August 12, 2017

Equality doesn’t feel like oppression.

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 7:31 pm by chavisory

There’s an expression that has become hugely accepted in lefty activist communities that goes

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

I wish we would retire it.  It’s always given me the heebie-jeebies and I had trouble verbalizing why for a long time. I’ve had parts of this post half-written for a while, but a cornerstone of my problem with it fell into place, unfortunately, this morning.

 

In the first place, I have never ever seen a good explanation of why it should be true.

I don’t feel safer or more secure at seeing fellow Americans abused and reasonlessly killed by police, or without safe water, or systematically denied educational opportunities, or having their voting rights suppressed, or disabled students of color funneled into prison.

Why should I?

Why should I feel oppressed at seeing fellow citizens treated fairly and equitably? Why? Why should I? Why should I feel oppressed at seeing people with different backgrounds than me well-represented in media? Or having a truly fair shot in the job market or decent housing or not having their children lead-poisoned by their drinking water?

There’s a presumption that achieving that would require taking anything from me that I consider worth having. And I don’t accept that as true.

Maybe you mistake what I value.

Nothing made me more furious when I was a kid than seeing other people treated unfairly and not being able to do anything about it. Nothing. I hated being treated that way and I hated seeing other people treated that way.

I don’t understand why I would look at it now and go “That’s fine.”

What’s true is that the sheer scale and pervasiveness of it has often been invisible to me for much of my own life.

Learning to see it doesn’t make me more okay with it. It makes me sad and rageful and overwhelmed at my own helplessness to just make it stop.

 

Furthermore, I do not trust people who tell me that they know better than me how I feel, how I will feel, or how I should feel.

People who are sure that they know better than I do what is going on in my head or in my experience of myself, that they have greater authority than me to tell me what that is, who won’t take no for an answer about it, have not been safe or trustworthy people.

I have very few actual triggers, and that is one of them. It has almost always been a prelude to escalating manipulation or a ploy to gain my compliance or an attempt to undermine my trust in my own intuition or agency.

It makes me suspect that what you’re actually setting up is a justification for making me feel oppressed or mistreated as an objective in itself, telling yourself that what you’re doing is necessary and okay, and that whatever anger or unpleasantness I feel will just be a natural consequence of “loss of privilege,” and not a reaction to anything you do.

When I see other people being mistreated and then get told “well this is a system that benefits you so you must agree with it,” I recognize that tactic, itself, as abusive and manipulative.

No, no I don’t have to agree with it.

 

This morning, as I was reading the coverage of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last night, I encountered this brilliant Twitter thread about how these straight, white, so-called Christian dudes brandishing tiki torches have not the slightest conception of what oppression really means.

And someone contributed that quote to the comments.

And it hit me.

It’s so coddling. I want them held more responsible than that, than just to say “oh this is just what it feels like to recognize your own loss of privilege.” You know what? People have more ability to question their own reflexive reactions than that. These are not toddlers with no ability to take perspective or adjust their sense of proportion.

“When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

No, it doesn’t.

No, these Nazi dingbats have no idea what oppression is like.

They have no idea what they are talking about. I will not validate their cluelessness and their false history and their rage at not being the only people who matter in the world like this.

I don’t think we should make their behavior understandable in this way. Plenty of other privileged white guys figure out how to come to terms with their loss of automatic dominance in the world without throwing Nazi rallies. I don’t think we should entrench the notion that this as just what it feels like when you see people who aren’t like you making marginal advances towards true equality.

Especially when these people have been explicitly encouraged with particular rhetoric to fear and resent and even take up arms against certain other groups of people, I think we should really hesitate to call their response just the natural emotional reaction to loss of privilege. I don’t want to give any cover to the idea that this is just what happens when people have to reexamine their place in the social order a little bit.

They made choices here.

It’s not just inevitable.

Unless the freedom to bully and oppress others was the only freedom you held dear in the first place.

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