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Examining the Internalized Oppressor Complex

July 23, 2010

BY MIGUEL MORIN, aka Rey Salomón of the ALKQN

“Every act of conquest implies a conqueror and someone or something which is conquered. The conqueror imposes his objectives on the vanquished, and makes of them his possession. He imposes his own contours on the vanquished, who internalize this shape and become ambiguous beings ‘housing’ another…” -Paolo Freire


This article was written as a result of lessons learned in the reading of Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. For the most part, the paper is a reflection on the work and is constructed around the theme of internalization – the theme that sounded to me the loudest, as a representative of the lumpen-proletariat of North America.

Throughout Freire’s Pedagogy this theme of internalizing the ways of the oppressor has rung out to me. But also throughout every day of my life – both within the concrete jungles of society that I was raised, and the ones now within the penal system in which I am being buried – I have noted this phenomenon and scourge amongst my kind: the lumpen.


Because of the example set by the oppressor, who is the possessor of power and wealth, the oppressed individual who is deprived of these things tends to aspire to become more like the oppressor himself. The oppressed individual would naturally aspire to become more of a ‘man,’ due to the model of ‘manhood’ projected to him by the oppressor, but this aspiration is mutated from its conception. As a result of this psychology, the oppressed individual more and more subconsciously or otherwise attempts to identify himself with the traits of the oppressor. In this move, the oppressed individual becomes unable to be clearly objective about his oppressor because he has embraced in himself those very same traits.

He may still be able to see himself as the oppressed, but because he now psychologically identifies with his oppressor, whatever quest he may endeavour towards true liberation will be hindered. Instead of striving for true liberation, he will ultimately strive to become the oppressor himself.

Furthermore, this identification (or adhesion) with the oppressor affects the oppressed’s concept of the ‘new man’ into one of a more individualistic nature. For him, the ‘new man’ is the new oppressor. Because they have adopted the traits of the oppressor through a process of psychological internalization, they are bound – as long as they continue to ‘house’ the oppressor – to reach a point of actually accepting themselves as oppressors who are only aspiring to attain their ‘rightful place’ upon the throne of oppression. This is why an oppressed person who is promoted to any position of authority often tends to be actually more oppressive than the original taskmaster himself…

The oppressed are afflicted with a fear of freedom. This fear will either lead them to desire the role of the oppressor or bind them to their own existent state of oppression. True freedom would actually require them to eject the internalized image of the oppressor that they possess and thence awaken to a more clear reality. It would threaten the ‘security of conformity’ they have grown accustomed to and force them to act more independently, responsibly and critically toward the contradiction of the oppressor/oppressed relationship.

The oppressed individual who possesses this ‘fear of freedom’ is often evident in his personal preference for gregarious friendship, rather than for authentic comradeship. Because of his inability to clearly objectivize the oppressor, due to his own adhesion to him, the oppressed individual will desire the oppressor’s ‘freedom’ to oppress.

This is the tragic dilemma of the oppressed: their having to suffer from the duality which has established itself in their inner-most being. They see that without freedom they cannot exist authentically, yet although they may desire authentic existence, they fear it. In this way, and thanks to the oppressor’s consciousness, which they have internalized, they are at one and the same time themselves and their own oppressors.

Some of the outstanding characteristic flaws of those oppressed individuals (who have internalized the image of their oppression) can be seen in the senseless violence that they inflict upon their immediate peers. This may be an indirect attack on the oppressor, where the oppressed see in each other the reflections of the internalized oppressor. Their tendency to buy into the oppressor’s myths such as that destiny, fate, fortune (inevitable forces) etc. are to blame for their condition (leading to an overbearing and sad grasp on an overall attitude of fatalism); their self deprecation which comes from their internalizing the oppressor’s opinion of them; and their feelings of impotence which are expressed in their blindly submitting to and sympathizing with the dictates of those in power so as to feel as if they themselves are a part of that controlling (and oppressive) power…

The oppressed are so insecure, due to their duality as beings who actually “house” the oppressor, where on one hand they wish to resist the oppressor, but on the other, they are so attracted to him. As such, the oppressors easily reap their desired results from a number of tactics such as conquest, divide and rule, manipulation, cultural invasion and such. Because the oppressor wishes to invade the consciousness of the oppressed (to more fully dominate him) and because as a successful invader in this respect he is subconsciously viewed by the oppressed as being superior, the oppressed become more and more alienated from even themselves and hence grow to want to become more and more like their oppressors.

