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The guise of growth: the paradox of generosity

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Tue, 6 Mar 2012 02:20 GMT
Author: luam-kidane
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Luam Kidane is a graduate student and community organizer studying indigenous governance, transformative education and art as resistance. She is currently based in Toronto. The opinions expressed are her own.

As I sat and deliberated on the theme for this year, “Rural Women: Ending Poverty and Hunger”, the hypocrisy of white supremacy is impossible to ignore.

How can we speak of ending poverty and hunger while refusing to recognize the systemic conditions which make poverty and hunger commonplace for black peoples, indigenous peoples, and peoples of colour?

The United Nations (U.N.) bureaucracy, through its various task forces and action committees, has made public statements claiming to acknowledge that rural womyn are key contributors in the realms of food security and sustainable land practices.

What is missing from these grandiose statements is the lived reality of a peoples who are continually being dispossessed of land and resources under the guise of growth – otherwise known as capitalism.

The analysis around the theme “Rural Women: Ending Poverty and Hunger” has so far largely played on the global north needing to help the rural womyn of the global south by providing technology, resources and education.

The key thing to pick up on here is that this is not a project based in self-determination but rather another oppressive development discourse based on charity which posits oppressed peoples as inferior.

The language of the theme this year is not only paternalistic and demeaning but it is also dangerous because it is cloaked in a vocabulary of understanding and care.

The “humanization” of the oppressed womyn is based on the ideal of the colonial person-aggressive, divided from the earth, powerful through domination, individualistic and patriarchal.

Yet the paradox of this situation is that the oppressed are being told to embark on an infinite circular journey of inferiority.

Charity is often seen as an important and vital part of community building.

Generosity to those less fortunate than oneself is generally seen as a redeeming, virtuous quality. There are inherent contradictions in the idea of charity.

In order for charity to exist there must necessarily be acts of marginalization. Charity is often undertaken with, at best, a superficial acknowledgment of its problematic nature.

A full commitment to transformative change differs from a commitment to charity that does not recognize its inherent problematic nature, because the latter sustains itself on marginalization.

Various theorists have termed charity “false generosity” because it depends on the misfortune of others.

Even when this false generosity attempts to insert idioms like ‘don’t give a village fish, teach the village how to fish’ into the discourse of charity, to make it seem transformative, the agenda of silencing cannot be overlooked.

The idea that the village does not have the capacity to sustain itself and requires the aid of others creates a relationship of domination. One entity is needy and the other the need provider.

This idea is what maintains oppressive systems.

The problem is not really that the villagers do not have the capacity to sustain themselves but rather that the system cannot maintain its processes of domination if the roots of the unequal relationship are investigated and transformed.

This investigation, and a commitment to eradicating the roots of the problematic systems that necessitate charity, is what transforms false generosity into a transformative praxis.

A transformative praxis is grounded in self-determination rather than on continual subordination. A transformative praxis depends on those of us who are in the margins not on those who want to keep us there.

It is important that oppressed persons do not become placated by false generosity. We must demand our self-determination by any means necessary.

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