Indigenous Education as a Means to Reconciliation in Canada. By: Nolan LongRead Now
Shmon’s Thesis and Argumentation
In a 2021 opinion piece for CBC News, Métis educator Karon Shmon argued that the stagnant state of the reconciliation process is, in large part, due to lack of education, and the sometimes-flagrant miseducation of the non-Indigenous Canadian population on the subject of Indigenous issues. She writes that the future of reconciliation is dependent on the proper education of Canadians: “helping individual citizens come to grips with Canada’s true history is the first step” (Shmon).
The importance of reconciliation is widespread in that it is not a matter specifically between Indigenous peoples and the federal government, but an encompassing issue which must involve all Canadian people in its being carried out. Essentially, reconciliation cannot be left to a vague “someone else” in the minds of individuals; the magnitude of some of the Calls to Action published in the final report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission lead some individuals to think that reconciliation is someone else’s job, or that it is a purely political matter that the government alone will handle (Shmon).
The widespread apathy and ignorance toward reconciliation results from non-Indigenous Canadians’ misunderstanding of Indigenous issues, and must be combatted with education. Shmon points out the tenth Call to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation report, which calls on the federal government to “draft new Aboriginal education legislation with the full participation and informed consent of Aboriginal peoples” (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2). It aims to achieve this goal by “providing sufficient funding to close identified gaps within one generation” (2). Most Indigenous individuals would interpret this as a call to close the educational achievement gap in primary and secondary schools which disadvantages Indigenous students as compared to their white peers (Shmon). Most non-Indigenous people, however, would likely interpret this Call to Action as closing the gap in knowledge on Indigenous issues in the Canadian education system, which leads to a lack of understanding of Indigenous history and reconciliation in the minds of non-Indigenous Canadians (Shmon). This interpretation of the tenth Call to Action illustrates the fact that many Canadians have a lack of understanding and confidence in their own ability to participate in reconciliation. This lack of knowledge is due to “the insufficient and one-sided view of Canada’s history presented at all levels of the education system” (Shmon).
“The majority of Canadians have gaps – first in knowledge, and second in understanding the impact of colonialization and oppression on the Indigenous peoples who live in what we now call Canada” (Shmon). These gaps make it challenging for people educated on Indigenous history to have difficult conversations with those who are uneducated on the subject, as they must first explain the entire history of Indigenous oppression before they can even come to the topic of reconciliation (Shmon). For this reason, early education on the topic which carries all throughout elementary and high school would establish enough knowledge about Indigenous peoples for reconciliation to be a universally (nationally) participated-in task. Other individuals who have already finished their formal education also need to take steps toward continued Indigenous-oriented education of their own, such as reading the TRC report and/or other Indigenous-related materials. Education as the first step to reconciliation would rid Canadians of the idea that it is not up to them, that they are incapable of being involved in the necessary change (Shmon).
Lack of Education on Indigenous Issues
The state of affairs between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, characterized by tension and general difficulty/misunderstanding, are founded in large part on how the educational institutions of the country teach Indigenous issues (Vowel, 175). That is, the false or romanticized aspects of Canadian history which are taught (and the true aspects of Canadian history which are not taught) culminate in a gross misunderstanding of Indigenous peoples within the settler population of Canada, which contributes to the state of discomfort and stagnancy surrounding reconciliation.
Multiple Calls to Action within the TRC report address the ways in which Indigenous issues have been taught in schools, and how they must be reformed in order to improve societal relations between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada, which is a component of reconciliation (Vowel, 175). This ‘tension’ between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians must be ended through educational relationship-building, as “reconciliation is a term that refers to peaceful coexistence” (Aitken).
According to Vowel, most of Canada’s high school programs (at the time of her writing) had no mandatory Indigenous Studies courses, and only six provinces even offered elective Indigenous Studies courses (Vowel, 177). Nor does elementary school cover Indigenous issues properly: according to a study done by KAIROS (Canadian churches working together for peace and justice), which analyzed the degree to which provincial elementary education boards had addressed the TRC’s Call to Action 62.1 in their curriculums, not one of the provinces is deserving of “top marks,” and only the Prairie Provinces even “passed” (177-178). Saskatchewan, which scored highest, still had not institutionalized the teaching of certain “basic aspects” of Indigenous issue education (178).
The general deficiency of proper education regarding Indigenous issues as described by Vowel speaks truth to Shmon’s understanding of the lack of confidence and understanding informing the absence of commitment to reconciliation among white Canadians. Where proper education is missing, so too is the will to reconcile justice in Canada missing; education is therefore one answer to the question of non-Indigenous complacency.