“The oppressor elaborates his theory of action without the people, for he stands against them. Nor can the people – as long as they are crushed and oppressed, internalizing the image of the oppressor – construct by themselves the theory of their liberating action. Only in the encounter of the people with the revolutionary leaders – in their communion, in their praxis – can this theory be built.” – Paolo Freire

The oppressor uses a practice of teaching that births and encourages a passivity of the mind of the oppressed. From childhood, they repetitiously fill the oppressed’s mind with ‘deposits,’ creating in the oppressed an inability to critically see the world. Because this practice ultimately corresponds with the oppressed’s inability to objectively view the oppressor (because he has internalized the oppressor), throughout the oppressed’s adult life, he continues to fill his resultedly passive mind with mechanized slogans etc. which create in him an even deeper subconscious fear of freedom.

The humanist revolutionary cannot use the same practice of ‘depositing’ slogans etc. but must both present the oppressor’s slogans, myths etc. as a problem (so that he can then begin to eject those slogans etc. from within his own mind) and do so through the revolutionary practice of dialogue and solidarity.

One of the myths of the oppressor is the “ignorance of the people.” The scientific and humanist revolutionary must never believe in this myth. They must never attempt to “impose” themselves and their knowledge onto the people with the mind that they know and the people don’t. They cannot “sloganize” the people, but must enter into dialogue with them. To fail to do this would not only be a threat to themselves, where opting for the methods of the oppressor could in essence actually turn them into future oppressors – products of their very own internalized concepts and practices of the oppressors. Each time they say their word without hearing the people’s word, they become more and more accustomed to an illicit form of power, misleading themselves into acquiring a taste for ordering, commanding and subsequently doubting the people.
This could result in one of two ways with the oppressed. They will either become domesticated drones to the new concepts the “revolutionaries” have deposited into them, or they may eventually become frightened by certain words, phrases, etc. that the oppressor “housed” inside of them and pre-programmed them to fear. In the first instance, the “revolution” is for them but an illusion; in the second, it is quite bluntly an impossibility.

He who does not, or no longer, “houses” the oppressor is able to critically recognize his natural relationship or antagonism toward the oppressor. In such a position of clarity he is able to take up the struggle to overcome the contradiction of the oppressor/oppressed relationship and replace “class necessity” (preached by the oppressor), with “class consciousness.”

It is most important for the revolutionary leaders to be able to identify the difference between the oppressed who still “house” the oppressor within, and he who has fully overcome this contradiction. As fundamental as it is for the revolutionary to trust and have faith in the oppressed people, it is also necessary for the revolutionary to be aware of those oppressed people who “house” an image of an oppressor that is stronger than they themselves. These kind inevitably pose the potential threat of coming to actually denounce the revolutionary leaders, desert and even betray the cause at any given stage of their still “housing” the oppressor within.

The ability to detect the phenomenon of “housing of the oppressor” is vitally important in light of the fact that it is essential in an authentic revolution that the oppressed participate in the overall process. If they do this, without having fully discarded the oppressor within, the likelihood is that the revolution will ultimately be undermined.

Their aspiration to accumulate power will be one of an aspiration for revenge opposed to that of a legitimate aspiration for true liberation.

Furthermore – and this is a historical problem for so many “revolutions” – those oppressed people who are under the illusion that they have risen to power in a revolution, without ever having fully ejected the “housed” oppressor within, present the greatest threat of all to the overall aims of the revolution itself. Where before the revolution, it was the oppressors themselves who directly invaded the minds, culture etc. of the oppressed and thereby dehumanized and dominated them, the oppressors, now through their existence still being “housed” in the oppressed, indirectly threaten to eventually invade the revolution itself. Because the oppressor is still “housed” in the oppressed people of the new “revolutionary” society, the people themselves will tend to accept a power that more so reflects the repression they are accustomed to, having existed in and still being subconsciously submerged in the reality of oppression that still dominates their innermost being.

“Only as they discover themselves to be ‘hosts’ of the oppressor can they then contribute to the midwifery of their liberation. As long as they live in the duality in which to be is to be like, and to be like is to be like the oppressor, this contribution is impossible.” Paolo Freire

The task of the humanist revolutionary is to see that the oppressed become aware of the fact that as dual beings “housing” the oppressors within themselves, they cannot, nor can they ever be, truly human.

The oppressed must break this form of adhesion and internal “housing” of the oppressor in order to see himself in clear contradiction to the oppressor. Once he does, he can begin to consider the dehumanizing reality of the oppressor/oppressed structural relationship; and this change in his perception can be achieved through the praxis of revolutionary dialogue.

Michael Morin (R04862)
Florida State Prison
7819 NW 228th Street
Raiford, FL
32026 USA

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Eric Morgan permalink
    November 22, 2010 11:06 pm

    That’s good scholarship. I hope this email finds you well, Mr. Moran, thanks for your wonderful thoughts. Eric

  2. Terry milne permalink
    February 13, 2013 4:06 am

    An amazing grasp of Frier’s work — well done!!

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