the philosophactivist

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Oppression and Organizing Against Obliviousness


I'm not going to lie. I am feeling extra-angsty right now after reading multiple articles about people using racial slurs, anti-gay slurs, and a lesbian and her mother being killed by her partner's father in Austin. I have to also say that I just did a needs assessment for a non-profit addressing discrimination and the importance of diversity trainings....sat in on a talk by Grace Lee Boggs (an organizer for the past 70 years, author of The Next American Revolution and co-founder of the Boggs Center), went to a radical book fair and sat in on a discussion about solidarity networking, and the list goes on and on for the past couple of weeks. So needless to say I am primed for a discussion on oppression...organizing...and obliviousness.

First and foremost...let's address oppression and its many forms. Because I really think that people don't know that it's not always overt. Oppression (my makeshift definition) is that lack of power...that sense of hopelessness because of that lack of power...the inability to "succeed" or sometimes even survive or cope... or that sense of having to overcome an invisible barrier that is inevitably linked to your powerlessness and another person/group/organization/system's powerfulness. When we are oppressed it is because our own well-being....our livelihood is not in our hands. We no longer are autonomous (if we ever were in the first place). We can't do for ourselves. And our self-dignity is not preserved. 

In this country there is this feigned and unwritten rule that EVERYONE can do for themselves. This sense of meritocracy..which I coin, Ameritocracy. Everyone gets what they deserve if they work hard enough. Everyone has the tools to overcome their challenges and at least be middle class. Everyone has access to everything if they only try hard enough. That is what this country sells to us and other places around the globe. Globalization-- the exportation of our warped economy and, with it, western ideals, values or lack thereof are an outgrowth of our confidence in how this country (and western countries) think and are run. 

But wait! Obviously we don't all buy into this...there are people who know that this is complete and utter b*s*, right? Why don't they say something? Hmm...let's dissect this quickly. Who has voice in this country? Not the poor...not immigrants...not most people of color....let's just say that the "marginalized" have no say. So, basically there are these allies who are these rich, liberal artsy/progressive- type people connected to the upper echelons of society who can at any point decide whether or not our oppression is a "good cause." Great.Allies.

Then there are these lobbyists and policymakers who basically operate in the same manner but with much more power to create legislation who can address our oppression...if and when they so choose (you know, if they can a)fit it in their schedule b)get some votes by pulling some rich people heart strings). sidenote: no I am not demonizing the rich...I'm just saying that a lot of wealty people's interests are not in line with those of the poor ---obviously. 

So back to this voice thing...yea, we (and by we I mean the majority of people) don't have one. And the principles and values of this country are not necessarily the voice of the actual majority. In this country where we assimilate into the thinking patterns and value systems of an elite's easy to not wear our oppression on our sleeves and to buy into this whole "i'm middle class" thing and be spoon fed that we are equal. *Shrugs. The media says so...our politicians say so...oh wait! Some of us live in overwhelming poverty, have no jobs or healthcare,etc. Whoops! Let's just...let's just move on past that population shall we..

.nothing to see there...

So obliviousness. It comes in so many forms doesn't it? There's the blatant kind where a person or group of people is just not informed or educated on the issues...then there's people who misinterpret the issue. And eople who conflate the issue. And people who don't want to think about the issue because it's too hard, too close to home, or they actually don't believe it exists because they have never experienced it. Then there's the stealth obliviousness where a person truly thinks that they are addressing oppression in some way when they are really perpetuating it...and are oblivious to that. Then there's when people use hate speech or language that perpetuates oppression and fail to see the connection to larger systemic oppression and how it perpetuates itself within us. Then there's the all-in-all obliviousness to who we are as an individual and our actual place in this society which honestly is in some way no fault of our own since we are expected to not really care about this and work our fingers to the bone and into an early grave. (told you I was feeling angsty,folks). 

Yes so it's complicated. Don't you fret. I will talk about solutions in a bit. Let me finish opening up the last bit of this can of worms...

