Understanding Oppression through Literature: Part 1

BB&GT RECOMMENDATIONS(2)In undergrad, I was blessed to attend a college with courses such as Philosophy of Sex and Domination, Native American Philosophy, Refugee Issues,African Diaspora and the World, and The Sociological Imagination. These courses, and readings that accompanied them, were vital in shaping my understanding of oppression and the limitless forms it takes around the world. Here are some of the picks that have stuck with me in the years that have followed. Feel free to add some other ones in the comments. This won’t be the only list like this because I have recommendations for days. Keep an eye out, because I’ll be putting one of these out every so often.

  • Discourse on Colonialism, by Aime Cesaire: These first three are books I’ve already recommended because I simply can’t get enough of them. If I ever did a PhD, the negritude movement would feature heavily in my dissertation (I’d find a way to make it fitpedagogy_of_the_oppressed). Discourse is a short read that is so densely packed, that it might as well be 100 pages longer.
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed, by Paulo Freire: This was one of the first books I read in college, and got me thinking about the role that education can play in oppression. For those who remember Dickens’ Hard Times, and the academic focus on “Facts, facts, facts,” Pedagogy addresses this methodology, titling it as the banking system which encourages memorization rather than critical thought.
  • Wretched of the Earth, by Franz Fanon: I couldn’t possibly recommend the last book without mentioning this one, which is a seriously heavy read. The Wretched of the Earth presents a psychoanalysis of the effects colonialism has on both the colonized and the colonizer. It’s powerful and smartly written, but be warned that it’s emotionally difficult to make it through at times.
  • The Power Elite, by C Wright Mills: As a first-year college student, I was rather new to the exploration of structural power dynamics. The Power Elite presented a trinity that formed the most powerful group of people in society. Reminiscent of the Clausewitzian trinity of the public, military, and government, Mills posits that the military, government, and big business combine to form in impenetrable triumvirate responsible for making the overwhelming majority of decisions in society. It’s a bit of a bleak picture, and there’s a debate to be had Woodsonabout how much agency middle and lower class people truly have, but it still an amazing read.
  • The Mis-education of the Negro, by Carter G. Woodson: As you can tell by Pedagogy of the Oppressed, so much my understanding of oppression is centered on education: how students are taught, and what is considered “worth” learning. Woodson provides much of the same, from a different angle than Freire. For those questioning why I attended a Historically Black College, this books explains it nicely– conventional Eurocentric curriculums fail to adequately teach the histories of people of color, leaving us feeling as though there’s nothing worth teaching. Learning history through a different lens not only made me much more interested in what I was learning, but also provided me with a historical context for my own people. That’s so much more powerful than people give it credit for.
  • The Combahee River Collective Statement: This isn’t a book, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. If anyone is looking for a primer on black feminism, as well as why there’s a distinction at all, this is what you need to read. It will particularly appeal to people who would like to greater explore the intersection of gender and sexual orientation. If you enjoy Audre Lorde, you’ll enjoy Combahee River Collective.
  • White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack, by Peggy Macintosh: If you haven’t read this by now… well I don’t know where you’ve been. Macintosh’s piece is so short and sweet, yet remains one of the best, and most easily understandable works I’ve ever read on white privilege. After understanding how Black Feminist Thoughtsimple privilege can be, it’s easy to draw comparisons to the privileges heterosexual people and others with privilege have over their counterparts.
  • Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment, by Patricia Hill Collins: I could very easily just put Patricia Hill Collins’ name here on this list, and tell y’all to read everything she’s ever written. This, however, is a great place to start, especially right after reading The Combahee River Collective piece.

What books shaped your understanding of the world around you? What did knowledge did those books give you/reaffirm for you? Put the titles in the comments so we can talk about them!

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28 Comments

  1. […] Understanding Oppression through Literature: Part 1 […]

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  2. […] Understanding Oppression Through Literature Pt 1: I’m hoping this becomes a long-term series. So many of the most impactful books I’ve read helped me understand the dynamics that contribute to oppression. Check out this list for my favorites. […]

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  3. YES I LOVE this list so much! This summarizes the American/Women’s studies grad program at UMD (well I was in History of Education but I took a lot of classes in those other two departments). The Patricia Hill Collins book is the best intro/overview ever, and I would also add bell hooks and some anthologies like This Bridge Called My Back.

    Finally – for younger readers, or as a really basic intro, I also love the anthologies “Colonize This!: Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism” and “Listen Up: Voices from the Next Feminist Generation”. These are two books that I routinely buy every year as graduation presents for my (12th grade) female students.

    Thank you for a wonderful post, looking forward to Part 2!

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    1. You went to UMD?? My mother went there! Thanks for the recommendations– some of these will definitely be making appearances on the next part of this list!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. YAY! Fear the turtle 🙂 & looking forward to Part 2

        Liked by 1 person

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