Progress to Further Restorative Education
According to a study into the Indigenous education policy frameworks of the provincial and territorial school systems, which arose in response to the TRC Calls to Action, there is progress being made in reforming Canadian elementary and secondary education systems (Wotherspoon, 1). Although this study critically examines the new policies, it does afford them some general praise: “our analysis of policy frameworks and related guidelines reveals considerable movement towards greater incorporation of Indigenous content in both school curricula and teacher education across the country” (16). The study also recognizes that education is the force by which Canadians can preliminarily address “damaging colonial legacies of schooling” (16). This is in agreement with Shmon’s article, saying that education is an initial step by which the whole structure of injustice against Indigenous peoples in Canada can be challenged. Though there are still issues in Canada’s schooling systems even after these initial reforms have been introduced, Wotherspoon acknowledges in the above quotations that they are changing for good.
The Effects of Education on Indigenous Issues
Perhaps the most preliminary action of reconciliation in the school systems of Canada is the education of teachers and instructors on the topics which need to be addressed in Canadian schools and universities. Teachers have the potential to facilitate change and promote the goals of reconciliation in classrooms (Aitken). An academic study was carried out and written on by Avril Aitken and Linda Radford, in which educators were presented with various readings describing the intricacies of Canada’s true history regarding colonialism and relations to Indigenous peoples and their disadvantage. The subjects were found to be widely undereducated on the topic, remarking on their own lack of knowledge on the subject as “completely oblivious;” but despite their own lack of previous education, most of the participants were motivated by what they read to “do something” (Aitken). They wanted to use their newfound knowledge on the historical and contemporary conditions of Indigenous peoples in Canada to be part of the change to that ongoing mistreatment and dispossession, either through passing on that knowledge to their students or by taking part in reconciliation in other ways (Aitken). Educators constitute one of the most important pieces of the system of reconciliation because they are the initiators of the subject in the minds of their students, who will then go on to be either complacent to the indecency of Indigenous peoples’ treatment within Canadian settler society, or active in the struggle against the ongoing injustice.
The result of education on Indigenous issues is a populous which is more committed to restorative justice, theoretically cementing Shmon’s argument that education is the first step towards greater reconciliation in Canada.
A separate research experiment and general practice was run by a partnership of Anishinaabekwe and white settler teachers which sought to educate Canadian teachers and students on Indigenous issues by challenging preconceived notions about colonialism and Indigenous concepts (Korteweg). Where it was implemented, teachers and students participated in Indigenous community learning, in celebrations, ceremonies, or protests; there was a shift in the group “towards cultural humility, embodied holistic learning, and empathetic development,” and the practice led teachers to “more Indigenous-respectful pedagogies and developing relationships with Indigenous students” (Korteweg). This result of the experiment/practice proffers the conclusion that the very existence of proper Indigenous education is the simplest, most essential component to actual praxis regarding reconciliation. Where the Aitken-Radford study theoretically proved Shmon’s thesis in the subjects’ desire to incorporate proper Indigenous issues into their curriculums (Aitken), the Korteweg-Fiddler study proved Shmon’s thesis in practice, as the implementation of Indigenous pedagogy resulted in actual small-scale acts of reconciliation (Korteweg).
The ongoing studies regarding education as a means to achieving reconciliation in Canada effectively prove that it works; where these often small-scale research projects are implemented, there is noticeable change in attitudes and actions regarding reconciliatory movement within the subjects of those studies. The effectiveness of these studies validates the necessity and call for greater educational reform in Canada to include widespread teachings about Indigenous concepts and reconciliation.
Aitken, Avril, and Linda Radford. "Learning to Teach for Reconciliation in Canada: Potential, Resistance and Stumbling Forward." Teaching and Teacher Education, vol. 75, 2018, pp. 40-48.
Korteweg, Lisa, and Tesa Fiddler. "Unlearning Colonial Identities While Engaging in Relationality: Settler Teachers' Education-as-Reconciliation." McGill Journal of Education, vol. 53, no. 2, 2018, pp. 254-75.
Shmon, Karon. "Education is a key component to advancing reconciliation." CBC News, 2021. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/opinion-karon-schmon-education-key-reconciliation-1.6218534
Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. "Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action." 2015, pp. 2. https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/british-columbians-our-governments/indigenous-people/aboriginal-peoples-documents/calls_to_action_english2.pdf
Vowel, Chelsea. "Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada." Highwater Press, 2016, pp. 175-178.
Wotherspoon, Terry, and Emily Milne. "What Do Indigenous Education Policy Frameworks Reveal About Commitments to Reconciliation in Canadian School Systems?" International Indigenous Policy Journal, vol. 11, no. 1, 2020, pp. 1-29.
Nolan Long is a Canadian undergraduate student in political studies, with a specific interest in Marxist political theory and history.
