Psychology of Oppression

9/04/2013 04:47:00 AM sendtheroths 3 Comments

*Note: This post was actually written one week ago although it was submitted today. 

It is difficult to work on the home front of the deadliest and most underreported war since World War II and stay neutral politically or socially. I am not the same person I was two years ago.

Amethyst (me) talking to some boys from our Peacemaker
Program. The program reintegrates former child soldiers
back into their communities.

I don’t see life the same way. I don’t see institutions the same way and frankly, I’m struggling to see people the same way.

When people think of poverty and violence, it is often thought about one-dimensionally: most often in the physical and most obvious state that poverty and violence rears itself. It is a natural human-tendency to oversimplify matters so that we can understand it all. As a result of oversimplification, society (both you and I included) has offered miscalculated judgment calls on matters regarding poverty and violence.

I speak of poverty and violence, because they are usually linked together. Where there is poverty, usually crime, war or other forms of violence exist with it.

Miscalculated judgment calls lead to stereotypes, generalities and prejudices that cause irrational partisanship based on personal loyalties. In my lifetime, I’ve seen institutions address matters only two-dimensionally: physically and spiritually. If you take into account my Pentecostal background, it would make sense why I’m using this as an example.

Example 1
Say a wealthy individual or group wants to help the poor. Perhaps a spiritual encounter causes one to recognize his/her excess and own spiritual poverty, which pushes that person or group to
discover a ‘lost and dying’ world outside of their sphere of life.

The individual or group uses money to fix or at least improve the spiritually and physically impoverished. They genuinely want to see lives improved and changed and share the “love” that they experienced through their own encounter with God. Unfortunately, they remain unaware of their subconscious tendency to see things from the ‘winners’ perspective and a paradigm of life which revolves around inbred value and social systems that have lead them to this place in life.

A lady who is fleeing from Kibati, a village that became
the front lines to the recent battle north of Goma. 
The ‘poor’, who have been oppressed for a number of social, economic, historical and political reasons have probably lived in their state for more than one generation and have also constructed alternative worldviews than their 'helpers' based on their oppression.

Here are just a few feelings associated with oppression:
• Inferiority
• Shame
• Guilt
• Hopelessness
• Anger

Unaware of how aware their constituents are with their power. The ‘helpers‘ begin trying to fix the conditions of the poor.

This can look like building a bathroom.
This can look like casting out a demon.
This can look like teaching a trade.
This can look like donating toys for the holiday.
This can look like funding an indigenous project.

The view from the harbor in Goma at dusk.
It looks different, but the root is that the ‘giver’ wants to fix something about the receiver.

There’s a backlash.

Inferiority, shame, guilt, hopelessness and anger manifest themselves in a way, which can be easily misunderstood.

The ‘helper’ can feel that his or her time, money and efforts are taken for granted, taken advantage of or even abused. This in-turn rears its head at a subconscious value-system, which exalts hard work and self-sufficiency as a natural, normal and expected way of living for respectable people.

The oppressed, on the other hand, can have a value system that is based on solidarity and interdependence. Along with that, a vast list of reasons to believe ‘the system’ is against them and not for them.

What is the system? Everything outside of their community, including their ‘helpers’.

So, in a good Christian attempt to ‘help’ the poor. The ‘helper’ actually accentuated feelings of inferiority and oppression by reminding the ‘helped’ that they need to be fixed by outside influences.

Moreover, the ‘helper’ feels more disconnected to the poor than ever before, because of the clash in value systems.

My Personal Convictions
Although my Congolese comrades would never believe me, I know that my family came out of
It is common to see battalions cheering on the road
as they psych themselves up to head to the battlefield. 
the oppression of impoverished North America: Puerto Rico. And somewhere along the lines, I’ve seen my family switch from one side of the fence to the other.

It’s hard for me to understand why the people who should sympathize with the oppressed, because they were once one of them, actually turn their backs on the oppressed even more than everyone else.

My only conclusion is that although wealth and power (they might as well be synonymous) can change a person’s situation. It cannot change a person’s identity. It cannot change the deepest innermost feelings of how they feel about themselves and how they measure themselves.

As long as people see themselves as inferior and oppressed—they’ll behave in an inferior and oppressed manner. I see this in my family, I see it in the Congo, I see it in the Church and throughout the world.

People who are trying so desperately to prove that they aren’t what they’ve convinced themselves they are.

Andrew took this picture a few hours after a bomb landed near
Virunga Market. The trajectory suggests that the bomb was
launched from the neighboring country. 
But there is a breaking point to oppression. The bloodiest conflicts in history were fought and won by oppressed people: the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the slave revolts, the various wars and occupations between Korea and Japan to name a few.

Goma, Congo (DRC), the city that I live in has been bombed at least 11 times in the past three days. There is considerable evidence that the bombs are not coming from within the borders of the Congo. The tensions between Congo and two of its northeast neighbors have risen immensely over the past ten years.

Allegedly, these other nations are getting rich off of the minerals coming from Congo (DRC). 

Allegedly, these countries are funding proxy wars to keep the government in DRC unstable and easy to use.

Allegedly, allegedly, allegedly.

Congo’s history is immense. It involves the whole world and yet the whole world knows nothing about it.

We had to cancel operations at the Goma Training Center today, because of people protesting, barricading the road, holding dead bodies and even stoning United Nations vehicles. They even slaughtered a lady from a certain unpopular tribe here.

Another beautiful Congolese sunset.
And yet, the world will make the uninformed judgments that Congolese behave like animals; killing and slaughtering each other over tribe. What a horribly misguided judgment call. 

They are angry because they are oppressed.

I think that this sheds a whole new light on Jesus’s words in Luke 4:18: The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…

What does setting the oppressed free look like?

I’m convinced that it means changing the socio-economic-judicial-policital-religious systems that were implemented by a minority of the world for the benefit of the minority of the world.

I'm just trying to figure out how . . .


  1. Wow, this is deep. I'm just now starting to realize this because of my relationship with Clifford.

  2. Great post Amethyst. You hit on some serious misconceptions about alleviating poverty. This post, along with the book you sent, "When Helping Hurts" has challenged my way of thinking. I pray God continues to shed wisdom on how to effectively be a light. Let us keep wrestling with the questions concerning "setting the oppressed free". Let us continue to look more like Jesus. Praying for you.

  3. Wow, thank you for genuinely sharing about your experiences. It's hard to find a missionary that doesn't just say "oh the mission field is wonderful, God is good!" Which of course is true, but there are so many other things that are going on if only we intentionally look beyond the results we wish to see.

    Very enlightening, will keep myself updated now.