So know, organizers sometimes get a bad rap. Why are we raising all this awareness? Why do we want people to be conscious? Why can't we just let people sleep under their nice warm blanket of obliviousness? Stop speaking out. Bite our tongues. Stop agitating. To this I say...isn't there enough silence? Like Audre Lorde said..."Your silence will not protect you." People think that in not saying things, that this will cease their existence or at least keep them from thinking about it. But...hello...yeah hi...this is oppression. It is constant.  We feel it daily. Trudging on through it is an antiquated notion from colonialism. We aren't chattel anymore, we've gotten a promotion from pack mule to cog. (At least some of us, anyway). 

A lot of times we feel really isolated in our oppression...even if we know it's because of an identity group that we belong to, are associated with, or involuntarily labeled as. When individuals come together to talk about their problems outside of work,etc. this is powerful. It is even more powerful when "critical mass" is formed--tens, hundreds of people realizing their marginalazation or oppression due to x,y,z and strategizing and coming up with solutions for how to alleviate and ameliorate this unwarranted foot on their neck.

 So, why did you want silence again? Why are organizers bad? Oh...because they don't want what the upper 1% (economically) who control the wealth of this nation want. I can understand. I see how your goals, aspirations, and values align with them. Naturally. So when they bail out banks, cut our social services (because...who needs those when we've got yachts and vacation spots to tend to), and such...we completely and utterly understand. Right? Lowering taxes for the upper tenth or whatever percent is in our best interest! (saying with those little cartoon hypnotized swirlees in my eyes) Can someone please snip these strings on my arms....and, I guarantee you that my nose is not growing.

The Truth is painful...and people with power don't want it out there. It's easy not to believe all this anyway. We just want to be happy. We just want to raise our families and be left alone. If they tell us not to think or to keep it down-why can't we just do that...? Hey, I don't blame those who do...I just don't think they should have the right to complain ...or the right to use their silence to oppress others by attacking them for knowing the truth and trying to organize to end the perpetuation of discrimination and oppression. know the type. Well here's one of the types: They usually make a little more money than you, laud their education over you or pretend to be highly versed and educated on matters...and accuse you of being radical and your ideas dangerous...because you see...they are playing the game and have bought into the system. They are sentinel assimilationists who have been indoctrinated and hired on (subconsciously) to be a Yes man/woman. When you say no...they are the ones who systematically (as if second-nature) push you to the margins of whatever group or society you are that they can go on climbing that 3 rung latter (never seeing that there are 10 more rungs that are inaccessible). As long as they are above you (even if this is a guise)...that's all that matters. AHhh maybe I"m getting to matrix-y and post-apocolyptic or whatever the genre may be...

Sigh. Gatekeepers. True story.

But deep down you already knew and saw this. Most oppressed people have. It's this understood and unspoken Truth. We don't need to go to workshops on this. We don't need to be educated in some classroom on this, we live it every.single. day. We need an advanced course or something. This isn't new and frankly we're tired of talking about it. So tired...we don't even want to organize against it because a)we have and we're burnt out b)we are and we're burnt out c)we have a family to raise and can't take up the cause or d)it just plain hurts.

Grace Lee Boggs spoke about the civil rights movement. The differences in the ideology of Malcom's "By any means necessary" and Martin's "non-violence" - she said that she was always looking for a middle ground. She also said that we can't expect to "go back" to these models and re-create them here and now. The political climate is different, the culture of this country is different. There were a number of events that led up to what became the civil rights movement, and other movements that she had been involved in. Usually there's political unrest, an economic downturn, increased marginalization, public outcry, hopelessness,etc. People have to organize. It has to happen if we want change, folks. 

Grace talked a lot about love being a basic principal in organizing and creating movements. (Sidenote:Even she had been skeptical about Martin's message at first).
Hmph. Allowing ourselves to go on being uneducated, unaware, and downright oblivious is not what I call being loving. I know that we as a People have not lost the capacity to just feels like loving our communities, our society has become more and more difficult. But we do it...especially in communities of color. As much as we are pitted against each other economically---along class lines---we come together on many issues. And it's out of love.