On September 15, 2021, the National Assembly of Cuba published a new draft of the family code. The most notable amendment to the family code includes an article which would legalize gay marriage. Thousands of grassroots meetings are currently being held to debate the amendment. The discussions are guided by judges and law students, who will process the information and submit it to the National Assembly by May. The National Assembly will then approve the changes made and submit the revised code for a referendum by the second half of 2022.
The amendment would reform the 1975 family code, which defines marriage as a “union between a man and a woman.” The push to amend the family code follows in the wake of the 2019 Constitutional Referendum, which strengthened anti-discrimination laws and almost resulted in the redefinition of marriage as “a union…with absolutely equal rights and obligations.” However, due to intense campaigning by conservative Evangelical and Catholic groups, the clause was scrapped. Despite the setback, Article 42 of the Constitution still prohibits discrimination based on sexual identity, “All people are equal before the law, receive the same protection and treatment from the authorities, and enjoy the same rights, liberties, and opportunities, without any discrimination for reasons of sex, gender, sexual orientation…” Although this doesn’t necessarily mean that same sex marriage is recognized, it does open the door for it to be legalized. The task of now redefining marriage is up to the new family code, and whether or not it will be ratified by the Cuban people.
Regardless of the setback, Cuba is still pushing forward in regards to gay rights. The early years of the revolutionary republic were marked by persecution towards sexual minorities. From 1965-1968, gay men were sent to labor camps called UMAPS (Military Units to Aid Production) as alternative to military conscription. The camps were demolished in 1969, yet in the years that followed homosexuality remained forbidden. The second half of the 1970s, however, saw improvements in attitudes towards the gay community. Workplace discrimination towards gay people was outlawed in 1975 and homosexuality was decriminalized in 1979. Attitudes slowly improved, but at the same time there were many mistakes. For example, the 1980s started off with the Mariel Boatlift, where thousands of gay Cubans, labeled as deviants, were forced out of Cuba. Despite the horrible realities of the Mariel Boatlift, progress was still made. In 1981, the Ministry of Culture declared that homosexuality was another variant of human sexuality and that discrimination towards LGBT individuals should be condemned. Nineteen ninety-eight also saw the last explicitly anti-gay law, the Public Ostenation Act of 1930, repealed.
Progress came at an even faster pace in the 1990s, and 1993 was a pivotal year for gay rights in Cuba, gay people were finally allowed to join the military and become members of the communist party. The age of consent for gay people was also made equal to that for heterosexuals. Finally, in 2010, Fidel Castro apologized for his persecution of gay people. By no means is Cuba a gay paradise, nor do gay people have as many freedoms as they do in America or Western European countries. Nonetheless, the situation for gay people is improving and in comparison to many of its neighbors and arguably some US states, Cuba is comparatively progressive. However, it’s always important to keep in mind that the road towards equity is not a smooth one, as shown in 1980 and in 2019, and at this point one can only wait with hope and bated breath that the amended family code passes.
N.C. Cai is a Chinese American Marxist Feminist. She is interested in socialist feminism, Western imperialism, history, and domestic policy, specifically in regards to drug laws, reproductive justice, and healthcare.
In Dialectics of Enlightenment Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer argue that “the basis on which technology acquires power over society is the power of those whose economic hold over society is the greatest” (121). Under economic forces that propel the expansion of capital and the commodification of everything, even the higher elements of culture are bound to be prostituted for capitalist gain. The warm experience of Chopin’s nocturne’s overflow the limits imposed by great halls like the Wiener Staatsoper; Rembrandt’s masterpieces debouch themselves over and above pilgrimages to the Louvre. Now the former can be experienced by a cartoon bunny on a screen and the latter’s anatomy lesson turns into a group of guys eating pizza and drinking Pepsi. Today Mozart is the background to Air France commercials and Van Gogh’s Starry Night a cozy case for your iPhone. Insofar as they enter the logic of profit accumulation, the desecratory and homogenizing violence mass culture imposes on art is justified. Even the most holy of classical art becomes subject to the logic of “mass reproduction” for the culture industry, just ask comrade Jesus on how many stupid commodities his false white face appears on (136).
Adorno and Horkheimer say that,
“The great artists were never those who embodied a wholly flawless and perfect style, but those who used style as a way of hardening themselves against the chaotic expression of suffering, as a negative truth. The style of their work gave what was expressed that force without which life flows away unheard” (130).
