Toward more empowering visions of empowerment

 

 

Human rights na my property

So therefore, you can’t dash me my property
Human rights na my property
Dey wan dash us human rights

– Fela Kuti

What is empowerment? Of yourself, of your community, of others, of the oppressed, the marginalized, the poor, the old, the young?

In our imaginings of empowerment, it is rather easy to forget that we are not giving power to the powerless, if anything, we are restoring power. We get used to the current and contrived powerlessness and forget it is not normal.

So we say the slaves and forget that enslavement was the process that created slaves. They were not born slaves, but rather people with an innate possibility of flourishing. Victims are originally and always people, they had to be victimized to become victims. We say low income and black in the same breath and nothing about the way we have lumped those terms together strikes us as unnatural.

Power was implied before it was taken, before there was need to empower.

Women are powerful in their own right. They did not need any power given to them. Non-white people did not have any different set of genes that made them less successful, it is in them just as it is in white people, were the conditions to be right. 

I imagine our potential as a seed. It is complete within itself – full of what it takes to reach actualization, which would be becoming a flourishing tree. In another sense it is incomplete- it needs the right nutrients, sunlight, water, weeding, pruning, to flourish. But the seed already has what it takes simply by being a seed. 

Before we can empower we must imagine ourselves, our creations, our communities and others as innately powerful, innately actualizing. Just look at the change in the perspective. One vision limits oppressed people to their labels, is stuck in the temporary problem and has no positive vision at all, no imaginative license to see these people as who they truly are. The other does.

Empowerment becomes a question of restoring people, organizations and communities into their right and rightful configuration. In thinking of this idea of empowerment as restoring the right configuration, I think of three keys aspects of power:

Identity: I think of this in terms of the self-concept of a people, their level of self awareness, their vision for themselves, their identified purpose. Sexism, poverty, racism, whatever other form of oppression become a distortion and trauma to the identity of people, limiting them. Empowerment is to reclaim identity.

Processes: I think of this in terms of the unquestioned domineering and exploitative relationships that exist; which traumatizes people’s ability to self-direct, organize and to protect their interests. Empowerment is to renegotiate these processes typically to change to partnering and representation rather than exploitation.

Lineage and ancestry: By this I think of the trauma that the silencing of voices and narratives, the stifled uses of language does to a people’s culture. Empowerment is to heal this trauma, to once again recreate the narrative, to once again proactively reinvent the culture as participants in a culture should be able to.

So were we to imagine a people as actualizing, trauma dismembers, and empowerment re-members. Empowerment is a getting out of the way to allow a people to follow their innate trajectory, to the most actualized future possible.

Who were we, or other people before trauma got in the way? And how do we get out of our/their way? How do we create the right circumstances to activate our/their innate possibility to flourish?

In the very first place – is our imagination even large enough to see people(s) as who they truly are, as great? Can we see the gap between who they currently are and their greatness as a fiction, as a distraction, and not as a solid, unchanging truth?

It makes a difference and it shows.

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