Friday, February 10, 2017

Divide and rule...

is the title of this entry in wikipedia.

One approach to considering race/racism (indeed, maybe an approach to considering all socially constructed identities) is to think about them as divide and conquer strategies. By that I mean that it's a heck of a lot easier to manage/resist/control a big group if you can get small groups within that big group to squabbling among themselves (and they only resist you piecemeal or sporadically) than if they all get together and unite in opposition to you. 
Early on in the invasion of the "new world" of North America by Europeans, the tactic of affording minor (but minimally helpful or trivially beneficial) concessions and perks and status to those identified as "white" by the wealthy elites who controlled power resulted in the poor "whites" disaffiliating themselves from those who weren't identified as being "white". This served to break up alliances among the poor and powerless so that their resistance to being controlled by the wealthy elite was effectively diminished. The poor and powerless started opposing each other instead of the common oppressor.

In an excellent book titled: Learning to be White: Money, Race and God in America, the author (Rev. Dr. Thandeka) writes extensively about the various functions served by promoting the notion that "race" was/is an important and meaningful way of conceptualizing humans. Those functions served to keep the many from uniting against the ruling "few".

In this excerpt from the book, the author elaborates about the various ways which the ruling elite offered relatively trivial and non-significant "benefits" to "whites" as an enticement to keep them from alliance with kidnapped Africans and displaced Native Americans. "Race" served as a handy dandy tool to keep those oppressed and harmed by the wealthy from uniting against the wealthy folks. Instead of uniting against the common oppressor, those who were relatively poor and powerless turned on one another.

Maybe it is the case that one of the most effective ways to keep exploitation/oppression rolling along (since the ruling elite are always smaller in number than those oppressed) is to encourage factors that keep the oppressed squabbling with one another instead of uniting against the real source (the ruling elite) of oppression.

Think about this, how much of your freedom and/or liberation and/or deprivations are caused by the poor and/or the vulnerable and/or the powerless versus your freedom/liberation deprivations being a result of actions and/or with-holdings and/or constraints that come from powerful/wealthy individuals and/or corporations and/or institutions? 

Who holds you down or restricts your life...those with power or those without power? 

Think about that and then look at society...who is in conflict? It usually isn't the united powerless against the's way too often the relatively powerless squabbling against other groups that are also relatively powerless. Or one small segment of the powerless resisting the powerful with little or no support from other groups who are also relatively powerless.

And...those with the real power and wealth (who implement and cause and benefit from the harms) just keep rolling along without any real resistance to their agenda.

Do you get it? We're all being played for fools...and we're joining in, enthusiastically even, the process of ensuring that structures of harm are not really challenged. Instead, we quibble over trivialities. It's sort of spooky to consider how easily we are distracted and deterred from engaging in effective ways of making society better for all.

I've written about this sort of stuff, multiple times, but...I didn't use the phrase "divide and conquer", I used the phrase "recreating oppression". Saying recreating oppression is just another way of saying divide and conquer. Way too often we cause harm to those who aren't the primary source of the oppression or fight with those who aren't the instigators of the oppression, and we do it in the name of resisting oppression. Jeez.

That sort of stuff is, I suspect, a big part of how we just keep on failing to bring about transformation in our social structures. 

Other factors in addition to identities that work to encourage these sorts of divisions are the ideologies of "individualism" and of "meritocracy". These notions work to obscure (make invisible) the fact that group membership has much more impact on us than we wish to admit when it comes to being harmed (or helped) by structures of oppression.
(As always, I'm floundering around trying to figure this stuff out and...I'm limited by my being socially positioned as a white comprehension/understanding is necessarily constrained by that positioning. So, any omissions, errors or screw-ups you might detect in this post and that you're willing to let me know about will be respectfully appreciated. Thank you.) 



No comments: