So . . . Brit mentioned there may be some interest in this topic so here goes:
Can we talk about oppression? Try to break it down, get our heads around it, and figure out constructive things we can do to dismantle it?
My own journey is distinctively Unitarian Universalist, and as a religion we pretty much can’t stop talking about it. I’ve been fortunate enough to have participated in/facilitated the “Welcoming Congregation” [UU’s GLBT anti-oppression resource/process] process in two congregations and to have participated in or attended multiple anti-racism trainings, workshops, process groups, and the like. Thus, I have quite a few print resources on hand as well as personal experiences that may be helpful. I am by no means an expert.
My thinking, with the moose-like pace, there may be some good discussions, interactions, and learnings that we could share.
Today I’d like to put some concepts up for consideration.
What exactly is this thing, oppression? I see it as a complex cultural system that privileges (provides unearned benefits) to members of some groups and targets or “others” non-members along irrational, arbitrary lines (I’ll call them identities). Oppression is marked by psychological, psychic, and physical violence. There are multiple lines of oppression: race, class, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, physical ability, religion. Certainly others can name more.
It is desirable to dismantle oppression because the system is hurtful and unjust. It is difficult to dismantle oppression because it’s chaotic, pervasive, and powerful mechanisms exist to keep it in place.
Many people have multiple identities and are simultaneously privileged and oppressed. For example, a white man may be from a working class background and gay. A Black man may be heterosexual and Christian. Etc. This makes oppression work complicated, as each individual may be understandably preoccupied with problems associated with his or her own identities and he or she may have limited understanding of the experiences of people with other identities.
A person is situated in his or her identities more or less randomly. You don’t ask to be a Black lesbian, it happens. You don’t ask to be an Asian working class person, it happens. So the key is for people to understand their piece in the system.
If you’re privileged, you really have a responsibility to use your privilege to lift others up (essentially break privilege down and build up equality instead). This is my opinion. No, you didn’t ask to be born into privilege. But taking it without doing something about it, that is not ethical.
Education is essential in coming to terms with oppression. The system, institutionalized inequalities, is learned and can be unlearned. There are common elements of oppression [for example, defined norm, invisibility, stereotyping, blame the victim, etc. (Suzanne Pharr)] and particular histories and mechanisms [for example, slavery & Jim Crow (racism), lack of accessible facilities (ablism), lack of employment security (heterosexism/gender identity), etc. These are examples and by no means a comparison or placing one thing over another]. You have to understand both the particulars and the general to be an effective advocate.
Oppression across all identities is hurtful. It’s important to acknowledge the pain and to work to end the oppression across multiple lines. This piece can get a little sticky!
The person affected is the best situated to tell you what oppression looks like. For example, if you’re White, it’s a bad idea to tell a Black person what ‘real racism’ is.
In my view, shame and guilt are entirely counterproductive. This is loving and joyful work. It is also hard and painful work. But it’s worth it.
So, my thinking is to go through the materials that I have and present them (probably in no particular order), see what others think of it, and basically have free-wheeling discussions to see what we can learn from each other and teach one another. So with this stream of consciousness done, the floor is yours!
PS – Has anyone else had anti-oppression training? If so, I would love to coordinate topics.