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Consciousness

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Consciousness
Odds are that you have, at one point or another, experienced oppression. Odds are also that you have been the oppressor at times, whether you’ve realized it or not. Pedagogy of the oppressed by Paulo Freire, does a clever and fantastic way of explaining how we’ve come to the duality of being both the oppressed and oppressor and how we can break away from it, as humanly as possible. In the attempt to break way from what we’ve been constructed to be, one most be conscious. Conscious of the way it acts, reacts, thinks and speaks. A state of constant consciousness is necessary to start the process of liberation and therefore become humanized.
How we think what we think and why we think it is not merely something that ‘just happens.’ As Frire (1981) writes, our thoughts have been conditioned by the situation in which they are shaped. We have been taught to think by an educational system that merely fills our memory and expects us to repeat these thoughts until they become part of our conscious and subsequent praxis. Nowhere in this process we are taught to examine what we’ve been taught and how to reach our own conclusions. The way we see reality has been crafted by oppressive forces whose goals are to inhibit us from seeking liberation.
Our reality and thought process creates a dialectic within us in which we are both the oppressed and oppressors. We have internalized the oppressive consciousness. The contradictions between being who we are (oppressed) and who we wish to become (oppressors) creates a conflict that must be present when examining our perspectives of life.
The first step is to understand our behavior as people who are both oppressed and oppressors. This step can only be taken by being aware of the dialectic we’re a part of. This contradiction, and the many others that continuously shapes us, is a result of oppression and violence. The process in which we are oppressed is mere domestication so that we can adapt to oppression and violence and subsequently be dominated. The awareness of these dialectics can be achieved by reflecting on our thought process. By “consciously activating the subsequent development of experience” we achieve reflection (Freire, 1981). The goal of reflection is liberation. The act of reflecting on our reality and the world so that it can be transformed is the ultimate liberation.
The constant process of reflection leads to a state of consciousness. “The deepening of the attitude of awareness characteristic of all emergence” is consciousness. This level of awareness, as mentioned, exists in a dialectic that ultimately lead us to understand “the determination of limits” and our “own freedom” (Freire, 1981).
Through this process of reflection and consciousness, I have become aware of my thoughts and actions. I’ve come to understand that I, like everyone else, have choices. Being aware of these choices in a way that stems from reflection and leads to praxis has lead me to where I am today: studying and living in New York City.
Growing up, I was that one kid that asked lots of questions and was rarely satisfied with the answers given. Now reflecting on my life, I realize that self-awareness and reflecting upon my thought process was the key element that allowed me to understand my circumstances, contradictions and immediate reality. Being aware of the choices I had, make my own if needed, and going by what I thought at that moment was right.
Being aware and trying to understand the meaning of my prejudices in the context in which they may manifest is a choice I consciously make. This act also leads me to understand the contradictions I reflect in my own being and help reproduce. This process is one that is dialectic, constant and transformative, as it is our reality, society and context.
This exquisite process has led me to a better understanding of words. What do words mean and how I use them. I have come to realize how the prejudices and stereotypes I was domesticated to believe and act as if they were true, shows on the words I use. I now understand that a commonly used term like denigrate has racial connotations in the context of this society that must be noted. Denigrate means “criticize unfairly; disparage” according to Merriam-Webster (2013). What most don’t realize is that origin of the word denigrate, which is Latin, means blacken, make dark. The word, in our reality, is used when someone treats you unfairly, i.e., to deny the importance or validity. Such a term exemplifies how the oppressor has rooted our consciousness in a way that even our words continue to make the oppressed the example of the oppressed. This word, the one I’ve used as an example, categorizes the oppressed in a category of less than so the oppressors can maintain their power and privilege as majority, as oppressors and as the alleged norm.
The term consciousness is not just a word, but also a verb that needs to be exercised as often as possible. This process of self and collective liberation must occur, and hopefully, that takes us closer towards the humanization Friere wrote about.

References denigrate. 2013. In Merriam-Webster.com.
Retrieved September 7, 2013, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/denigrate

Freire, P. (1981). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Continuum, 1987.

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