Talking about power

16 Mar

I want my Year 10 students to understand that power relationships are complex, that language has power, and that individuals can be empowered by the act of sharing their experiences.

To demonstrate this to them, I think I want to show them extracts of an interview with Hanna Jansen, author of Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You.   As noted previously on this blog, Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You is a text about the Rwandan genocide.   The depth of discussion that could be triggered by Jansen’s interview is epitomised in the quote below:

“She felt an urgent need to tell about her witnessing the murder of her mother and her brother, so she spoke about it again and again. It seemed to me as if she wanted to free herself from the terrible nightmares that drove her out of bed at night.”

In this quote, we learn about the deaths of a young girl’s mother and brother.  Here, the word “witnessing” positions the girl as weak, defenceless, powerless.  Indeed, she is characterised as a helpless spectator.  Yet, unlike her mother and brother, she is alive.  In this sense, she possesses power to memorialise and commemorate them.  Furthermore, it would be interesting to discuss the power the past has over the girl, and whether or not that power manifests in the same ways over the course of the girl’s life.

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