I introduce Dr. Barbara Love, a consultant, coach, author, lecturer, climate change activist, organizational transformation specialist, and personal transformation specialist. Barbara is Professor Emerita from the University of Massachusetts College of Education and Social Justice Education.
I invited Dr. Love because her liberatory consciousness approach packs a lot of information in a simple yet complex model. My colleague Carole Marmell applied this model in blog #10. In this conversation, Dr. Barbara Love herself explains her liberatory consciousness, how she happened to develop it, and how it applies to today’s activism.
Dr. Love provides some of her background.
My great-grandfather left a plantation in Tennessee where people were held in bondage and he left with the plantation money box under his arm. He landed in Arkansas after the civil war. He bought land and built a community, built a school, and it was his idea that Black people had to do their work, build a school, to educate themselves. When people ask, how can you believe, how do you do this work, how do you keep faith? And my question becomes, how can I not?
The story from my paternal grandfather was of him marching with Marcus Garvey. They were Garveyites who believed in self-determination and in owning their own land. They raised their crops and sold them as a collective. Marcus Garvey was a Black man who preached self-determination for Black people.
Tell me about your work.
Part of my work at my first teaching job was to organize community dialogues, opportunities for people to come together and talk about issues of race and class and the intersections of those and how they impacted on our daily lives. I decided, okay, if we're going to have dialogue about race and racism, let's get real. So I tracked down the local head of the KKK to come join one of these dialogue groups. Well, we ended up developing such a great relationship because it's like he had to question all of the attitudes and beliefs and viewpoints that had informed his participation in the Klan. And I had to question my perspective of Klansmen as monsters. He turned out to be a human being.
Talk about liberatory consciousness.
We developed this social justice education program that was then the very first graduate degree program in social justice education in the country. I said for once my mortgage-paying work coincides with my life mission.
We studied the work of Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who framed the goal of education as liberation: the development of a critical consciousness that would enable people to rise above the ways they were embedded in oppressive systems that kept them thinking and living lives of limitation. And he thought that education ought to open one's thinking, education ought to open one's horizon, education ought to equip one with the skills to be able to analyze the world in which you found yourself and equip you with the capacity to figure out how to change that world. The world in which we find ourselves is characterized by oppression, by relationships of domination and subordination. And we can accept that as the way that it is or we can engage in a process of transformation.
In Brazil there is a very small landed aristocracy and a very large class of peasants, who have no land, who have no resources, and who are consequently dependent on the land and aristocracy for their well-being. And when you are dependent in that way and have no perspective outside that dependency, then you simply go along with that system and engage in the reproduction of that system.
As I read and tried to understand his notions of critical consciousness, it seemed clear to me that it was not just about a class analysis. It was ultimately about any relationship of domination and subordination. He said if we don't know our history, and if we don't try to figure out how to live outside that history that has been imposed on us, we will always be going through the back door, and if there is no back door, we will make one. Rules exist in our head as much as they exist on paper.
I asked Dr. Love to envision a world other than what we have now.
First I encourage everyone to develop their own vision of a world, characterized by liberation, and recognize that that's no static thing. I encourage everyone to keep working at the vision. And don't be discouraged by where you are right now, because we each are where we are, and we cannot be blamed for being where we are, we cannot be criticized and judged for being where we are.
Number two, it's a vision of a world that works well for everyone. A world that is characterized by equity and fairness and justice.
Number three is to develop the sense of empowerment, responsibility, accountability, allyship, to organize yourself, to make that happen.
What is your empowerment model?
The four points of this model are awareness, analysis, action, and accountability/allyship. On any range of issues, we will be at different points of awareness, but on a given issue, we will start with some awareness. We will do some analysis. We will decide on a course of action to take, and that course of action will expand our awareness. We are constantly cycling through these modes.
Our awareness is constantly growing as a result of what we're doing
Analysis is precisely looking at what we have
Action is about deciding what needs to happen
There is accountability to the vision
Let me say something about allyship. Often when people talk about allies, they are speaking as members of one group doing things on behalf of people in another group. I am presenting a different version of allyship. I do not want people working to eliminate racism on my behalf. I want White people, for instance, working to eliminate racism on their behalf, because they are offended by racism, because racism is contradictory to the world they want.
How do you apply the model to your own work?
With the work that people are doing now on understanding bias and microaggressions, the model applies perfectly. Very often in the work on bias and microaggressions, people want to know, what's the specific behavior and what do I do about that specific behavior? I can name a hundred different behaviors. And then for the hundred that I name, there's another hundred that I cannot name. And if you're depending on me to name the hundred behaviors that are offensive, then you'll never notice the hundred that I didn't name as part of this training. So the point is for you to develop the capacity to do the analysis yourself.
Dr. Barbara J. Love
Consultant, coach, author, lecturer, climate change activist, organizational transformation specialist, and personal transformation specialist.
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