Friday, November 16, 2012

Why should non-oppressed people focus on oppression?

image is from here

As I look back over some of my posts and some of the themes I've focused on, I thought I'd write up something about "why": why this focus, why these issues?

From a pretty early age, the things that stood out for me were how some people suffer injustices systematically, and that those injustices didn't appear to register as such by the less-effected masses. The pain of enduring oppression--the depression, the anxiety, the exhaustion, the psychic, sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual assaults, the post-traumatic stress--were as real as blood, but were somehow not registering as important, not sounding any alarm in those not oppressed. The pain wasn't just unheard and unseen; when heard and seen it was ignored and denied, when not ignored and denied it was called something else, like "what she really wanted" and "what they deserve".

Seeing both disregard and contempt among whites and men, disregard for women and men of color, contempt for women and girls across ethnicity, is something that demands a humane response. Not excuses. Not denial. Not lie-telling about oppressed people.

If you scratch the surface of the intellects and psyches of enough oppressor-class people, you'll find unsubtle thought processes and distancing mechanisms that allow them/us to not feel and not think about and not know what oppressed people contend with and die from.

This blog exists to say, "What oppressed people experience is real. And once faced as reality, oppression calls us forth into action to create justice and liberation where there is none."

As a Jew, the stories of "the Good Germans" of WWII haunted me: how could ordinary citizens of a country stand by while other citizens were carried off, gassed, and burned into ash floating in the sky?

The question may be answered this way: How does it happen that the on-going genocides against Indigenous people worldwide demands no action at all from the non-Indigenous? How do the realities rape, incest, battery, trafficking, and poverty not call resource-advantaged people to stop these atrocities?

Because isn't the answer the same about the non-Jewish Germans as it is about the non-Indigenous and about men? Isn't it the case that whites, for example, express some variation of this: "I didn't know there were any genocides still going on." Don't men express, in one way or another: "I don't see rape and the rest as endemic and horrifying."

Once the horror, the terror, the atrocity is as real as anything else, one is called forth to act. Enough things happened to me early in life, and through my early adulthood, to make it impossible to not see the horror and not feel the pain.

I want other whites and men to work together in alliance with oppressed people, to take down the defences and barriers whites and men construct to stay separate from the conditions we don't live with so directly and daily, but are primarily responsible for. And to dismantle the institutions and transform the structures that hold hate and disregard in place. I want oppressor-class people to see oppressed people as fully human beings who cannot deserve the oppressive conditions. And to act humanely with everyone's life in mind.


  1. Great post, great argument! It's so wonderful you're focused on bringing light to these issues.

  2. I sometimes wonder how I became so interested in social justice, but you reminded me in this post when you brought it all back to the root: pain. Some people seem to be better at seeing others' pain. Why? How does one facilitate consciousness of pain in others? How can I teach true empathy?

  3. Hi Menirvah,

    Good question! I think this is done on a variety of levels: socially and interpersonally, at least.

    Part of the answer, it seems to me, involves connecting people to the pain in their own lives that they distance themselves from, or dissociate from. Easier said than done.

    Part of the answer is privileged people becoming aware of the horrors and hardships that non-privileged and oppressed people endure, often endemically and almost always systematically.

    For example, most people "get it" not just intellectually, that raping children is wrong and bad. But most people I know don't realise just how prevalent child sexual abuse, sexual slavery, and trafficking is, all of which involves the rape of children and also of women, perpetrated and protected overwhelmingly by men.

    Most people get it that genocide is wrong and bad, but don't get that genocide against Indigenous people globally is happening: yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

    So if these stories and realities can be shared in ways that bring privileged people in contact with the pain and the horror, but in ways that don't require immediate dissociation, I think that would help people become more empathic.

    Some argue that meditation brings people in contact with the Self that is not individual, and that empathy flows out of such realisation. But in my experience, it doesn't--and perhaps can't--bring us into awareness of harsh and painful realities kept from our view due to privilege and social position. The Buddha had to leave the confines of his rich home to see what was happening to people without wealth. We all would have to do this, in our own relative ways, it seems to me.

    Good luck with this teaching.

  4. "Part of the answer is privileged people becoming aware of the horrors and hardships that non-privileged and oppressed people endure, often endemically and almost always systematically.."


    I am always sickened by how most homeless people are ignored as they politely ask for spare change outside of grocery stores.

    Imagine what that must feel like?
    To be hungry and homeless on the street, and have people with houses, cars, and money pass you by. Insult to injury.

    Another insightful essay, Julian.

  5. Another poem for you...

    GUILD, 3 A.M.

    The twinkling
    yellow and white

    of the marquee
    are done. The
    money's made.

    Nothing but black-
    ness, and a persistent

    entering my sleeping
    bag as I try to

    a couple more hours
    of sleep

    sunrise and the
    sudden return

    people rushing past
    me and the
    averted eyes

    of The City:
    more partial to
    celluloid tragedies

    and a smart cafe after
    than a poor old man
    sleeping at their feet.

    Dylan Mitchell

  6. Thank you, Dylan.

    On this topic specifically, I heard about a conversation among some VERY privileged white folks. They were debating this, "Should we give money to the homeless people standing on the side of the road?"

    The next time I see them--and I may see some of them soon--I plan to ask, "Isn't the question, 'Would you want someone to give you change if you were homeless on the side of the road'?"

  7. And thank you, once again, for sharing your poetry with us. It speaks to me of the need for people with privilege and entitlement to apprehend and experience the world from the point of view of the oppressed.

    And to realize most of us hold places of privilege and marginalization, dominance and denigration. And we can use that knowledge forged from different political realities to become more compassionate and more collectively engaged in anti-oppression struggles.