Potent Whisper represents a voice not found in the BBC's reporting on the housing crisis, argues Julie Al-Hinai
According to Paulo Freire, in his Pedagogy of the Oppressed, when the oppressor moves to the side of the oppressed, they often bring with them their prior “knowledge” and think themselves more capable than those they have joined. As an example of this, last week the BBC Inside Out London, presented by George the Poet (generally considered a representative of the oppressed) certainly brought its prior ‘knowledge’ to our screens. While the programme was generally informative it did not reflect the real and lived knowledge of the people it highlighted as living under threat of the ‘regeneration’ of our council estates and the abundant social cleansing of inner city London. George the Poet did little to address this travesty other than to somewhat sympathetically present the BBC narrative on the matter.
Definitely not coincidentally, another spoken word artist, rapper and activist released his own documentary on the state of London’s housing crisis and just minutes before the BBC airing. Potent Whisper’s Rhyming Guide to the Housing Crisis tells a considerably more authentic tale. It is not with sympathy that he engages with residents, but in true solidarity and empathy. And in his inimitable style he narrates it in rhyme.
The authenticity was recognised in a recent Canary article. Writing on the documentary, they report,
Potent Whisper (aka Georgie Stephanou) comes from a single-parent, working-class family on a council estate in south-west London. It’s those politics and social issues that shape Whisper’s work. From Grenfell Tower to the NHS via the 2017 general election, his work is authentic and radical. But at the heart of what he does is the issue of housing estate regeneration; often referred to as social cleansing
Furthermore, the article exposes the admirable principles of this outstanding social commentator:
I was asked to present a documentary for BBC 1’s ‘Inside Out’ programme exploring the decrease of council housing in London. We worked with the producers for some months on the film and brought it to near completion. Unfortunately, I came to learn that considerable changes were suddenly being made without my knowing and it ultimately transpired that the BBC’s vision for the film was not aligned with ours.
Amongst other serious issues we felt that key housing campaigns and estates were being misrepresented, in particular the Aylesbury Estate. Our concerns were shared with the producers and we explained that we were not prepared to compromise on key points. We decided to step away from the film and took it upon ourselves to create our own content on this issue independently, telling the stories that we felt weren’t being told.
Freire declares that it is only when the oppressed recognise themselves as oppressed and become involved in the organised struggle for their liberation that they can begin to believe in themselves. And Potent Whisper facilitates this involvement in a rare manner. As Freire continues to explain, this cannot be a purely intellectual involvement but must involve action, not just activism, and must involve serious reflection to become a praxis.
Potent Whisper is a rare voice who evokes action, activism and serious reflection. And in doing so empowers the oppressed that he works alongside in turning the theory into practice.
A fine lesson for all of us purporting to be fighting oppression because as Freire declares, oppression is a dialectical conflict. The oppressed cannot exist without the oppressors and the oppressors cannot exist without the oppressed.
To reach a state of liberation for all, it will fall on the oppressed to liberate the oppressors by liberating themselves. It must not be left to the oppressors moving to the side of the oppressed with Freire’s idea of ‘false generosity’ as offered by the BBC last week. As Freire purports, the victims of oppression must be seen as subjects of their condition not objects. Potent Whisper entirely avoids objectification of the characters he interviewed. The BBC cannot be said to have done the same.
As Freire tells us, self-depreciation is common in the oppressed and is an internalisation of the opinion of the oppressors, creating a need to imitate them, to have what they have, rather than to seek true liberation of all men and women, and in so doing resolve the dialectical conflict. Potent Whisper in declining to complete the BBC documentary shows that he will not be bought out at any price. A true and sincere revolutionary who has the ability to demand change in a remarkable rhyming style.
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