Critical Vulnerability: An Imperative Approach to Educational Leadership

By Simmonds, Marlene Ruck | Journal of Thought, Spring-Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Critical Vulnerability: An Imperative Approach to Educational Leadership


Simmonds, Marlene Ruck, Journal of Thought


When I dare to be powerful--to use my strength in the service of my vision then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid.

--Audre Lorde, (n.d.)

I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.

--Audre Lorde, 1984, p.40

Proper to right thinking is a willingness to risk, to welcome the new, which simply cannot be rejected simply because it is new no more than the old can be rejected because chronologically it is no longer new.

--Paulo Freire, 1998, p. 41

[I am] not afraid to condemn the exploitation of labor and the manipulation that makes a rumor into truth and truth into a mere rumor. To condemn the fabrication of illusions, in which the unprepared become hopelessly trapped and the weak and the defenseless are destroyed. To condemn making promises when one has no intention of keeping one's word, which causes lying to become an almost necessary way of life. To condemn the calumny of character assassination simply for the joy of it and the fragmentation of the utopia of human solidarity.

--Paulo Freire, 1998, p. 23

Introduction

When the concept of vulnerability is discussed, often images of harm, threat and potential abuse are evoked. These images are not without substantiation, as one may be able to readily provide examples of past experiences in which individuals were placed at risk of physical, psychological or spiritual injury. For example, in Looking White People in the Eye, Razack (1998) examines the ways in which minoritized bodies were made vulnerable through colonial practices of brutality and exploitation. Smith (1999) also discusses the vulnerability of indigenous communities at the hands of Western researchers seeking to commodify Aboriginal knowledges and life practices. In each of the former contexts, thinking of vulnerability as a negatively imposed term is aptly appropriate as it describes the ways in which individuals were placed in danger and made susceptible to imperialist forces.

While this perspective of vulnerability is most relevant and advantageous to the discourse of imperial domination, it does not speak to the discursive practices of resistance that opposed these acts of violence. More importantly, vulnerability as the consequence of subjugation fails to provide a telling account of individuals who willingly and consciously choose to place themselves at risk in order to counter, diffuse and transform these detrimental conditions. In this regard, I speak of individuals like Nelson Mandela and Steven Biko who willingly endured imprisonment and torture in order to expose the genocide of apartheid. I also speak of the legacy of Kwami Nkrumah who despite substantial legal fines, unremittingly published The Accra Evening News in an effort to subvert the imperial myth of African inferiority and motivate Ghanaians to continue their pursuit towards liberation.

In naming, I would be remiss to forget individuals like Edward and Irvin Carvery who in conjunction with members of the Africville (1) Genealogical Society, publicly protested the demolition of the Africville community, the forced relocation of its citizens and the municipal expropriation of land by the former city of Halifax. The Carvery brothers' decision to speak out against the Africville atrocity placed them continually at risk of reprisals and often in violation of civic ordinances and statutes. Quite similarly, it is integral to recall the gentle efforts of Viola Desmond, (2) Hazel Roett, (3) and Calvin Woodrow Ruck (4) who courageously assumed vulnerable positions in order to contest domination and further the materialization of critical democracy (5) within their own communities. I sincerely question whether a passive connotation of vulnerability describes their passionate commitment and dedication to social change as this passive assertion fails to reflect the purposeful and strategic engagement that was demonstrated by each of these individuals. …

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