Saturday, November 28, 2015

I did not create...

the social systems that I was born into. Nor did you. I created no system that included such awful ways of behaving as exemplified by sexism or racism or speciesism (or any other "ism" of oppression). Nope...I didn't do that (nor did you). Whew...we're off the hook then, right? Wrong. (Note: while systems of oppression have similarities in their structures and ways of operating, they also differ, and therefore because of that and because the characteristics of targeted groups differ then that means that the targeted groups have differing experiences when they are oppressed. Oversimplifying the impact is both disrespectful to those who are oppressed as well as misleading and confusing.)

When I write or think about racism or sexism or speciesism or other systems of oppression...please understand that this is done to examine and comprehend more accurately such harmful systems. Any comparisons and/or similarities are from one system of oppression to another...they are NOT from one targeted group to another. Understanding aspects of a system of oppression does not mean that the effects of that system on the targeted group is comprehended. Each iteration of the oppression of a particular group differs somewhat and each group targeted by oppression differs in their experiences of those oppressive systems.

Just because I didn't create social systems doesn't mean that I'm not responsible for my activities in them. It doesn't mean I'm not responsible for doing my part to understand and stop them if they're harmful. And...since I'm in them...my good intentions aren't adequate...I have to actively work at comprehending and resisting these systems of oppression or...I am complicit in them.

No one gets to opt out...there is no "out"...we're all in the system(s). Having a pure heart and good intentions simply is inadequate...you have to actively work against the bad stuff or you're supporting it. This sucks...I know...but that's the way it is. If our ancestors had done their work then we wouldn't be faced with what we have...but they didn't so we must. None of us gets to sit on the couch and watch the world go by and be innocent...if we're living in a society we're either opposing oppression or we're helping oppression...no one just gets to be "nice" and thereby avoid hurting others. (being "nice" and thinking it confers innocence is an insidious sham because it ends up maintaining and preserving oppressive systems...more about this later)

If you aren't actively working to take apart the systems of oppression...you're supporting them. That's hard to comprehend and hard to accept...but...that's the way it is. I didn't make it that way nor did you. I don't like it and it's a pain...but hey...that's what we've got.

Keep this in mind...the discomfort that happens when you work to dismantle oppressive systems is minimal when measured against the pain of the victims of those systems of harm and destruction. Look at the discomfort you might feel in your work against oppression as your dues for being alive and endeavoring to avoid harm to others. If you aren't feeling uncomfortable...then you're probably failing to work toward interrupting the human horror story that we inherited. 

Allan G. Johnson is a sociologist who has written about sexism and racism in several books. One of the analogies he uses to try to illustrate how social systems work is by referencing the game of monopoly. I recently found a video of him explaining this analogy and while he is referring to racism as a system of oppression in his talk...he points out that structures of oppression are quite similar from one iteration of it to another. Again...this doesn't mean that the group targeted by a system of oppression has the same experiences as a result of that oppression (for the reasons I noted previously).

I'm posting the video here, it is about 30 minutes long and if it doesn't work or show up for you here you can access it at this link.



I'm a little uneasy about sharing this video because it features a white man and thereby might, even though I don't desire it, serve to re-inscribe the notion of white male authority. Not that Dr. Johnson is a bad guy...he seems to be working hard at dismantling oppression.

I think the message he's presenting is sufficiently useful to counter balance the implied presumption of white male knowingness. At least I hope it is. Do be aware that. Dr. Johnson is building on and utilizing knowledge and insights that originated from many women and men of color.

He's a bright guy and he's a scholar and academic and no scholar or academic stands alone in terms of what they know and/or understand. Like all of us he draws on the efforts of others to understand and comprehend and like all of us his position influences his viewpoint. But he seems to work at trying to de-center his whiteness and his maleness.

However...as far as I know...he doesn't live vegan hence, like all of us, he still has a ways to go on his personal journey of trying to  interrupt harm to his sister/brother Earthlings. If you want to see why...you can read this post by Syl Ko on the APHRO-ISM site...which is dedicated to black feminist thought and critical analysis. The authors there do some terrific and powerful writing.  

The primary reason I chose this video is that he ties oppressive systems to capitalism and that often is omitted when folks write or speak about these topics.

I've been grappling with comprehending the operation of oppression for a while now and each time I find some path that seems to provide some illumination for me...it always seems to end up implicating the economic system that we're all enmeshed in...capitalism.

Oppression can exist (and does exist) outside of capitalistic economic systems...but...no capitalistic economic system exists that isn't conducive to and supportive of and rife with...oppression. In other words...as far as I can comprehend it at this point...you can't have capitalism without oppression. It is a core component of that system. Large systems of capitalism require/encourage exploitation and oppression can be understood as a manifestation of exploitation.

This is a video that, in the last 10 minutes or so, addresses various features of capitalism and how they are inextricably intertwined with the "isms" of oppression and trying to comprehend these various structures of oppression without also paying heed to the overarching economic system that supports and encourages them is, at least for me, incomplete.

I'm sharing his talk because I find his insights and analogies to be helpful. Maybe they will be for you too. I would appreciate any observations and thoughts you might have about it. If you know of videos you have found useful in understanding oppression...especially if the relationship of capitalism to oppression is elaborated upon I would be very grateful for links and/or sources. Thank you.


2 comments:

Christine said...

Another thought provoking article. I agree that although we did not create the systems of oppression we should not perpetuate them. Unfortunately most people don't analyse or even think about this one way or another. Racism is maybe more recognised but sexism probably less so and specism even less. Certainly most do not actively oppose these forms of discrimination.

Allan G. Johnson makes some interesting points in the video. Indeed the movie industry centres on white people - really surprised about the film One Flew over the Cuckoos nest. Films though also mostly feature certain types of people, mostly those in the prime of life, good looking and with a good figure. You rarely see an overweight or unattractive person in film or TV. Particularly women, men seem to be included in films more often regardless of what they look like. I can see how non-whites would feel marginalized in countries such as the USA and here in the UK. In Australian TV you rarely if ever see an aboriginal actor or other non-white.


I agree wholeheartedly that capitalism and oppression go hand in hand. Interesting about the strike breaking tactic, using race to distract from the injustice of the capitalist system. Like the musical chair analogy with capitalism, that is precisely what it is like with race giving an advantage. The Forbes rich list shows that most everyone included is white: http://www.adweek.com/fishbowlny/forbes-lists-400-richest-white-people-in-america/69319 White people own nearly everything! Never thought about that aspect before

Indeed we are responsible for the continuation of the system both discrimination and capitalism, sadly relatively few challenge the status quo, though I think things are changing - at least I hope so.

I don’t think we should use terms to segregate people such as people of colour. Here in the UK to be politically correct you say a black person if your are referring to someone of African decent or simply their nationality such as Indian, Pakistani or Chinese. The term coloured is used more in the north of the UK. It can get so complicated. It’s time we used as few terms as possible to describe other people as it perpetuates the perceived differences.

This is another reason I like the Internet. You can be just a human being, you don’t have to state your gender, race, age, sexual orientation unless you wish to, and you are simply a person, a being.

Sorry about the long reply there was so much food for thought. Thank for your interesting articles and sharing the video.

veganelder said...

Thank you for commenting Christine. I'm glad the post was stimulating and thought provoking for you and I appreciate your response. I too hope things are changing.