As we mention foxy politicians who manipulate situations to get their way on our daily news, we often miss the underlying core of how they manage to do so. In my view, the answer is the power that a person holds in that situation. In most cases, even when we talk about politicians as servant workers or people who work for other people, we need to understand the access to power they have. Know that that is not to say that they are oppressive. The nature of oppression is a complex matter and will probably be under rigorous and ceaseless discussion until the end of time. This article is an attempt at breaking down the different ways that oppression shows up in lives through the lenses of sexual orientation, gender identity, socio-economic status, age, race, and historical view.
Every story has multiple views to it and there is never just one way to put it. Like with most of the blogs I write, this is my opinion and is open to inputs from other people. Let me know in the comments below if you have anything to add!
Power and Privilege
Power and Privilege may be correlated for many reasons, but they are not the same. Many people believe that privilege is to hold power over a disadvantaged community. That is not really the proper portrayal of the situation. Privilege is having power over situations wherein some people may be at a disadvantage due to a variety of reasons. That is not to say that people who have privilege are never placed in situations of disadvantage. One of the largest misconceptions about privilege is that this power over situations arises without any effort. For example, in the case of positions of power, there is a commendable amount of hard work that is put in to obtain the privilege of the seat. At the same time, when caucasian people experience white privilege, one would think that there is no work behind it. That isn’t true. For an entire community to gain such a privilege, the history needs to be taken into account.
Although in modern times, comments about race superiority are far from civility, there was a time where through years of physical oppression and forceful misallocation of resources, communities were put at a disadvantage. You cannot simply remove years of damage within such a short span of time.*So, to put it into an easier way to look at it, imagine you are playing a game of Monopoly and your opponent holds 90% of the properties and a significant portion of the money in the bank. You want to move around freely on the board but you can’t because every time you move forward, you have to pay rent to your opponent.
I could go on and on about how the game can help us understand portions of resource allocation and community impact, but I think you get the idea.
Let’s talk about power. It is a fairly neutral concept. As the classic cinematic realm puts it, power can be used for good and bad. So we have established the people with privilege have power and they can use it to either benefit the community that is at a disadvantage and lose their power or do nothing, keep the privilege, and use it for personal gain. The case of ‘either-or’ in this situation is not the reality. People with privilege and power can help disadvantaged communities without losing power.
A white person who works with an NGO for supporting communities of color cannot just keep aside their power when purchasing a property. Being an ally to the LGBTQ+ community does not mean that they would have to face the same issues as people from the community. So when we talk about the power and privilege sisters, we need to recognize the fact that these two will always exist – even in an equitable utopia. It’s just people would put it to use it to empower other people instead of oppressing them.
Oppression and Privilege
As I said earlier, privilege can be used to benefit those at a disadvantage but at the other end of that stick is – people with the privilege who help oppressive people and are oppressive themselves. Of course, this kind of behavior stems from a lack of inclusivity education as well as limited access to information. Now this entire paragraph can be difficult to digest for many. How can one who has the power to help, help the wrong people? Take any Disney movie villain. They aren’t the bad guy because they are trying to improve themselves and the star of the movie is stopping them from doing so. They are the villains because they seek the advantage the star has – completely ignoring the advantages they have themselves. The most powerful witch wants beauty from someone weaker (Snow White). The wealthy family wanted to keep their servant at home so that they don’t have to do their own chores (Cinderella). The man wanted to be with someone for their beauty and despised everything she liked because she refused him (beauty and the beast).
I am no expert on why people make the decisions that they do, but more often than not – we see people acting out of jealousy and rage. To bring this concept to reality – People who owned farms and were wealthy, wanted free labor to amass more wealth. This brought them to believe they were the superior race because of the wealth.
Hitler wanted to expand the country and attacked Poland under the guise of defensive action because he wanted to give more space to the people of his race.
Let’s look at oppression at a singular level. People with extreme amounts of wealth are often business owners. Theses supermassive businesses have colossal sway over governments and are not exactly bound to operate in one country. The people who run such businesses want to it keep growing and expanding because that would mean more wealth (that they couldn’t possibly use) for themselves. They could use the power they have to support local businesses and create better opportunities for countries to better produce the good they need for themselves, but, they don’t. I think the best example that comes to mind was when the giant PepsiCo sued farmers in Gujrat, India because they owned a certain potato crop variety that PepsiCo had exclusive PVP rights in India. The way to get out of the expensive lawsuit was by selling the crop back to the company. Although legally sound, this argument is clearly a dig at creating a monopoly in the country and keeping disadvantaged communities at a disadvantage so that they themselves can remain substantially wealthy.
India is known for its cheap labor (not the best thing to be known for, to be very honest) which companies like PepsiCo use to their advantage all the time.
Oppression through Discrimination
So far, I have written at length about economic oppression and morally misguided people making bad choices. What happens when oppression stems from ignorance? Taking the LGBTQ+ community. Thousands of children are disowned yearly if they come out to their families. If not disowned, they become disliked or their identities are just ignored and brushed away. Yet every year there are people who claim that Pride Parades are a loud show that exist solely for the purpose of shoving people’s sexuality in the faces of straight people (which of course they find nauseating without reason).
Several firms pass up promotions to workers who are younger because they don’t think that the young population is capable of making sound decisions. Older people are repeatedly showcased as disrespectful resource hoarders who don’t add to society and hence face discriminatory behavior. (Ageism is very real folx)
In an unfortunate number of places, if you are trans, your gender identity is your perceived gender-identity until you have had a sex change operation and have taken a painstaking effort of changing your gender on about 50 different pieces of paper.
All this still counts as oppression. Although you will not see people talk about these stories, these stories are still very real.
So what now?
As we take our privilege into this battle against oppression and discrimination, I hope this article acts as a reminder to us that these issues rear their heads in more ways than one. We need to stay informed and alert to our surroundings and be ready to stand against the years of damage in society. It is our responsibility to understand the varying forms of oppression and formulate better as well as more efficient ways of tackling these issues.
If you have anything else to add to this, feel free to comment below. If you want to get in touch with me and talk about this piece or any other pieces that are on this blog, feel free to email me by clicking here!
(*) P.S. people who think that racism is not a thing anymore because the government supports everyone equally – read a book.