False Generosity: a reason why we like our oppressors?

This article was translated by Yonca Sarsılmaz One of the main issues with false generosity is that, through it, the oppressors wash their hands from their sins. They feel good with their “generosity”. This feeling allows the oppressors to continue the system of injustice. In this way the oppressed are in need of their false […]

False Generosity: a reason why we like our oppressors?
False Generosity: a reason why we like our oppressors?
  • Yayınlanma20 September 2023 06:34

This article was translated by Yonca Sarsılmaz

One of the main issues with false generosity is that, through it, the oppressors wash their hands from their sins. They feel good with their “generosity”. This feeling allows the oppressors to continue the system of injustice. In this way the oppressed are in need of their false generosity. Thus, the oppressors buy peace and serenity.

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In his seminal book Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire talks about the concept of false generosity. Freire is a well-known Brazilian pedagogue. Since the 1970s, he has had a decisive influence on anti-oppressive education and methods. In this paper, I will focus on this book and the concept of false generosity. Then, focusing on the Kurds, I will address why we see our oppressors generous and may like it.

According to Paulo Freire, the main question of humanity is the question of humanity and inhumanity. Namely, in the first place, people want to see and show themselves as human beings. The main goal of people is to get rid of dehumanization. However, dehumanization does not arise naturally. Dehumanization is the result of a system of injustice, exploitation, and oppression. For this reason, the main goal of the oppressed is to free themselves from oppression. In this struggle, the members of the dominant group can also help the oppressed, but it is very difficult. Since the oppressors do not have the experience of oppression they do not know how being oppressed looks like. The oppressed are not aware of their position. They believe that their position of domination is their right and fair. This is why Freire often portrays the help of the oppressors as false generosity.

What is false generosity? False generosity is the efforts that do not go against the system of oppression but mitigate its symptoms and consequences. For instance, instead of ending poverty, establishing a foundation to feed the poor. Instead of ending oppression, helping the oppressed live their culture. False generosity is false not because it does not help people, indeed it helps. It is false because it sustains the system of oppression. It nourishes the unjust system. It makes the oppressed indebted to the oppressors. That is, it allows the oppressed to be inhuman (we have said that, according to Freire, the essence of life is humanization). According to Freire, true generosity must be directed against the system of oppression. The system of oppression must be destroyed. True generosity should be liberating.

One of the main issues with false generosity is that, through it, the oppressors wash their hands from their sins. They feel good with their “generosity”. This feeling allows the oppressors to continue the system of injustice. In this way, the oppressed are in need of their generosity. Thus, the oppressors buy peace and serenity for themselves. That is why many rich people establish charity foundations and help the poor, the sick, and the vulnerable. But they do not spend a cent to destroy the system that is creating the conditions of vulnerability and domination. For them, this system of oppression must continue so that the oppressed are beholden for them.

In the case of the Kurds, the same system works. Many Turks seem to help the Kurds. They often go to protests for us, set up foundations to promote culture, sometimes give scholarships to Kurdish students and so on. Sometimes they even pay big prices for this. They get imprisoned, beaten up, exiled and lose their jobs. In this way, they accommodate the Kurds and soothe their consciences. But they rarely do anything against the system that oppresses the Kurds. They rarely do anything against the Turkish omnipotence. Because if this system collapses, the Kurds will get liberated, they will no longer need the oppressors’ generosity, and the oppressors will lose the good feeling of being generous.

Of course, this is two sided. The Kurds have an answer to this generosity. This system of false generosity creates a sense of indebtedness among the Kurds. A true indebtedness for a false generosity. Reciprocity (good or bad) is a natural thing. It is a very natural human reaction. Therefore, Kurds often give up their very basic needs and rights just to please their oppressors. They want to pay their debt. That is why Kurds are always willing to give leadership positions to Turks, even in their own political parties. They always think about how not to break the heart of their generous oppressors. 

According to Freire, however, the oppressed should not integrate themselves into the system that is ruling them. They should work to demolish that system. Paulo Freire says, however, the oppressed are often afraid of freedom. They are afraid of being saved from their oppressors. This is because they internalize the identity that the oppressors prescribe for them. This identity is engraved in their subconscious. Freire says that the oppressed must critically evaluate all their actions and thoughts and free themselves from the identity imposed on them. And if a member of the dominant group wants to help the oppressed, they must accept the leadership of the oppressed. They should not lead or represent the oppressed. Otherwise, the system of oppression will not disappear. Under the rule of a member of the dominant group, this system will continue.

Briefly, when thinking about help and support, we should not think about how big or small the help is. We should think about the direction of the support. We should try to understand whether this help is false or true generosity. Namely, is it against the system that makes me in need of or indebted of the helper, or is it liberating me from their help?