There have been many resource guides, toolkits and education materials produced to assist with anti-discrimination learning and action (many of which you will find in the resource section). So why make this website and Toolkit?
Anti-oppression & Popular Education
“The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” (Audre Lorde)
A key principle in the creation and selection of materials for this toolkit is the use of an anti-oppression framework based on a structural and historical approach. In Europe, much of the education (both formal and non-formal) about differences amongst people, discrimination and prejudice focus on the individual. It looks at the behaviour and attitudes of individual people, with the purpose of helping us to understand our differences and learn more about each other’s experiences and cultures. However, it tends to ignore or undervalue systems of power and long-term historical perspectives.
For example, human rights trainers will find plenty of role-play exercises designed to help young people foster empathy for people forced to flee their countries because of war or natural disaster. It is much harder to find tools exploring the way more complex social and economic factors, such as the ways past and present systems of colonialism (neo-colonialism) underlie people’s necessity to flee.
This approach assumes that if we can just change the attitudes and behaviours of individuals, then organisations, institutions and society as a whole will also change. It is blind to the fact that institutions are more than just a sum of the individual parts.
On the other hand, both anti-oppression and popular education see individual people as part of larger systems, shaped by our context. They assume we can change our institutions, culture and other systems of power only through collective organisation and action. Sure, individual attitudes and behaviours need to change, but people are products of history, rooted in economic and other systems that makes us very unequal in our access to power, legitimacy and resources. For example, we can’t understand the development and continued reproduction of racial oppression without understanding and fighting the dynamics of capitalism and colonialism. The goal then, is to equip ordinary people to make change by acting together.
Some key components of popular education are:
– Understanding that learning starts with what is important in the lives of the participants
– Understanding that learning is a process that names and addresses power imbalances in the world, as well as in the collective group
– Understanding that the main goal of popular education is to create positive social change
“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”
(Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)
We think the traditional role of the education system in helping to produce inequalities (such as racial, gender, sexual and class-based) must be recognised and challenged. For example, the impact of school segregation on anti-Romaism.
Privilege and Power
Embracing an anti-oppression framework not only means recognising and challenging systems of oppression which disadvantage people, but also addressing the power and privilege we have which help to enforce them.
Privilege is usually invisible to those who have it because we’re taught not to see it, but nevertheless it puts them at an advantage over those who do not have it. By identifying privilege and talking about power, our goal is not to make people feel guilty but rather to take responsibility for a structural inequality.
Intersecting Oppressions and Privileges
“There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives.” (Audre Lorde)
Different social categories (such as gender, race, ethnicity, class, ability, age and sexuality) criss-cross to create specific forms of oppression and privilege. This concept, sometimes known as ‘intersectionality,’ says that it is not enough to look at one identity category (such as race or gender) or assume that multiple identity categories are just a ‘sum of their parts.’ For example, someone who is a Roma, woman, wheelchair-user experiences her gender, her racialisation, and her disability status all at once, not separately.
We believe that to truly seek to understand and change systems of oppression, we must acknowledge and explore how different aspects of our identities inform us as people and affect our experiences and chances.
CEE context & anti-Romaism
There are still many books, websites, materials and resources which detail all of the concepts outlined above. However, the overwhelming majority of them are specific to the historical and political contexts of North America and parts of South America and Africa, since this is where the ideas originated and where they have been most developed. Additionally, many of the materials are available only in English, or a few other languages.
In creating this Toolkit, we wanted to explore how the concepts and ideas relate to a central-east European context (Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania in particular) and adapt them where required. In the first place, this has meant translating materials into Bulgarian, Hungarian and Romanian – making them accessible to a much wider audience. All materials are also in English, so hopefully new adaptations and translations will be made. We also felt that, as part of the effort to make materials that are relevant to and inclusive of the interests of Roma people, it is essential that the translation in the Romani language should be provided as part of this toolkit alongside those in English and the official languages of the countries on which we are focusing.
This undertaking has meant looking more closely at the way history, culture and politics have influenced contemporary identities and experiences in this part of the world. Of course this is different in each of the focus countries (and also within them), but there are also similarities. Making visible the discrimination, oppression and injustice faced by Roma people is a big part of this. Anti-Roma sentiment (anti-Gypsyism, anti-tsiganism or Romaphobia*) is deeply entrenched throughout the region and indeed throughout Europe. Roma people and communities continue to experience widespread persecution and stigmatisation, a phenomenon which has been ingrained in European cultures for hundreds of years. Building awareness of the situation is not enough. Tolerance within individuals is not enough. We want to promote social change towards ending racism and Romaphobia!
* Check the Terminology page