Writing a Theory of Liberation

May 21, 2009 Leave a comment

At the 2008 White Privilege Conference, I went to a workshop on Critical Liberation Theory, led by Barbara Love, Keri DeJong, Christopher Hughbanks, Joanna Kent Katz and Teeomm Williams. I was recently re-reading the piece they gave out at that workshop. Their workshop talked about the ways that we can each take daily actions toward liberation. This, they suggested, requires first clearly articulating our own theory of liberation, through which we can then build a praxis of liberation – daily work that brings us in the direction of liberation itself. I was remembering that during their workshop, they talked of the need to know fully where you’re coming from (understanding oppression), but to look forward toward liberation. Otherwise, they described it as if one were leaving on a car trip from Massachusetts to drive to California while looking out the back window instead of looking at the road ahead.

Rereading this, I started trying to think about how to actually articulate a theory of liberation. What would be in it? And I began to see that while I know what I don’t want, the vision of liberation is a little more challenging for me. This, I’m sure, is the legacy of internalized oppression, internalized supremacy and white privilege. The system has put limits on my ability to fully see what liberation looks like, and I’ve internalized these limitations. I know bits and pieces, but a clear articulation seems a bit of a challenge. So I’m making the commitment to start really attending to this in my life, to a clear articulation of my theory of liberation so that I can start taking daily actions toward its realization.

At the same time, I began thinking of Damali Ayo’s piece on five things white people can do and five things people of color can do to end racism. At her workshops on racism, she was constantly getting requests from people wanting to know what they could do. So she sent a request to her mailing list asking people to send in five things white people and/or people of color can do to end racism. About 2000 people responded and she condensed it into a guide (the Fix It Guide).

So I started wondering what would happen if we did a similar thing here – put it out there and ask you: what would be included in your theory of liberation?

Here are some random thoughts from a long plane trip I took yesterday – please add!

  • relationships and society would be demonstrations of fairness and equity
  • sustainability would be demonstrated in all our actions
  • love and compassion would be at the root of our thinking and our actions – and would help guide our creativity
  • all people would be able to fully participate in and have voice about decisions which affect their lives (directly or indirectly)
  • all people would be able to express their full humanity and potential
  • community would be fundamental

What would you add (or subtract or change)?

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  • Linda says:

    Thinking some more about this and reflecting on my yoga practice, I would add something about being embodied – that we are fully in the world in our physical beings as well as our mental beings. What else?

  • Curtis says:

    That’s a great list, Linda, and a wonderful question to consider.

    Part of our liberation, I think, is understanding how much we rely upon (no, desperately need) one another and the planet. While this may not seem so freeing in a sense, I think it helps to get us beyond the notion that any of us does anything alone. That’s just not true and way too much responsibility.

  • Linda says:

    Beautifully said Curtis! I think this is deeply related, as well, to your post today on “The Group Effect.”

  • Andria Winther says:

    Very much appreciate your thoughts on this Linda. It seems to me that, as an organization working toward liberation, we need to be thinking about this as individuals and as a collective….we can’t get there unless we create the picture of where it is we are hoping to be….

  • Gibran says:

    Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your passion Linda, the care that you demonstrate is already a hint of your own freedom. I too struggle with this, mainly because I see liberation as my highest goal, spiritual, physical, etc. To me, liberation is “moksha,” the end of illusion and full identification with the divine.

    On our way there, I think of building social structures – that is, COMMUNITIES – that aim to abide in the intersection between love and freedom and all that this implies.

    When I think of the intersubjective aspects of liberation, I like the idea of liberation as engagement with our own evolutionary process, this feels a lot like freedom to me.

    Jazz is specially useful in this inquiry, the music soars when the creative autonomy of the individual is maximized while the coherence of the collective holds, supports and ushers beauty forward.

  • Jen Willsea says:

    Thanks so much for this, Linda. We must stretch ourselves to envision what we’re aiming for in addition to being clear about what we wish to dismantle. It occurs to me as I read this that I often live too much in the future when it comes to my own life and tasks that need to be accomplished, yet I do not live in the future enough when it comes to anti-oppression work. This seems so backwards and I’m sure I’m not the only one for whom this is true. The practice of staying present for one task at a time while maintaining a clear vision for personal and collective liberation as the goal would make many of us more effective agents for change.

  • Linda says:

    Beautifully said Jen and Andria. The focus of anti-oppression work has historically been on one very important piece of the work – healing the past and trying to understand how the privileges created through oppression have benefited us or been denied to us so that we can figure out how to create severe cracks in the foundation of that system. We do, at the same time, need to be attending to the new system we want to create. Looking forward to exploring and learning about how to do this with colleagues at IISC and friends elsewhere.

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