Posts Tagged ‘Oppression’

It’s a slight cliche to argue that history is written by the winners, but unfortunately it’s true. Admittedly the phrase does imply somewhat more of a martial perspective, so let’s adjust it; history is written by the dominant.

As marginalised people, we only have to look at our own histories to see the truth in that. We are absent from the historical narrative to a very large extent; sometimes there are obscure glimmers of proof of our previous existence, but most often even those of us who achieved a place in the historical hall of fame have been bleached with the ideals of the dominant groups that did the writing.

I am a historian – still studying, and not yet studying exclusively history, but a historian nevertheless – and it frustrates me. Written primary sources were often written by privileged people whose perspective neglects the marginalised. Secondary sources also tend to reflect academia’s skewing towards the kyriarchal ideal. There are ways of finding out about the marginalised, but we rarely find their uncensored voices ringing down the ages.

What effect does that have? A huge effect. Some groups find themselves cut off from their roots, with much about their past lost irretrievably. Others find themselves entering the record only on the terms of their oppressors, with their personhood denigrated and their voices erased. Others find no reflection of their existence.

The neglect of the history of some groups combined with the elevation of that of others has a profoundly harmful effect. People have always looked to the past, for lessons and for inspiration and guidance, and if they find only certain groups reflected there it is very easy to have the idea, already implanted by the kyriarchy, that only those groups are worthy and important validated. It’s also used to denigrate people in the present, implying that they’re making things up because they only came into existence recently when the only evidence we have for that is a void in the general historical narrative with clues generally so small most people wouldn’t pick them up.

It’s important to factor this in as we write our own histories. How will the English Riots of this summer be remembered? Will the memory of the alienation and disillusionment suffered by those who rioted survive, or will they be painted merely as thugs? And the Occupy movement – when protestors say one thing and police say another, who will be believed by posterity? As for the Arab Spring – how will history perceive that?

The privileged classes have always tried to write their history on a higher level than the rest of the populace. Sometimes, just access to the tools of recording ensures their voices are the only ones heard. Other times, restricting access to academia or to certain media spaces is their preferred method. And quite often, they merely rely on their privilege to amplify their voices, as it so reliably does.

Trigger warning – self-harm, silencing

Muddled post is muddled, I’m sorry. If I’ve done a massive fail, the normal thing applies.

It’s happened to most of us at some point or another – being accused of attention-seeking. It crops up in all sorts of contexts, and attention seeking is generally held to be a negative thing.

I’ve seen it used to denigrate (and, oddly, to provoke concern over) self-harm, to stop people seeking help for things, to shut people up who need to talk, to silence people who are actively combatting their oppression. Pulling out the ‘attention-seeking’ accusation is an attempt to trivialise, delegitimise and silence. It’s a ridiculously problematic accusation to make, since it reinforces kyriarchal standards and a culture where honest emoting is discouraged.

It’s also a term that gets applied along kyriarchal lines – it’s rare to see a normative, straight, cis, conventionally able, white male accused of attention-seeking, for example. People whose minds and behaviours don’t fit the kyriarchal standard are accused of attention-seeking for expressions that are natural for them (and then accused of it when they speak out against discrimination based on that). People who are seen as ‘feminine’ are accused of it because femininity is often held in contempt. All kinds of oppressed folks who speak up against their oppression are accused of it.

Point is, attention-seeking isn’t necessarily bad – even when it appears to be about trivial things. Many of us are raised to conceal our true feelings, so we may not feel able to ask for help when needed; that’s where behaviour may appear attention-seeking, when someone is trying to get help without saying it outright because of the messed-up culture that tries to discourage honest emoting. Like most other behaviours, it’s pretty neutral overall.

I’m all right. I’ve been trying to give myself some time out for self-care, but that hasn’t gone too well due to stresses and strains from other areas of my life. I’m going to try to write a decent post now though.

The kyriarchy enforces standards that are very, very rigid, and has produced a culture with Expectations. We are expected to conform to our social roles in the kyriarchy that are dictated by our ascribed statuses, and often that means that the marginalised are expected to be a lot less than they are and treated accordingly. Meanwhile oppressive behaviour is expected of the privileged. This culture also has expectations of people’s life courses and aspirations, and shows a high degree of contempt for those who cannot meet the expectations whether the reasons relate to a lack of privilege, a lack of opportunity or a lack of ability.