This is what the masterful socialist folk music of the great Victor Jara consciously did, as he sang in his classic Manifesto –
I do not sing to sing
The only way to break through the violent perversion of the capitalist commodification of art is through the medium which moves the people who can come to bring a dagger down on the heart of the whole system. The art which stems from the masses, revolutionary art, finds itself in specific moments uncommodifiable. It is shared, it is gripped by the masses, but it isn’t perverted and mass consumed by zombies. This is not the art which requires a passive observer to appreciate it. This art will not simply tell you what to think, what to feel. It will not simply make you laugh, or make you cry. This is the art which will move you. This is the art which will make you active. It is art whose function in specific historical conjunctures finds itself impenetrable by capitalist perversion.
This is art that arises out of moments when the desperation capital imbues on the lives of the masses reaches a turning point where they are forced to turn against it. This is the art which turns people to the street. This is the art which engenders courage, valor, virtue, solidarity. This is the art which, like Che’s true revolutionary, is “guided by strong feelings of love.”
The battle of this art against its commodification is a reflection of the battle of the masses against capital. When the masses lose, the art gets destroyed or absorbed. That is how we get Che’s face on fashionable T shirts, and Mao’s on eccentric liberal pop art next to soup cans. This is how we get the pigs of bank of Amerika doing ‘Masterful Moment Series’ episodes on Frida Kahlo, a communist to her last breath. Or Pete Seeger, a once favorite of the American socialist movement singing working class folk music at the 2008 inauguration of a president who, like those before and after him, perpetuated and expanded the American empire, bombing seven different countries, overthrowing democratically elected governments in others. Who could forget the consequences of these actions in Libya, where shortly after the US murder of Gaddafi, open slave markets would take place in what was previously the richest and most developed country in Africa (thanks to their socialist government). And yet, here was the great Pete, singing ‘this land is your land’ for this murderous administration.
The homogenization of art that occurs in its mass reproduction and commodification stupefies not just the art but the people too, this ends up “breaking down all individual resistance” (138). This is no longer repressive violence done in the open. This is not the violence Walter Benjamin speaks of in his “Critique of Violence,” where the focus is on the brutalities committed by legal institutions of the state. This is much more concealed, like a fox, it takes place in our ‘break’ times from work. It is engaged with as entertainment, not as repression. It is an unfreedom we freely buy as freedom. It is violence masqueraded as a gift.
When a society produces in such a fashion that all qualitative differences in labor are homogenized to express in its product exchangeability, it is only natural that the cultural life will reflect the tendencies of the economic sphere. If one wants a culture which does not subject all art and artistic expression to the will of the profit motive, if one wants to have the sort of culture which cultivates virtuous people and doesn’t stupefy them, if one wants genuine human freedom, and not simply the freedom to consume homogonous masses of products different only in minute details, then one needs to restructure society away from the profit motive and towards human need. Only in a society which prioritizes human life can the most creative expression of the human species freely flourish without the enchaining concern of whether it is a profitable enterprise or not.
Hokheimer, M., Adorno, T. Dialectic of Enlightenment., (Continuum: New York, 1993).
Leslie A. Gomez is a senior philosophy major in Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. She is interested in Marxist feminism and ecology.
The ‘Black Orpheus’ figure has been a recurring theme in Afro-Brazilian culture, being a South American depiction of the Greek myth of the Orpheus character. The Black Orpheus entered Brazil in the 1950s, when playwright Vinícius de Moraes released his play, Orfeu da Conceição, on the Brazilian stage (Dos Santos, 49). Later on, de Moraes’s work was adapted into a film by French director Marcel Camus (49). Present in both works was a dismissal of the reality of the lives of Afro-Brazilians, including their living conditions and their culture; the lack of context and preoccupation with artistic ideals in the work of de Moraes specifically informed the romanticization of Afro-Brazilians within the film by Camus (Naglib). The result is a sense of neocolonial occupation of Afro-Brazilian culture within both the play and the film, as they are both established on the idea of Black Orpheus. The European elements of the creation of the film and the false depiction of its Black actors enhance this idea of neocolonialism. Black Orpheus has been used as a subject for neocolonialism against the Black population of Brazil.
The beginning of the idea of Black Orpheus in Brazil can be found in de Moraes’s creation of the character for his 1956 script (Dos Santos, 49). In his work, which formed the basis for the later neocolonial film, de Moraes held the intention of creating a play specifically for Black actors in Brazil; however, the play was later denounced by Afro-Brazilian actor and director Abdias do Nascimento, who said the work’s contribution to social and racial struggles was minimal, as it presented a rosy view of the hardships of Black life in Brazil (Perrone). There is a continuous disconnect between de Moraes’s intentions and the actual reality of Orfeu da Conceição. De Moraes had also attempted to “universalize black music, breaking the limits of its popular realm, connected with carnival orgies and Afro-Brazilian religious trances, to raise it to the status of a sublime instrument of absolute love” (Naglib). But while he tried to universalize Black music, he effectively reduced it to a stereotype of what might be called ‘tribal music’ (Naglib). Though, according to Charles A. Perrone, de Moraes intended to call attention to questions of race in Brazil, he also created a narrative in which race was dismissed, as the characters “explicitly transcend their social determinations.
