Saturday, January 11, 2003


Several contexts have brought up recently the concept of agency. It has been very valuable in all kinds of history of oppressed groups to focus on what members of the group do to make the most of their limited opportunities instead of focusing on discrimination. But I'm enough of the generation that had to name discrimination in order to not feel that we deserved it that I don't want to lose a clear statement of how limited the opportunities were. I like Ellen Carol DuBoise's call (linked above) to think more carefully about agency. In some sense everyone has agency--years ago I taught Deborah Gray White's book Ar'n't I a Woman: Female Slaves in the Plantation South and loved it for how it emphasized how much agency was possible even in slavery. But in another sense agency is something we learn, a sense that we can do something to improve our own situations. We can be empowered to fight discrimination or to find strategies to improve our situation within it, both by role models and by ideas that let us visualize what it means to have rights.

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