two thoughts on oppression spurred by show about race: changing the calculus on oppression and white feelings and reality08 Jan 2017
just finished episode #1701 of show about race titled will you be my black friend?. gotta be one of the episodes that has gotten me the most riled up. two thoughts are lingering with me from last night.
we need to change the calculus on oppression for oppressors
one of the key mechanisms oppression is putting the burden of progress on the oppressed group. poc having to teach white people that what they’re doing is supremacist. women having to teach men that their ways of talking, thinking, and being are sexist. trans people having to tell cis-folks that their ways of being are transphobic. and on and on.
as a result, it seems that oppressed folks and writers have avowed to not be the teachers of their oppressors. i am 100% on board with that. but that leaves a very obvious logical hole (one which i have not figured out how to fill, but i’m working on it). if it’s not in the oppressor’s obvious interest to end oppression and it’s not up to oppressed people to teach their oppressors that they’re being oppressive, but it seems that oppression benefits the oppressors greatly, why would oppressors ever do the work it takes to end their own oppression?
i think at least part of the solution is in a statement someone made during the show: “we have to change the calculus on oppression for oppressors.”
it has always bothered me (and i’ve written about it before somewhere) that oppression is most often framed as hurting one group and benefitting another. i think shifting this frame is a key part of ending oppression. some people do this, but i think we have to make it even clearer that oppression hurts oppressors as much as (if not more than?) the oppressed.*
i’ve only ever come up with what i think are weak examples, but we need way more. things i’ve heard of to date in the sexism frame:
- toxic masculinity results not only in gun violence, but in an incredibly high rate of suicide for men. case in point: men are dying because they can’t talk
- men lose out economically because their identity prevents them from making good economic decisions. case in point: why men don’t want the jobs done mostly by women
- conventional western definitions of masculinity prevent men from loving and being loved in ways that they themselves want (bell hooks, all about love)
we need more.
white feelings & reality
another part was this interchange where tanner basically posited that white feelings need to be tended to in order to end oppression. one discussant mentioned quoted someone who believed that most discussions about racism are racist because they center white feelings. i feel that, for sure.
but my friend grant quoted this line in his master’s thesis:
“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create reality.” - Stephen Duncombe, Dream: Re-imagining Progressive Politics in an Age of Fantasy
as much as i don’t want to center white feelings, it is obvious to me that white feelings create reality. we are an empire and when the people making the decisions up top have feelings, they reverberate. across the entire fucking planet. the president elect is donald trump and a single tweet from him when he was in his feelings almost triggered a nuclear arms race. in fact, it might have and we just don’t know it yet.
now, i’m not saying that poc are responsible for managing white feelings. i think there are enough accomplice white folks who can do this work at this point, but the question stands. will white supremacy go away as long as white feelings still revert to wanting to be on top?
*i realize this is a problematic thought, but i’m looking at decades of strategies that seem to have not taken us very far so maybe this is another thing to try.