 Organizing - bringing people together from multiple socioeconomic backgrounds to unite and accomplish a single goal --> the end of oppression along multiple is this rabblerousing? Having dialogue to understand each other and supporting one another through this economic downturn, pooling our resources so that we can ALL survive the crash of our is this bad? Capitalists want to call us communists and socialists because we want to survive their botched and dysfunctional system. I see a problem with that. It's about time they were held accountable. About time their inflated rhetoric was brought down to size. Most of us brown people, people of color...operate in a way that people in our community support each other---it is part of our heritage-->not part of the eastern bloc. Not related to Stalin or Russia.  And even other western countries have social programs that take care of their citizens...we are the only country who expects our citizens to fend for themselves...vetting Big Business, Big Pharma, and insurance companies against little Joe Schmoe...because it's good for the economy folks! Um. yeah.

Let's get back to love. So mushy, warm and fuzzy...gross, yuck! Love never solves anything! I encourage you to tell me a time when violence and war did. Name a movement that happened and created sustainable social change from violence. Now think back to all movements that created some form of change and how they were built and sustained or why they were not sustained. Think on that...

This morning I've been mulling over a lot. I have to constantly remind myself as an activist and as a student that ...I need to not get carried away with multiple fronts of oppression. That I can't speak out against every single issue...but yet I need to realize that it's not an excuse to not speak out, not to organize. It's a call to action to figure out how to do it more efficiently...and I think that's why I was drawn to diversity and anti-oppression education. 

You know, I was thinking this morning that with so many atrocities going on in this world and in our country alone, that it's so hard to focus and care about academics...
you buying into this whole " a degree makes your views more valuable in this society" thing...But I've since checked myself...and realize that in focusing on my studies...that IS one way that I'm combating oppression. It's in every single one of my academic papers. It's in every discussion point I bring up in class...I am a part of creating awareness and obliterating obliviousness. I live my life in this way- every single day. Now, that might seem tiring...and you know what, sometimes it can be...but I have an obligation to myself, my family, my community to not go on being silent. To speak out when I know that something is wrong. To organize when I have the capacity, the tools, and the awareness. Not speaking out means death on so many levels for me. That's a whole other blog that I can't wait to write...

I encourage everyone to really think about silence and awareness. Ways of organizing that are both overt and covert. Subversive and in your face. We can't all picket and protest- I'm aware of that. We can't all come to community meetings....I'm aware of that. But, how then can we go out into our jobs and communities and create change bit by can we be more intentional about it? How can we create the communities we wish to see...and then the policies we wish to see...and then the society we wish to see? Can this be done with love as opposed to violence? Can we end oppression? Grace Lee Boggs says that we have to be able to conceive of this first...and I say that we've all got to get on the same page and educate each other both on our oppression and the oppression of others and how we can overcome systemic and individual oppression by organizing against it. Grace also said that we can't just be "against" everything...we've got to be for things...I agree. I am for a more inclusive and accepting society in which we all have equal rights and respected cultures and identities, I am not just anti-racist/homophobia/classist/ableist/sexism,etc. 

sigh. so much food for thought. I've got to go ponder. And write papers...about oppression...

That is all.


  1. This is a great, fucking post. Excuse my language but just reading this actually made my blood boil.

    I experience the same impatience as you in terms of raising awareness, figuring out critical ways of change, pondering why it is I do/think what I do, and of course, contemplating the ease of just slipping into the oblivious mentality.

    I also get frustrated with people who blame others for wanting to raise consciousness because they don't want to confront the contradictions they experience as real societal issues. There is a psychological obstacle to becoming aware that most are not willing or able to go through (after becoming thoroughly neutralized and dependent on what they already know). Like you, I don't blame people entirely for falling into the oblivious mentality. It sure has its psychological rewards. Ignorance is really bliss in their scenario. But nonetheless I think raising awareness on a mass level can and will eventually be done. It will take alot of pain, and alot of time. History has shown us that consciousness, revolution, and reformation all took a long series of processes and developments to lead up to that point.

    And between those years of getting from point A to point B (revolution, reformation,etc) I'm sure tons of activists and thinkers spent their lives raising consciousness. I'm sure many devoted their lives to the cause without seeing the end result. But that to me does not matter. I don't care if I don't live to see the age of a radical change. I care for progressing and contributing to its eventuality however, and that means, continuing to raise awareness, continuing to educate ourselves, and do what it is we can during our small time on this hellish planet.

  2. Thank you for this awesome comment! Viva la Revolucion. It can, will, and is happening.