oppression [uh-presh-uh n]
1. The exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner
2. An act or instance of oppressing
3. The state of being oppressed
4. The feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, anxiety, etc.
An older adult?
Living with a mental or physical disability?
Chances are likely that you have faced or encountered oppression in some shape or form in your lifetime. The institutions of oppression are both tangible and intangible; sometimes we can feel them and sometimes we can’t. I felt the oppression of poverty as a child whenever we went to the welfare office and had to report to a caseworker. I could smell the oppression of colonialism apartheid in the township of Soweto and in a hospital in Haiti. I can hear the sound of oppression whenever I hear music demeaning women and elevating violence. I can taste oppression when I visit one of the many fast food joints planted in low-income neighborhoods across this country. I can see oppression whenever I walk down the street and see people who are homeless right across the street from the White House. Oppression comes in many forms and is experienced in many ways. Simply “making it” in America doesn’t make you exempt from the heel of oppression.
In my experience oppressed peoples have had the tendency to compare oppression. I’ve seen folks literally try to demonstrate why they were indeed more oppressed than someone else.
I’m African American
I’m a woman
What you got? Most of us have something. Most of us can look through our lives and identify how they have been discriminated against because of a group they belong to or an identity they possess. Group membership may have its privileges, but it can also have its pains. The prominent institutions in American society; including faith based institutions, government, schools and civic organizations actively participate in oppressing people. Leaders across the spectrum have actively inflicted pain. They also actively participate in ending oppression. Oppression is not by happenstance, much of it is intentional and focused. The depth of polarities is maddening.
There is plenty of oppression to spread around. As I told my friend who inspired this post, I refuse to enter the oppression race. I have enough competitors in the race to stand still. In fact, our line would go around the field twice AND circle it again.
So why do we compare oppression(s) in the first place?
1. The desire to obtain power
2. The desire to gain political power
3. The desire to gain financial power
If you live in this world you see these three things happening everyday. Organizations and individuals profit from oppression without ever alleviating any of its symptoms. Social service agencies, NGO’s/non-profits, socially responsible corporations, the government and the educational system all profit from oppression. Oppression puts food on the tables of professionals and low/no income people. Oppression gets funding for civic engagement and gets individuals hired for jobs they otherwise may have not been considered for. Oppression kills and gives birth the new ideas and approaches.
Not all power is bad, its what we do with it that matters.
However, all oppression is bad. How oppression impacts people also differs. Whether a person eats or lives can lie solely on the institutions with the power to decide to fund or not to fund a project. Whether a person can marry who s/he wants can not be compared to the choice to have/not have a child. The undocumented student and the student in a decaying school system can not be compared. They have unique characteristics, however the systems saying yay or nay are not very much different. Comparisons tend to diminish the experience of one group in order to favor the other. Ideas of what the world looks like and should look like in the hands of oppressors affect us all. My lynching is no bigger than yours. My inability to fully and wholly choose is no smaller than yours. Let me own my experience, I am happy to I let you own yours.
Until we begin to really identify oppressions impact on every life and organize with a sense of holistic love for EVERY being; we will continue to fail in our pursuits for justice.
Who wins in a race of oppression?