Through love and music, the black inhabitants of [Brazil] overcome poverty and isolation caused mainly by their colour. The intention was to transcend reality through the universality of the myth” (Naglib). De Moraes entirely reduces the actuality of the hardships of Black life in Brazil to a spectacle used in his play; the colonial notion is present in both this reductionism of Afro-Brazilian life, and in the attributing of the European idea of Orpheus to Afro-Brazilians as an emancipatory idea. Ultimately, while Afro-Brazilian culture is utilized within the narrative, it is not represented properly, and frequently lacks context.
De Moraes's failed attempt to portray Afro-Brazilian culture may not necessarily constitute a form of neocolonialism on its own, but his characterization of the Black personalities being liberated by their music, rather than them simply playing their music, is a form of reductionism which constitutes a sort of neocolonialism: the effective occupation of a cultural tradition of Afro-Brazilian culture by the former colonialists. However, this is only the case due to the lack of greater cultural context within the play; de Moraes wrote the play with the intention of showing the Black Orpheus character "transcend[ing] his condition and equal[ing] the gods" (Naglib). This is to say that de Moraes was at least trying to write a diverse and culturally analytical piece, but its shortcomings in that respect were the groundwork for the wholly neocolonialist piece that was the Camus adaptation (Naglib).
De Moraes's work is postcolonial only in that it superficially analyzes a tenant of a culture formerly colonized; he does not actual analyze the (post)colonial dimensions or effects on Afro-Brazilian music, which reduces it to a factor of his art, resulting in his own neocolonial occupation of that culture. The lack of greater cultural context in the original play then resulted in the caricature-like presentation of the Camus film adaptation, which is even more reductionist; where de Moraes reduced Afro-Brazilians to their music due to his lack of context, Camus profits off that lack of context by reducing the Black characters to an aesthetic of exoticism, thus continuing that neocolonialist feature of the postcolonial examination. In the failure to present the culture de Moraes was writing about properly, his work amounts to a colonial rendition of the culture in itself, which only further inspired Black Orpheus to be a neocolonial figure in the future. Essentially, de Moraes, despite any good intentions he had, failed to properly contextualize the culture he was presenting in the play, which led to backlash from that culture in Brazil, and a neocolonialist adaptation in the film that followed.
In 1959, the film Black Orpheus, directed by Frenchman Marcel Camus was released (Dos Santos, 49). The film was based upon de Moraes’s original play, and took great inspiration not only from its narrative, but also from its colonial intricacies: “Profiting from the absence, in the original drama, of contextualization, Camus’s film reduced the play to a caricature, turning the black presence in Rio de Janeiro into pure exoticism: a population who are poor but happy, sensual but naïve, who do not seem to worry about their social exclusion and dance samba all day long, even when they have to climb up the hill with a can of water on their heads.” (Naglib)
It is precisely this lack of context within the original play that informs the further misrepresentation of Afro-Brazilian culture within the film. When de Moraes saw the film, he denounced it as a drastic departure from his own work, and accused the film of presenting Brazil as merely exotic (Perrone). What is ironic about this denunciation from de Moraes is that he fails to recognize the romantic and exotic depiction which was present in his own work. It was his own miseducation on or misrepresentation of Afro-Brazilian culture as a “symbolic blackness not translated into any de-privileging of whiteness” that allowed the colonial artistry of Camus’s film to proceed (Perrone).
The film itself is entirely accurate to what de Moraes called it: a presentation of Brazil as merely exotic (Perrone). Indeed, in the same way that racial and social issues were erased within the play’s narrative, so too were they glossed over in the film adaptation: “poverty and social conflicts are enveloped in a romantic aura created by the narrative” (Dos Santos, 50). The lack of context in the play was used by Marcel Camus, as the film is merely a narrative which takes place in Brazil and exploits the ideas of Afro-Brazilians, without explaining or properly depicting their culture (Naglib). The film addresses the dispossession of the Black population of Brazil in an idealistic manner (Perrone). This is seen through the focus on music and romance which infiltrates the narrative and sedates any sense the audience may have about the poor living conditions of the characters.
The neocolonial reading of the film can be first informed by these misrepresentations of Afro-Brazilian people and culture, which reduce the reality of the situation to a surreal, or an ideal circumstance. Secondly, the film bears a neocolonial nature in its actual direction and production, which were almost entirely European; the French director and the Italian production amount to a European depiction of a supposedly Afro-Brazilian story which was originally written by a man of Portuguese descent (Naglib). The exploitative elements of production are present because of the fact that Brazil and its subculture were not accurately portrayed; because the film is Euro-based, the Euro-centricities are highly questionable due to the history of colonialism between Europe and South America (Perrone). The film is a neocolonialist work through its exploitation of Brazil for European gain: extracting raw materials of Brazilian imagery and culture for European consumption and profit.
