Yesterday, I read a blog published in the Huffpost some time ago, titled What Baby Elephants Can Teach Us About Human Freedom. It tells of the cruel ways in which elephants are trained in the circus, however, the takeaway from this story is of much importance as it relates to our thinking, and behaviors as human beings. The author writes that “The baby elephants are taken when they are young, a strong rope is tied around their necks, and attached to a secure pole. The baby elephants naturally try to walk away and are stopped by the rope. They pull and push and twist and turn and eventually figure out that they just aren’t strong enough to break free of their shackles, so they stop resisting and just stay where they are. The same thing happens over and over until eventually, when the rope is put over their heads, they no longer pull and push and try to break free because they know it is futile. The elephant becomes so accustomed to being held back by the rope, that merely the rope itself keeps the animal in check. If only they knew how powerful they really are. If only they realized that by the time they have grown up, even a rope “secured” to a pole can no longer contain them. Then they would know what true freedom is. But they don’t.”
When I contemplate on this story, and the implications behind it, it also brings me to back to a book I read titled, The Mis-Education of the Negro written by Carter G. Woodson. In the book, Woodson asserts that “When you control a man’s thinking you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.” Both stories resonate with me and my thoughts on the internalization of systematic oppression. These two excerpts align with Mullaly’s chapter on Internalized Oppression and Domination. In this chapter, Mullaly talks about self-harming behaviors that contribute to one’s own oppression. Sean Ruth writes that “the key to the maintenance of oppression, is what we call internalized oppression, or internalized control”. Mullaly goes on to say that this is where people come to believe in their own inferiority and their powerlessness to change things.
How often have we been in a situation where we could not recognize the power within ourselves? As social workers, it will be our responsibility to empower those we are serve, as to help remove those chains that are holding us back. Oftentimes, we doubt ourselves and what we are capable of. I am guilty of this myself. However, when I begin to see myself for who I am, and no longer through the lens of the dominant majority, I am empowered, because the narratives that those create for us, are meant to be challenged. I am fully aware of the herculean tasks that lie ahead of me. Most of us walk into this profession knowing there will be many challenges ahead, but I like to believe that we all will rise to the occasion and challenge these oppressive systems will great fortitude. No longer will we allow ourselves to remain stagnant because of the imaginary rope. We will continue to push forward, keep fighting, as change is right on the horizon.