As followers of Jesus we affirm the humanity of all.  In the words of Irenaues, “Man fully alive is the glory of God”.  Freire sees our vocation as humanization – helping people to become fully human; this includes the oppressed and the oppressor.

In order for the oppressed and the oppressor to become a new humanity, a “third way” has to be explored.  This way is a different space than the ones occupied by the oppressor and the oppressed.  It therefore, looks different than the lives of the white oppressors and of the black oppressed in our post-Apartheid South Africa.

Freire comments that the dehumanization of the oppressed will have some concrete effects,

Because it is a distortion of being more fully human, sooner or later being less human leads the oppressed to struggle against those who made them so. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressed must not in seeking to regain their humanity (which is a way to create it), become in turn oppressors of the oppressors, but rather restorers of the humanity of both.

In our post- Apartheid South Africa the beneficiaries of Apartheid and the oppressed of Apartheid are both dehumanized.  Both parties need restoration.  Freire boldly states that the oppressed has the challenge to struggle against the oppressors in such a way that they:

–  Don’t become like the oppressors.

–  Restores the humanity of their oppressors!

He states it bluntly,

This, then, is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit, and rape by virtue of their power; cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both. Any attempt to “soften” the power of the oppressor in deference to the weakness of the oppressed almost always manifests itself in the form of false generosity; indeed, the attempt never goes beyond this. In order to have the continued opportunity to express their “generosity,” the oppressors must perpetuate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this “generosity” which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty. That is why the dispensers of false generosity become desperate at the slightest threat to its source.

There is a difference between true and false generosity.  False generosity is a kind of giving that gives goods that are received through oppression and through current injustices.  The “fount” is unjust.  It takes what belongs to the poor and then gives a portion back, and then calls it generosity.  The church Father Basil the Great identified this kind of generosity when he once challenges his church saying that what they are giving away as charity is what they stole in the first place.  Basil showed them how “false” their generosity was.

True generosity happens when the sources of injustice are challenged.  In Freire’s words,

True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity. False charity constrains the fearful and subdued, the “rejects of life” to extend their trembling hands. True generosity lies in striving so that these hands — whether of individuals or entire peoples — need be extended less and less in supplication, so that more and more they become human hands which work and, working, transform the world.

In my humble opinion, this false generosity is at the heart of most outreach in churches (and a lot of time myself).

The oppressor cannot identify these “causes which nourish false charity”.  It has to be identified by the oppressed.

In plain language- a group of beneficiaries of Apartheid cannot sit in an all-white discussion and identify how to be truly generous.  The main reason why we cannot do this, is because our rationalizations for our false generosity are shared rationalizations.  Years of collective rationalizations have become so common-sense for us, that it would take outsiders to puncture our paradigms.

The rich, beneficiaries of Apartheid have to become students.  We have to become apprentices of the poor. We have to listen. Learn.  Freire describes it,

“This lesson and this apprenticeship must come, however, from the oppressed themselves …”

Yet, this apprenticeship will not come by chance.  It will come through a decision of the oppressed themselves.  They have to decide that they have an enormous role to play.[1]

But what do we do when thousands of our black brothers and sisters believe that they don’t have a role to play?  When their self-image have been destroyed to such an extent that they can see no way forward? Do they know how desperately we need them to teach and show us?

[1] “They will not gain this liberation by chance but through the praxis of their quest for it, through their recognition of the necessity to fight for it.”