Many Brazilians recognized, upon the film’s release, that it was neither a proper depiction of Afro-Brazilian culture, nor was it anything short of a neocolonial venture (Dos Santos, 52). “The issue of power in representations of nations is not a new question, and it has been a major issue in the postcolonial debate. Veloso has accurately called attention to the fact that, in contrast with the huge fascination that Camus’ Black Orpheus exerted over foreign audiences, the film was not received with enthusiasm in Brazil” (52). The distaste which Brazilians held for the film, and the positive reception of the film in foreign and colonial nations is demonstrative of the film’s neocolonial features, which include the extraction of raw materials in Brazil for consumption in the colonial countries. The wrongful view of Brazil which was shown in Black Orpheus was celebrated by European and North American audiences, which was a dramatic foreboding of the neocolonial nature of the film’s narrative being translated into actual neocolonial practice.
Placing the film into the context of other Brazilian movie ventures of the time, Black Orpheus was considerably out of place. In that the period from the mid-1950s through to the 1970s was a time where Brazilian films were enriched with Black themes (Naglib). While “Black Orpheus had an all-black cast…the film shows neither racial conflicts nor racial discrimination” (Dos Santos, 54). Therefore, it is out of place in the context of other Brazilian films of the time, which were inspired by the Left until its decline in the 1980s, which saw a depoliticizing of art (Naglib). Because of the film’s improper delineation of the culture, its European ties and profits, and its lack of positive reception consistent with other Brazil films, it is decidedly a neocolonialist film.
Black Orpheus is a work of neocolonialism in the sense that it continues the imperialist tradition of the world's Great Powers entering a poorer nation and extracting the raw materials for their own benefit. In this case, the raw materials were Black actors and actresses, Afro-Brazilian culture, and the land which was used for the film. Afro-Brazilian life was depicted through rose-coloured glasses, so that actual issues about race and poverty were not dealt with (Dos Santos, 50). By only showing romantic aspects of this culture, the filmmakers were playing to the interests of Westerners who would watch the film. The exploitation occurred in the false depiction of Afro-Brazilian culture by the European filmmakers, who were demonstrably ambivalent towards their art, and preoccupied with their neocolonial project.
It should also be considered that the depiction of Afro-Brazilian culture, romantic as it might have been, was demeaning in the sense that it made them out to be less than whites. As much as scenes of Carnival and music and the beautiful landscape may have been captivating to the film's white audiences, the depiction of characters as entirely hedonistic placed them relatively below the societal norms of whites in the West, thus opening the door for further neocolonial projects within Brazil, specifically in its Black population.
The role of the Black Orpheus character, through its renditions from de Moraes’s play to Camus’s film, has been to characterize Afro-Brazilian culture in false or absent contexts, and to delegitimize the Black population of Brazil by reducing them to objects of spectacle, who can be subjected to neocolonialism by other nations. The use of Black Orpheus in the country of Brazil has been to justify exploitation over a marginalized identity.
Nolan Long is a Canadian undergraduate student in political studies, with a specific interest in Marxist political theory and history.
The Distribution of Unpaid Labour with Women’s Movement into the Workforce. By: Aidan UlrichRead Now
During World War II, many North American women were put in the workforce for the first time. Middle-class housewives felt financial independence from their husbands and saw the opportunity of renegotiating the distribution of unfulfilling housework. After the war, the women who took up these jobs were expected to return to their previous lives as housewives; however, dissatisfaction with this change generated the second-wave feminist call for a return to the workplace. Since then, the number of paid working women has risen, but how did this movement of North American women into the workforce affect their part in domestic labour? The results were far from ideal. The movement ignored the conditions of racialized women which were fundamentally different from the white middle-class framing of the movement (Rio), and women are still left with the majority of unpaid labour alongside new forms of exploitation in the economy (Bianchi et al.). The second wave of feminism brought more women into the paid economy to alleviate household exploitation but failed due to the movement’s lack of intersectionality and a failure to foresee how the growing workforce would allow neoliberal capitalism to further exploitation.
