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kayari's picture

I was thinking last class about the necessity of literacy in the language of power (the language that those in power speak). The examples of Haitian history and of Native American control over land came to mind. "Haitian history" was originally written and claimed by the French colonizers and written in the French language that many Haitians were not literate in. Through the power of the written word, colonizers wrote the history of people, and ignored the ugliness of slavery and slaughter of native Haitians. Haitian history was not for the Haitian people and did not represent the Haitian people but rather it was for and represented the elite.

In a separate situation the written word was used as a tool of manipulation and thievery by WASP colonizers. Through deception settlers attained signatures on deeds to Native American land. Those who lived on the land could often not read the deed. Even the concept of a deed to own land was a foreign one. Through the power of a bureaucratic document, a piece of paper with words on it, land was stolen and then the ownership was justified by the document with a signature on it. Power continues to operate this way and written documents govern our lives. We must have written proof of property ownership. We must have social security cards. The immense power placed on these documents is symbolic and yet few question or challenge this system. At the end of this learning experience I will have a piece of paper, a diploma, that proves I have completed four years of undergraduate. But this piece of paper will not represent all of the complex and intricate ideas and theories I have delved into during these past years. I did not write this document, it does not reflect me. Maybe I’ll write a graduation poem to better express my undergraduate experiences.


alesnick's picture

" . . . written documents govern our lives."

I appreciate the idea that you could write a graduation poem to express more accurately your undergraduate experiences than a diploma would.  In another web forum here a group of people explored a linked question about the role of certification in our society.

If you were to write a graduation poem, could you also create a public and/or a third space of readers for it?  The written documents that govern our lives come affiliated with social forms (such as commencement ceremonies).  Could changing one help us change others? 

And, to look from another angle, when are written documents helpful to freedom?  I think of the rule of law here.