Archive for September, 2011

September 29, 2011

On the institutional and the personal

I was recently reading another article giving your basic rundown of anti-oppression 101. On this occasion it was about the distinction between white people and whiteness. While I think it is hugely important, in doing anti-oppression work to remain focused on fighting systematic/institutional oppression, I also think that we should never forget that at the heart of these systems and institutions is *people*.

We like to talk about how race, gender, ability, etc. are social constructions, which is important for debunking essentialist talk usually used to perpetuate oppression, but we forget that societies are made up of individual human beings.

Why am I pointing this out? Because I wanna say straight out: if you have privilege and are not actively struggling and resisting the system that privileges you, then you are personally and directly responsible for the oppression of other people. How can I say this? Clearly not every white person is a bad person, or every man a bad person, or ever straight person, or every cis person, or every neuro-typical person are bad. Except… Oppressing people is bad. If you oppress people then you are bad. Classic syllogistic logic. Of course, no single human being is all bad. There are good and bad things about all of us.

To be very clear, note how I said if you are not actively resisting the oppressive system then you are oppressing people and, thusly, bad. Why? Because it is the default of this society we constitute that if you are white, you are racist. If you are straight, you are heterosexist. If you are cis, then you a cis-supremacist. And so on. This is the default. Saying you are not these things is not enough if you continue to benefit from the system. Activity is necessary because the default position is oppressing other people.

While we all may not be able to escape the privileges arbitrarily conferred upon us, we can all do more to work towards a more equitable, fair, and just society.

We are all responsible. We are all complicit. We are all guilty. And we all will continue to be until oppression ends.

September 24, 2011

The oppressive dialogue of choice

I’ve been meaning to write this post ever since I had a really intense debate with a friend regarding the nature of choice.

I’ll say straight off that I did a really bad job of expressing my position. Partially because I didn’t have the right vocabulary and words to express it.

My friend has always been a great advocate for the importance of choice in life. She believes that everything in life is about choice. She also, as a consequence, believes that we ultimately are responsible for our lives, since everything is about the choices we make.

Now my friend is intelligent and knows there is inequality in the world and that everyone does not have the same choices available to them. However, her position is that there are always choices that people can make to better their lives. To survive. I’ll certainly grant her that.

However, when I read stories like this, where people, in order to survive are eating cow shit, I think the entire argument is flawed and prevents real change from happening. I’m sure for every person eating cow shit to take their medication there are those who are holding on to their dignity as human beings and dying because they won’t eat cow shit to survive. I want to live in a world where no human being ever has to face a choice like this.

Pointing to a few exceptional people who have not only managed to survive but thrive in oppressive conditions and saying that they made better choices helps absolutely no one. It is very similar to how the model minority myth has continued to be used to oppress both Asians and other people of colour. How it is used to erase the realities that people are living in. How we make the oppression of marginalized people their own fault, because they could have made better choices.

I did agree with my friend that there are always choices, but I disagree that no one is trapped by circumstances. The people of Swaziland are trapped. They have the choice to eat cow shit so their HIV medication works or die of AIDS. What else can you call a situation where there are no good choices available other than being trapped by circumstances?