The ideal outcomes of receiving a paid job failed in part due to many second-wave feminists treating the conditions of unpaid labour for white middle-class women as universal for all North American women (Rio). Many African American women were not burdened by unpaid labour; rather, they longed for the ability to do it. Black women were often paid domestic labourers who would have wished to act as caregivers for their own children and work in their own homes instead of being paid to work in the houses of predominately white families, but their economic position made this impossible (Rio). Framing unpaid labour as the locus of exploitation excludes the many women who have only known labour oppression within paid work. North American Black women often never faced a husband who would unfairly divide household labour, since economic opportunities meant many Black women could not get married (Rio). This trend continues today; in 2018, only 26% of Black women from the United States were married, while 46% of all women were married (“Black Women Statistics”). Having an income independent of a man is not used as a tool of independence from husbands for many Black women who could never be married or chose not to be. The large number of women gaining paid work had no effect on Black women’s part in unpaid labour, who were already working low-paying jobs (Rio). Examining the effects of “women’s movement into the workforce” is dishonest to a certain extent to the working-class women who were always exploited in the economy, and the only meaningful change of women’s work was for middle-class citizens. Not only was the movement built upon a universalization of white women’s experience, but the goal to equalize unpaid labour was not met for most women.
The middle-class women who moved away from housewife positions did see a more equitable distribution of unpaid labour in the household, but the results were underwhelming. When women’s paid labour participation increased, to some extent, men increased their part in household work in a nuclear family model (Bianchi et al.). A more equitable division of household labour is predicted to occur with women in the workforce due to the bargaining power narrative (Rio). This narrative predicts that paid work increases women’s economic power, ending the reliance on men’s earnings, which would give women the ability to bargain with husbands for a fairer share of unpaid work around the house (Rio). This model excludes the lower-class women and unmarried who are burdened with both housework and paid labour (Rio). Despite the exclusiveness of the model, overall trends point to less household labour for women and more for men. In 1965, it is estimated that American women performed 6.1 times the weekly hours of housework compared to men, and in 2009-2010, American women did approximately 1.6 times that of men, while married women do 1.7 times more than their husbands (Bianchi et al.). Married mothers from the United States are worse off, estimated to work nearly twice as much on housework when compared to married fathers in 2009-2010 (Bianchi et al.). Without a doubt the change is substantial, but considering the added labour of a paid job, there is a double burden of labour for the women who maintain the majority of unpaid work. For the middle-class women who moved into the labour force, the sizeable changes in unpaid labour distribution did not live up to the intended outcomes of the movement, and further still, many of these middle-class families would find themselves in worse conditions resembling that of the lower classes.
North American middle-class families now usually require two working parents to support a family, meaning that women have no choice but to work paid labour, and they often lack the time to do household work, similar to the overburdened conditions of racialized women since before the second wave of feminism (Rio). There has been falling average household incomes since 2000, meaning more paid work is required of both parents in a nuclear family, leaving little time for household unpaid work, even with an equitable distribution of labour (Craig). Rather than a source of liberation, women in the workforce turned into a necessary site of additional exploitation for many women who would wish to have more time to do the unpaid work around the house. The larger labour force has only increased exploitation as women fought to be exploited alongside men rather than fight against the system itself. (Azmanova). Women working paid jobs as a method to fight exploitation does not address the deeper problems of the capitalist market, and because of this, only serves to solve the gendered distribution of labour, thus ignoring the alienating and unfulfilling work itself. (Azmanova). Nuclear families with two working adults often now rely on cheap commodities and hired labourers to assist in the household work, but this requires money, further entrenching the need for more paid working hours to cover the costs, causing a cycle where the “needs of the time-poor households are met through the labour of the money-poor” (Huws). The distribution of household labour has thus changed form with parts of it opened to the market for people, usually racialized minorities, to perform tasks that households no longer have the time to do. (Huws). Unpaid work is still very gendered and unequal (Bianchi et al.), and when the labour is done by the market as in the case of paid labourers, they are usually underpaid (Huws). The movement of women into work did not bring about a fair distribution of unpaid work and failed to change the nature of the labour itself.
Universalizing the conditions of white middle-class families and failing to reach into the deeper problems associated with capitalist labour meant the issues of household work were not solved, only partly improving the gendered aspect of unpaid work. Lower-class women, largely composed of marginalized minority groups, have had to work throughout history in overburdened households (Rio), and for the middle-class women who acted as housewives, moving to paid labour brought a lower portion of housework, but still left them with an overburden of work overall (Bianchi et al.). The methods of second-wave feminism dealt solely with the distribution of flawed labour, failing to address the problems with the labour itself (Huws). A new approach is needed to assist the overworked modern individual and consider the different conditions of women with an intersectional lens.
Families should continue to work towards a fair distribution of unpaid labour, but this alone cannot help the time-poor families who cannot do the much-needed housework after a full-time shift, nor can an ungendered distribution help single-parent families and unmarried individuals who must look after the work themselves. Bargaining out of housework made some important gains in unpaid work distribution, but the nuclear family model has increasingly shrunk, making distributive tactics more irrelevant than ever. A new organization of unpaid labour itself must be proposed to go beyond the temporary respite given with equitable work distribution, and the solution must be applicable to all low-class citizens, racialized groups, and adults outside the nuclear family model.
