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Angela Okune's picture
July 24, 2018

In their article, "Decolonization is not a metaphor," Eve Tuck and Wayne Yang (2012) critique Paulo Freire's approach to decolonization (and contrast it to Fanon's approach):

"Paulo Freire, eminent education philosopher, popular educator, and liberation theologian, wrote his celebrated book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, in no small part as a response to Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth. Its influence upon critical pedagogy and on the practices of educators committed to social justice cannot be overstated. Therefore, it is important to point out significant differences between Freire and Fanon, especially with regard to de/colonization. Freire situates the work of liberation in the minds of the oppressed, an abstract category of dehumanized worker vis-a-vis a similarly abstract category of oppressor. This is a sharp right turn away from Fanon’s work, which always positioned the work of liberation in the particularities of colonization, in the specific structural and interpersonal categories of Native and settler. Under Freire’s paradigm, it is unclear who the oppressed are, even more ambiguous who the oppressors are, and it is inferred throughout that an innocent third category of enlightened human exists: “those who suffer with [the oppressed] and fight at their side” (Freire, 2000, p. 42). These words, taken from the opening dedication of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, invoke the same settler fantasy of mutuality based on sympathy and suffering.

Fanon positions decolonization as chaotic, an unclean break from a colonial condition that is already over determined by the violence of the colonizer and unresolved in its possible futures. By contrast, Freire positions liberation as redemption, a freeing of both oppressor and oppressed through their humanity. Humans become ‘subjects’ who then proceed to work on the ‘objects’ of the world (animals, earth, water), and indeed read the word (critical consciousness) in order to write the world (exploit nature). For Freire, there are no Natives, no Settlers, and indeed no history, and the future is simply a rupture from the timeless present. Settler colonialism is absent from his discussion, implying either that it is an unimportant analytic or that it is an already completed project of the past (a past oppression perhaps). Freire’s theories of liberation resoundingly echo the allegory of Plato’s Cave, a continental philosophy of mental emancipation, whereby the thinking man individualistically emerges from the dark cave of ignorance into the light of critical consciousness." (page 19)