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No-one Wins at the Oppression Olympics

May 9, 2018

A very well-respected, knowledgeable and erudite friend of mine who I shall call “Cabrita” (which will amuse them) posted a question on Facebook: “True or False: POC are treated horrifically in many countries; women are treated horrifically in all countries”.
My response was that I “lean towards True, adding – Disabled people are treated horrifically in all countries, non-heterosexual people are treated horrifically in all countries.  However, I would say that white women are not treated as horrifically as women of colour; I believe oppression is intersectional (as is life!) and access to money reduces the horror of the way one is treated, if one is defining horror on a sliding scale of physical/emotional oppression.  Oh lawks, there may be a blog in this…”

Well, they can’t say they weren’t warned!

The separation of identities into categories of oppression is very useful in creating public policy and law to deal with discrimination and bigotry, but it is not reflective of the human experience.  Cabrita is excellent at inspiring discussion, and this is the very heart of what the Elizabeth “Betita” Martinez, who identifies as a Chicana Feminist and is a founder of the Institute for Multiracial Justice, coined as ‘Oppression Olympics’.

It is necessary to have statistically verifiable data in order to create public policy and clarify campaign strategies.  However these statistics should not be used out of context.  They need to be applied to the real world and people’s testimonies are vital to a true understanding of the systemically racist, sexist/misogynistic, ableist, heteronormative, homophobic, transphobic, class/economic status-ridden society we live in.

Whenever comparative oppressed identities are brought up any discussion is derailed.  Voices of the oppressed are silenced by more privileged voices of the oppressed.  In such discussions you will often find that it is when someone brings up how, for example, the life of a black woman in the UK is harder than that of a white woman, the white woman will become defensive and accuse the black woman of derailing the conversation when in fact to deny the validity of the intersectional identities is a bigoted act in itself.

Yes, it is possible, and in fact is very likely, that someone who is oppressed in one way will be privileged in another.  I’ve written about privilege before, and this video is a very handy visual tool to explain it.

An inversion of the ideal of Oppression Olympics to Privilege Pedestals (I like the alliteration) would put the onus on those who hold privileges to address that privilege rather than those who are oppressed to continually fight for their right to be respected and accorded opportunities without facing bigotry.  Reverse the video and the ones in front are on the taller pedestals, better able to reach the healthiest fruit at the top of the tree, as opposed to those at the back who are relying on fallen rotten fruit on the ground.

It’s long past time those with privileges stopped expecting those who are discriminated against to do the heavy lifting.  It’s true that in any society no social advancement has ever been made without violent uprising, however much we may wish to whitewash (word deliberately chosen) such histories into the belief it was quiet polite protest that worked.  Check out the suffrage movement in the UK or the Civil Rights movement in the USA, for two examples.  The violence was (and continues to be) perpetrated against those who are discriminated against, yet somehow such violence becomes unacceptable when perpetrated in self-defence by the oppressed.

Check your privilege

Add to and/or remove from this card whichever privileges are relevant to your society; I’m in the UK, and write from my experience in this country.

Across the world in myriad ways discriminations are perpetuated; they vary according to society, but there is a commonality of experience which would show that there are root causes, such as religion doctrine or unregulated capitalism, which rely on oppression to keep a society unequal in opportunity and therefore malleable and easy to mould.  Women in Saudia Arabia being excluded from driving, girls in various cultures (Christian and Muslim) being subjected to FGM across the globe, disabled people in the UK being forced into proving their conditions again and again simply to be afforded the small allowance the welfare system now allows them, non-gender conforming people and non-heterosexual people being outlawed and murdered by both the state and the people in their countries such as Russia, Iraq and Iran, with a seeming impunity, people of colour in the US unable to trust their own police force for fear of being murdered at the hands of those supposed to protect them, and so on.  It’s all horrific.

When we talk of Oppression Olympics or a hierarchy of discrimination, we move the debate from dealing with the bigotry to an attempt to determine who is suffering more.  We become separated and pitted against one another, and this only serves to benefit the privilege and keep those privileges in place.

Flip the script.  Talk of Privilege Pedestals.  See how high you actually are, and recognise others may be higher, but many will be lower.  Until we are all on even ground, it is up to the privileged to do the heavy lifting and step in front of those who are being assaulted by discrimination.  Stop expecting the oppressed to do the hard work.  Stop dividing and allowing the hegemony to conquer.  Use your privilege for positive change, wherever you may be.

No-one Wins at the Oppression Olympics


From → Ideology

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