Many economically stable people seek market alternatives to perform household labour for them since they lack the time (Huws), but this option is not affordable for most households. Market alternatives could successfully lessen labour burdens if they are made affordable, and the labourers working in other households are not performing exploitative labour themselves. This may be achieved with a public-sector labour force that could perform unpaid labour in a short amount of time using specialized skills and modern technology. This transformation of household work must meet two conditions for it to improve upon current conditions: labourers in the field must be paid well, and it must be readily available to all households. Activist Angela Y. Davis believes such an institution would be difficult to form under the conditions of capitalism, as industrialized housework implies expensive subsidies to make it affordable, and it is overall an unprofitable enterprise (Davis 223). Government subsidies would reflect a recognition of the importance of unpaid labour, which it undoubtedly is since it makes up over half of Gross Domestic Product (Craig). Unfortunately, all that is not profitable is often disregarded in a capitalist economy; for a subsidized non-profit labour force to succeed, there also must be an ideological change in what constitutes valuable labour.
A productive change in economic thinking must entail an equal appreciation of all work, but this contradicts the profit motive of capitalism which presupposes a workforce of individuals raised with unpaid labour and sustained with free household work. Raising children takes massive amounts of time and money, and it is extremely valuable to the economy since it creates labourers who will later work in markets. The value of childcare must also be reaffirmed and acted upon with childcare supports, or even socialized childcare. These programs require a large public sector without a profit motive which is opposed to neoliberalist goals of privatizing labour wherever possible, implying a larger struggle is needed against neoliberal ideology. A new focus on meeting collective needs rather than fulfilling profit goals would alleviate the overburdened workers of today.
With public institutions performing unpaid labour efficiently, the problems of overworked women can be solved. Renegotiating housework brought only minimal gains for middle-class women whose unpaid workload was somewhat lessened, but with falling household incomes, both parents in nuclear families were forced to work outside the house and now lack the time for unpaid work. These conditions are mirrored by the working-class individuals throughout history who felt the overburden of work. Equitable distribution of housework applies only to a select family model and does not propose a solution for the overwhelming labour burden of modern times. Socialized assistance would provide an end to inefficient individual housework with the recognition of unpaid labour’s value, and it would bring a non-exploitative institution to increase leisure time without excluding racialized groups and lower-class people.
Azmanova, Albena. “Empowerment as Surrender: How Women Lost the Battle for Emancipation as They Won Equality and Inclusion.” ProQuest, vol. 83, no. 3, 2016, pp. 749–776., https://www.proquest.com/docview/1848814138?accountid=14739&forcedol =true&pq-origsite=primo&forcedol=true.
Bianchi, S. M., et al. “Housework: Who Did, Does or Will Do It, and How Much Does It Matter?” Social Forces, vol. 91, no. 1, 13 Sept. 2012, pp. 55–63., https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/sos120.
“Black Women Statistics.” BlackDemographics.com, 3 Sept. 2021, https://blackdemographics.com/population/black-women-statistics/.
Craig, Lyn. “Coronavirus, Domestic Labour and Care: Gendered Roles Locked Down.” Journal of Sociology, vol. 56, no. 4, 24 July 2020, pp. 684–692., https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783320942413.
Davis, Angela Yvonne. Women, Race and Class. Vintage Books, 1983.
Huws, Ursula. “The Hassle of Housework: Digitalisation and the Commodification of Domestic Labour.” Feminist Review, vol. 123, no. 1, 10 Dec. 2019, pp. 8–23., https://doi.org/10.1177/0141778919879725.
Rio, Cecilia. “Whiteness in Feminist Economics: The Situation of Race in Bargaining Models of the Household.” Critical Sociology, vol. 38, no. 5, 7 Dec. 2011, pp. 669–685., https://doi.org/10.1177/0896920511423724.
Aidan Ulrich has been interested in marxist thought from a young age and is currently attending the University of Saskatchewan. Aidan is majoring in political studies.
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About the Midwestern Marx Youth League
The Midwestern Marx Youth League (MMYL) was created to allow comrades in undergraduate or below to publish their work as they continue to develop both writing skills and knowledge of socialist and communist studies. Due to our unexpected popularity on Tik Tok, many young authors have approached us hoping to publish their work. We believe the most productive way to use this platform in a youth inclusive manner would be to form the youth league. This will give our young writers a platform to develop their writing and to discuss theory, history, and campus organizational affairs. The youth league will also be working with the editorial board to ensure theoretical development. If you are interested in joining the youth league please visit the submissions section for more information on how to contact us!