All of this creates a high-stress, low-compassion environment that negatively affects all of our lives. The marginalised, due to the fact that they are further away from the Standards because of the oppression they experience, are most affected and end up locked in a cycle of being prevented from reaching those standards and being blamed for that ‘failure.’ Meanwhile, the privileged absolve themselves of responsibility and feel justified in oppressive behaviour by the ‘failure’ of the marginalised and the ‘success’ of themselves as measured against the standards.

It’s one of the many ways that the kyriarchy is enabled. We absorb these standards (standards which have almost become separate entities looming in our culture) and ruthlessly impose them on ourselves and others. They are institutionally enforced, inflexibly and unforgivingly with no regard for the toll taken on the bodies and minds of people, especially marginalised people. And the very inflexibility propagates them, since when one is expending all one’s energy on meeting them one doesn’t question the system in which a privileged person can meet them with very little sweat and a marginalised person can work themselves to a standstill and still not meet them.

(This relates vaguely to the causes of my recent stress, which is almost certainly only going to get worse…)

People’s minds tend to run a lot on patterns and associations. When someone says a word, we can generally summon up a bunch of connotations from our experiences and the messages we’ve imbibed from our culture. If I try this with a random word generator and get ‘chat,’ I think, ‘room, little, office, experience of the words ‘wanting a chat’ preceeding a lecture that I will squirm through and not dare speak up in.’ (I think this means that I never caught on to using the word ‘chat’ when talking about ringing someone up to talk…)

This gets really important when the words we use impact on people. Words and the way we use them are really influential when it comes to the way we think, especially as we are growing up and learning how to weave those words into expression. We learn them through communication and connotations, which means that the things we associate with a word will forever have an impact on how we perceive what that word is attached to. I had a slight negative reaction with ‘chat’ because it appears I’ve mostly come across it as a prelude to earnest conversation directed at me that I felt very uncomfortable being a part of. That’s what I associate it with; squirming in my seat and feeling silenced.

So what happens when people-words get bad connotations? Those connotations generalise to the people concerned, and negative, prejudiced attitudes creep under the carpet of people’s minds. Also impacted by negative presentations and cultural messages, these negative attitudes are generally at the root of discrimination. Where inequality is legislated, it comes from the underlying prejudices of the people who created the legislation, the people who passed it, the people who elected them and so on. Where inequality is tolerated, that comes from discriminatory behaviour striking a chord with those same underlying prejudices. Language, presentations, culture – they’re important. There is other stuff to fight for, big stuff, solid stuff – but these underlying currents are where they come from. When the big stuff gets fixed, it’s unlikely to stay fixed until the culture changes, as the underlying attitudes find new ways to mess the marginalised up or push the big stuff back to its original position.

It’s very uncomfortable to see people-words get bad connotations, and yet it happens all the time. ‘You throw like a girl,’ makes ‘girl’ the object of contempt, something to be avoided, something lesser. And negative attitudes towards women and girls and those perceived as such are reinforced. I… may be overstepping myself here, since I’m white, but ‘acting black’ troubles me since I’ve generally seen it used against people who act in a way seen as negative – thus enforcing racism. ‘That’s gay,’ one of my own little hobby-horses, associates gayness with something pathetic, contemptible, useless, bad – thus enforcing heterosexism. Slurs work this way. Longer messages, such as the many that enforce rape culture, work this way.

And the worst thing is, it looks like nothing. It’s hard to correct, because you’re seen as being pedantic and petty-minded. And to be honest, merely, ‘don’t say that word’ is unlikely to work. We need to examine the reasons why we’re saying what we’re saying, and the message that sends out, and consciously work on changing it. It’s definitely important to salvage the stuff floating out of reach, issues that have a concrete impact on our quality of life, but one can’t ignore the little eddies and swirls that show the current beneath the surface, the current that could eventually tear the solid stuff out of our reach.

It’s not unreasonable to expect to be treated fairly, equally and without bigotry.

This is a defence I see all too often, and it’s pretty despicable. All too often in my life it comes up about the little things that make it damn clear that my self is not accepted, things like forms asking for ‘gender – m/f’ and so on. According to this particular defence of bigotry, I can’t expect services to bend to fit me; due to my so-called ‘abnormality’, I should bend to fit them. I should bend to fit with society’s narrow-minded ideals, at whatever cost to myself.

