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In Teaching to Trangress, bell hooks tells a tale of the awakening of students. As she teaches them critical thinking, they are exposed to systems of injustice based upon sexism, racism and classism within the text and social structures. Old ways of being that were taken for granted are seen anew. Life, people and situations are perceived differently. Once this is comprehended, a decolonising of the mind begins to take place. ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ is the instruction here. It is an exciting process, but also chilling to note how paradigms of inequality are embedded within and without.

Her students report a great discomfort at this stage. “We take your class. We learn to look at the world from a critical standpoint, one that considers race, sex, and class. And we can’t enjoy life anymore.”[1] bell hooks response is magnificent. There is no denial or pushing away the discomfort, there is no turning back or away from the process. Instead she says,

“I respect that pain.”[2]

As I’ve worked hard to decentre a Pentecostal Christian framework from my own life, pain has emerged. It’s easy to stay with dogma and tradition, especially after formative spiritual experience that seemed to resonate with Christian principles. It’s challenging to critically evaluate and discard that which is flimsy, absurd and also deeply sexist. I still fear I’m doing the wrong thing by working to destabilise Christianity in my academic writing. Yet it is a process of self-examination and displacement, but with compelling awareness of deeper truth that I am unable to turn away from. I enjoyed the stability of religious belief for many years, but it became a cage. Ultimately, I believe that the clarity of critical knowledge is able to break through cages of mind and spirit. This is what hooks calls education as the practice of freedom. Yet it brings forth a lot of discomfort, even agony.

What does it mean to respect the pain of letting go of unjust religious teachings? Respect implies honour, and space for recognition. It means being truthful about how it feels. Respect for pain is an interesting concept to me. I usually try to escape hurt and anguish, but hooks is convinced that creating an open space for the pain of structural awareness is a fruitful process. Respect means treating the pain as a friend, valuing what the experience brings. It is holding hurt with gentleness and allowing it to inform and guide the process of becoming.

It means being open to Life, or something like that.

[1] bell hooks, Teaching to Trangress—Education as the Practice of Freedom (New York: Routledge, 1994), 42.

[2] Ibid., 43.

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