actually treating them as less than human? 


njohnson's picture

I think these are all really

I think these are all really rich questions and ones that I found mysel coming across in my reading of Friere as well. For this particular reading, I found the extensive introduction to Freire's text to be particularly useful because it helped frame the content of the work and Freire as an author. As many of us have commented, part of what makes Pedagogy of the Oppressed such an impressive piece of work is that it was not intended for an American audience and yet it is so widely applicable to our own cultural history and societal function. Pedagogy of the Oppressed is understood as one of the first theoretical masterpieces of its kind due to this fact that it has outlived not only its author, but the audience that it was originally written for. In understanding this and in seeing your questions, much like the questions of other members of the class, I see that it is this type of introspection that has allowed Freire to be read so widely and so deeply for decades. I can't help but think how rare it is that a text that asks us to question the world around us and the parameters within which we function can remain so popular in a world where questioning the system is often considered to be unpopular. While I don't have answers to your questions, I do think that they are examples of the type of introspection that Freire's work can stimulate. It reminds me of the following quote found in the Introduction stating, "Men and women develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they dins themsevles; they come to see the world not as static reality but as a reality in the process of transformation." Perhaps, then, your Serendip post is a living signifier of the transformation of your conception of self. What I find Freire does best in his work is to show that having answers does not automatically equal progress but instead it is the willingness to ask, challenge, and be curious beings that moves us forward.