Or, another place it crops up is around terminology. Apparently we can’t expect language to change to acknowledge our humanity and our experience, and we can’t expect people to change their language so as not to cause us pain because we’re apparently not ‘normal.’

Normal is constructed as something people should aspire towards, so as not to cause trouble and disrupt the social order. It’s not. If the social order cannot serve all people, regardless of the demands of meaningless ‘normality,’ then it needs to be disrupted. It is not unreasonable to expect society to change to accommodate all its members, and to be honest society should want to.

No matter how much it seems to be, society is not a monolith that exists independent of the people in it. We construct society around us. Yes, the scars of history lie heavy on us and on the society that has evolved down the generations – but that doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. It evolved through the actions of people – a lot of bigotry can be traced back to historical roots that were instigated by people – and that means that we can steer it away from the broken-down mass of kyriarchal pressures riddled with bigotry and violence that it is now.

To do that, though, we need each other. We need to look around us and realise that the kyriarchy is hurting and killing ourselves and each other. And then we need to realise that defeatism will only defeat us.

It’s not unreasonable to expect society to change to accommodate the people it shoves to the margins, and for a person to say this about an axis they have privilege on is harmful. The privileged’s words have more weight anyway, and the more this is said the more the immovability of society is constructed, the more privilege can shore itself up by thinking that it can’t change and shouldn’t have to try.

It’s not unreasonable to be hurt, and to demand that people stop hurting one. It’s not unreasonable to demand one’s rights.

We are all connected, and frankly we have no reason to deny others decent treatment, fair, equal and without bigotry. That is an attack, and so is defending others who hurt people in the name of kyriarchy with the feeble cry of ‘it’s unreasonable.’ There is no excuse for bigotry, and the only slight justification is genuine lack of knowledge – but that can be cleared up with a short conversation, a quick google. There is no excuse for denying people the things granted without thought to others because of who they are. There is no excuse for services meant to help us refusing to acknowledge our selves. There is no excuse for people who bear us no ill-will beyond the poison the kyriarchy has dripped into their brains from birth to refuse to stop using words that hurt us. Once the problem is brought to light, it is not unreasonable to expect that solving it should be the next step.

Slow process? Well, yes, it probably will be. But it’s not an unreasonable demand.

Trigger warning – discussion of common silencing/denial-of-oppression techniques.

My apologies for the unofficial hiatus; I’m trying to recharge my batteries but sometimes it feels like the charger just isn’t working. EDIT – changed post title to reflect the fact that defences of bigotry seem to be a Thing of mine at the moment.

Anyway. I’m going back to an old hobby-horse of mine – tone policing. Along with the accusation of oversensitivity, which oddly enough are often found coexisting. Not only are both infuriating, wrong and kyriarchy-enforcing on their own, but in tandem they become increasingly illogical.

The reason for this is simple. Tone policing, simply put, is the dismissal of a person’s argument (generally a less-privileged person in social justice discourse) because of their tone, which may be perceived by the bigoted more-privileged person as ‘too personal,’ ‘too emotional’ or ‘too angry.’ Meanwhile, the oversensitivity argument basically amounts to the bigoted more-privileged person telling the less-privileged person to suck it up and deal with the abuse the kyriarchy deals out. Put together, these things add up to a massive display of double standards. ‘I shouldn’t have to deal with your [justified] anger/pain, but you should just sit back and take my [unjustified] bigotry.’

Which, conveniently, is just the way the kyriarchy works. Hence, it’s perfect for enforcement of it.

The attitude is wholly reprehensible. Not only are the less-privileged (along whatever axis of privilege being discussed) subjected to kyriarchal abuse which is seen as normal and acceptable, but they are also condemned for responding. And there’s really no limit to the tone argument. It can be invoked even when a person is deadly calm; when a bigoted more-privileged person decides to silence a less-privileged person, there is no tone that is exempt. Often even the act of quietly making a point is an attack upon the more-privileged person, personally, and they see it as unprovoked because they are privileged enough to be able to ignore the shrapnel-sleet of micro- and macroaggressions the less-privileged experience every day.

It is a function of privilege to be able to see oneself as an objective speaker, and to expect detachment in the discourse. Many of us can’t detach ourselves from the oppression we scream under; it’s burned into our bones and our bodies, into our selves and our souls, while the privileged (on whichever axis) can ignore it and pretend it doesn’t happen.

