Freire claimed that “authentic humanity” has to be discovered, and moreover that it is impossible that it not be discovered.[ii] Of course. The “non-persons” exist, as people. Martí and Freire could not not know the imperialist claim was false. They were human. They knew it and they knew that they knew it.
One of the first things that struck me about Cuba was that they take seriously the task Davis dismisses: how to know what it means to be human. When I mentioned this in academic presentations, I got jeered. In retrospect, I don’t think I was understood. How could I be?
There is not that expectation where I live. True, plenty of people dedicate themselves to self-help. But the self-help industry is not about being better people. It is about pursuing happiness. It is not about being better. It is about feeling better – about yourself.
Sometimes, to know something is true, you have to live it. And sometimes you live it, and you don’t fully understand, but you know you’re empowered in some way, humanly. So, you keep on.
It’s what happened to Thelma in the 1990s film, Thelma and Louise: Two women claim their independence from dominating men. Their lives get hard. Louise asks Thelma if she wants to go back. Thelma says, “I don’t know about you, Louise, but something’s crossed over in me and I can’t go back”.
That’s what I heard Cubans saying in the early 90s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the US tightening the blockade. They were skinny, alone, almost universally mocked. I asked,
“Where are you going?” The answer: “We don’t know but we won’t turn back.”
Like Thelma: You find truth, you live it and you learn about human capacities. You continue. It’s more compelling than “happiness”, and more interesting.
Floridians can’t learn from Cuba. Progressive academics talk about listening to the oppressed and marginalized. They debate “epistemic injustice”. But they forget the need for a question, for doubt. Listening is not the issue. Respect is not the issue.
Academics can listen to cultures of resistance without learning about humanness if they think they already know, and if there’s no doubt, no question. The Second Declaration of Havana (1962) states that
“Cuba and Latin America are part of … the struggle of the subjugated people; the clash between the world that is dying and the world that is being born”.