Where Some Ideas Are Stranger Than Others...
There are No Oppression Olympics (2019-06-05)
This is definitely not about the olympic games, C. Osborne, january 2018
Some time ago I wrote down a brief summary of one of the things the ongoing "gender identity" debacle has demonstrated. Particular people are not oppressed due to their identity. The oppression they suffer is rationalized by claims about their identity. This can't be emphasized enough, especially the "claims" part because claims are used and abused in very specific ways in a society lousy with sexism and racism, among other axes of oppression that many of us are pinned between. Now, it would be wonderful if I could identify myself right out of those axes, but that is not possible, because "identity" is not a creation any of us makes alone. In any case, the verb "identify" has been abused by men who have found themselves a way to assert male privilege while pretending that in fact they are the most oppressed people in all the world because they do not conform to the sex-based stereotypes they are expected to. I have no doubt that they are not getting the full enjoyment of sexist male entitlements, and that they are in real danger of male violence against them by other men who feel threatened by their non-conformity. But any claim that a man – and it is always a man – can simply be a woman, especially a woman of colour (go figure) just because he "feels like her" is no more and no less than weaponized bollocks that expresses not frustration with or defiance of sex role stereotypes and the oppressive structures they help shore up, but hatred of women.
A key tactic adding to the confusion and allowing these nonsense claims to keep their purchase is the invocation, more or less openly, of a type of "oppression olympics." The competition is for most oppressed status, which corresponds uncannily well with having access to the most power to force others to either shut up or repeat after the competitor that they are most oppressed. The funny thing is, that kind of power and influence is an indicator of lack of oppression. Oppressed people don't get to impose their opinions on anybody, unless they happen to be in a structural position to oppress somebody else, and then that "somebody else" is not anything like the number or range of people we see being attacked and piled on at the behest of those competing for most oppressed status.
Now, here is the tough part. There are different levels of oppression. Listen to veterans of the struggle against apartheid in south africa like Ahmed Kathrada on the Overcoming Apartheid Building Democracy Project website. He speaks frankly about different degrees of oppression imposed on non-white south africans depending on whether they were categorized as coloured, indian, or black. The further down this little list you were, the more awful things were for you by law under apartheid. Nobody who was racialized under apartheid was having a good time. But acknowledging that they were not all having the same experience and acting according to that understanding was a critical factor in enabling the south african majority to end legalized apartheid and win rule by majority instead of by the barely 4 million whites. Accepting the reality of those differences in oppression and respecting how these differences made for different risks and emergencies depending on a person's social and legal position as determined by what "race" they were categorized as did not deny anybody's oppression. But it did make it possible for "blacks, indians, and coloureds" to take advantage of the different amounts of freedom they had to act in order to help each other to take the next great step in overcoming terrible racism, colonialism, and yes sexism, in their country.
One of the most helpful questions to ask when false games like oppression olympics are invented and garner lots of participants is cui bono? Who benefits? Not who benefits from the oppression olympics in the sense of who wins them, insofar as anybody actually does, which I sincerely doubt, though there is no doubt a short term endorphin hit. No, the question properly is, who benefits from people getting distracted by oppression olympics and related garbage instead of realizing that they can work together for real change instead? Officials in the apartheid regime in south africa, especially prison officials, hoped to use political differences and I suspect what we would now call "oppression olympics" to drive their many political prisoners and their allies outside into fighting each other instead of against apartheid.
Again, particular people are not oppressed due to their identity. The oppression they suffer is rationalized by claims about their identity. Those claims are typically made by those oppressing them. The rationalization allows oppressors to tell themselves that they aren't doing anything wrong, and to piously declare that they are merely doing what is best for the oppressed. And this is all needed in the first place because the oppressors are appropriating labour and life from the oppressed, and it is imperative to distract the oppressed and people among their own numbers from noticing and opposing that exploitation.