And it’s a function of double-thinking to be able to simultaneously tone-police, and demand that less-privileged people become less ‘oversensitive’. Not only is ‘oversensitivity’ a pretty ableist concept (especially in the way I’ve often seen it applied, with regards to trigger warnings), it’s also a direct result of the fact that the privileged are able to ignore oppression and so interpret people’s entirely natural responses to it as oversensitivity.

If anyone is being oversensitive in a conversation such as this one, it’s the [bigoted] more-privileged person demanding that the less-privileged person suppress their justified pain and anger for the more-privileged person’s comfort. (They’re also being entitled, which is another basic function of privilege.)

I get so fed up of this pair of problems that so often occur together. We have a right to our feelings about our oppression, and as long as we are being non-oppressive and not actively harming others we have a right to express them. We have a right to talk about our oppression and to try to end it. That means that in situations like this, more-privileged persons (I include myself in this group as well as the other, since I have privilege along many axes) need to listen and allow less-privileged groups to lead the discourse.

The riots are spreading fast, and all the mainstream media can find for it is condemnation and demonisation of the riots as thoughtless thuggery, the breaking tide of feral youth upon the shore of respectable society heralded with fire, a force to be met with force. They’re being taken out of context, out of time, judged as an island of humanity when the contexts and explanations lie elsewhere upon the landmass.

Violence, especially violence of this type, is not something I can condone. It is – as so much else – hitting the less privileged more as their houses and lives burn around them while the more privileged sit in their white towers and play dice with the lives of the rest of us, demonising us as they go.

But I can understand. The shooting of Mark Duggan was a match in a flourmill, where the flourdust of alienation, poverty and hopelessness had long clogged the air, anger unexpressed, rage battened down. We should not have been surprised. Of course there is anger – people have been pushed into the margins, further and further, clinging to the edges. The rich have taken as theirs everything their sweet-tongued lies and economic tyranny can exact from everyone else. The sovereignty of the police has gone unchecked even as hundreds die in custody and our children are kettled in the streets. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, and the tunnel grows narrower every day until the daylight is cut off from a glimmer. Racial divisions fester in the heat of an economic meltdown, with young POC seeing themselves burned in effigy as demons in the mainstream discourse.

Of course there was anger! And when that was expressed peacefully, in marches and petitions, it was ignored. It is always ignored. Sometimes I think that if the whole country came to London and camped in Parliament Square, we would be ignored until someone threw a stone. It seems that our ‘leaders’ believe that the only time they need to pay attention to the existence of the non-rich populace is around election time, when they can throw us a bone and our starvation will bring us to heel.

So anger turned to violence. And violence is, as I have said, not good.

But there are other forms of violence. There is the violence of what our leaders are doing to our futures, there is the violence of contempt for our anger, there is the violence in ignoring our needs. There is violence in every dram of money-blood being taken from us to pay the debts we did not incur, and there is violence in entrenching the inequalities that divide our society like lightning in the stark midnight sky.

Besides that, we must look to the sweet poison capitalism has dripped into our ears from the cradle to the grave. Is it any wonder that looting is going on, when we have been raised from birth to believe that status is in capital? And is it any wonder we have been raised like this, when all the power is in the hands of the few who sit on thrones of banknotes, elevated above the rest of us with the power to match?

I hate that destruction stalks our streets, since the kyriarchy feeds upon destruction and the only way I can see to fight it is to build. I hate that some of this is communities lashing out against themselves. But these events cannot be looked at outside of the grim context they were born in, and in that context it is hard to argue things could have turned out otherwise once that match was dropped. I stand against violence, whether the violence of the powerful state upon the populace or the violence of therelatively powerless people – but I also understand the explosive power of bottled-up anger.

*    *    *

I’m pretty privileged in this issue, being lower-middle class, relatively economically secure, provincial and white, and while I can’t be certain I doubt the rioting will spread to where I live. But I’m fed up of seeing all the one-sided mainstream reportage, and I don’t think it’s all that difficult to hold the dual thoughts of ‘this is violence, and violence is bad,’ and ‘I understand why this happened,’ in one’s head. Basically I wanted to put in my two pence. And yeah, I’m aware I waxed poetic. I do that sometimes.