Have you ever asked why one group thats been a victim of discrimination doesnt automatically see how another group is suffering? Have you wondered why people in one group could actually participate in the oppression of another or at least ignore the desires for similar equality by the other group?
It doesnt seem to matter what the basis of a discrimination is class, race, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities and disabilities, religion, etc. An inability to see discrimination and oppression as a way of approaching life that suits a systems desire to eliminate threats to the status quo, functions to keep people in competition with each other, even fighting the liberation of an other, so that theres no combined strength to change the system.
There are different ways to look at the struggle to end discrimination and oppression. And their differences help explain why one oppressed group cant empathize with how another group is similarly affected by a systemic oppression built into a culture.
A first is to proceed as if a struggle is just to obtain rights and equality for ones own group. Interested in ones own freedom, theres little interest in changing much else in a society.
Its an Ive got mine, good luck getting yours. It ignores the concept of community, that were all in this together, and that what affects one affects all, that is, whats come to be called the intersectionality of oppressions.
Thats understandable given the falsehoods our style of capitalist culture installs in us and we, therefore, spend a lot of energy defending:
As a result, oppressed groups fight over whose oppression is worse. Then they split from a unified front against systemic oppression into groups that resent each other. Imagine how perfect that is for maintaining oppressions.
In addition, theres the hopeful belief that Ill be happy and fulfilled if I win the legal protections my group is lacking. So, I vote for whats good for my group alone.
Usually this is tied to the acceptance of the classist teaching that getting my liberty and equality is the key to moving up in the system. Ill enter a higher economic class and my money will protect me even more.
So, for example, if white, gay, men just end the oppression of gay people, their barrier to a richer life will be eliminated and they too can rise above other oppressed people with whom they dont identify. Theres quite a history of that playing out in extreme forms today.
As those who thought they had made it often attest, however, discrimination will still rear its ugly head. Any woman who thought she had risen about sexism by serving on a corporate board, becoming a professor, or even running for president, knows sexism is lurking in many forms.
A result of this limited approach, if it actually worked, could be that wed end one or more oppressions without improving the conditions that keep oppression going as a strategy. And since oppressions condition the minds of both the dominant and non-dominant groups, the ingrained concepts behind them such as gender issues and homophobia, will dog everyone including the newly liberated.
A second approach to ending discrimination is to see ourselves as a part of a community of people where all oppressions are related and therefore all need uprooting.
One of the results of the loss of a sense of community in America is an isolationism - which too is promoted by the power structure - that separates out our issues as if theyre unrelated to humanitys around us. Ours become all-encompassing so they must be brought up in every context where social justice is sought in fear that they will not get addressed at that very moment.
All this is understandable psychologically, for were thinking about people whove really been hurt by current discriminations. And until that is ended therell arise cries to pay attention to and not forget the real struggles and obstacles people have, cries that might derail any discussion.
Then, because weve all internalized all the oppressions, even those who are in oppressed groups will be limited by the lies of the oppressions. Theyll never be truly mentally free. It will always nag at them in some deep place.
Seeing the relationships between multiple oppressions, however, will be crucial to changing a society that wants to thrive on what it prefers to tell us is how people must be its human to need an enemy to look down upon, the trope goes. It will enhance our mental health in the light of the drone of what were being told and remind us that the oppression that came down on victims was never their fault.
In 1988, Suzanne Pharr wrote her first edition of Homophobia: A Weapon of Sexism to show the relationship of those two oppressions. These in turn are tied to our cultural conditioning about gender thats currently making transgender people lightning rods for societal dysfunctions in the form of transphobia.
And, as Jessica Joseph put it in Homophobia and Racism: Similar Methodologies of Dehumanization: Racism, classism, sexism, religious imperialism, homophobia and feral corporatism may look like individual poisonous plants, but if you dig under the surface, the roots are all intertwined. Pull on one, and it is firmly anchored by the root network of another toxic tree.
So, to really solve our problems of discrimination and hatred, the second approach is a necessity.
© 2017 Robert N. Minor
Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why Its So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why Its So Hard to Be Human; and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org
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