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 Not Quite Not Agents of Oppression: Liberative Praxis for North American White Women LY D I A Y O R K [I]f one simply understands [difference] as a division between culture, between people, between entities, one can’t go very far with it. But when that difference between entities is being worked out as a difference also within, things start opening up. Inside and outside are both expanded. Within each entity, there is a vast field and within each self is a multiplicity. trinh t. minh-ha, ‘‘Inappropriate/d Artificiality’’ Agents of Oppression are members of the dominant social groups in the United States, privileged by birth or acquisition, who knowingly or unknowingly exploit and reap unfair advantage over members of groups that are targets of oppression. Agents of oppression are also trapped by the system of institutionalized oppression that benefits them, and are confined to roles and prescribed behaviors. In United States culture, agents have the power to define the ‘‘norm’’ for what is reality, they see themselves as normal or proper, whereas targets are likely to be labeled as deviant, evil, abnormal, substandard, or defective. melanie morrison, eleanor s. morrison, and ann flescher, Doing Our Own Work Training Handbook IN DEFENSE OF BINARY LOGICS One of the crucial methodological starting places in anti-oppression work is the presentation of strictly oppositional understandings of who is oppressed and who is oppressor. This is an either/or logic in the rawest sense. There is no gray area or third zone: either you are a ‘‘target of PAGE 191 ................. 17764$ CH11 10-28-10 12:07:34 PS 192 兩 l y di a y or k oppression’’ or an ‘‘agent of oppression.’’1 The language intentionally forces participants to identify as one or the other. The idea is to make clear which way oppression flows, to hold the dominant class in the hot seat. The language of agency is key to this framing; it highlights the idea that there are no innocent bystanders to the structure and process of oppression. Someone (most likely someone who is reading this essay) is actually doing it. This kind of bifurcated identity instruction is surely incompatible with Trinh Minh-ha’s vast field of multiplicity within a self.2 It certainly seems out of step with the fluidity, multiplicity, and hybridity of postcolonial theory, and dampens any dream of postracial politics. And so my next move ought to be the deconstruction or at least denunciation of this rigid binary, but this is not my intention. For it is the confrontation with the binary that produces a necessary crisis in meaning for people of dominant groups: for example, white women seeking racial consciousness. The tension between the postcolonialism of Trinh and the identity politics of anti-oppression work is exactly my theoretical and ethical concern. Explaining to the oppressor what it means to be the oppressor necessitates the use of a binary explanation of the conditions of colonization. This is not only a teaching strategy; it is reflective of the actual power dynamics at work around and through us in neocoloniality. The logic of empire is binary, producing and defending structural inequity. Poststructuralism teaches us that this logic ultimately cannot stand, collapsing under its own weight as opposites deconstruct into each other, mirrors and fragments all. Postcolonialism teaches us about the politics of the binaries and their breaches, doing so in alignment with liberation struggles around the planet and drawing from the positionality of those who don’t fit neatly into the either/or of empire. But in the excitement over the possibilities of interstitiality and hybridity, we must not forget that these third spaces are contact zones of oppositional logic and power. And isn’t this always already the postcolonial position? Where Marxisms and poststructuralisms collide as colonized and colonizer rub elbows and more, combining chromosomes in the cosmopolis —that is where liberation theology and postcolonial theology must come to terms. Liberating the oppressor from the structures and practices of domination requires a few transdisciplinary moves. Psychoanalytic and philosophical theories of subject formation, explored through postcolonial and feminist theory will be indispensable. As Trinh remarks, difference between is also difference within. U.S. and postcolonial whiteness and critical race studies PAGE 192 ................. 17764$ CH11 10-28-10 12:07:35 PS l i be r a ti v e pr a x is f o r n o r th a m er i c an w h it e w om e n...


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