I am attempting to learn to share what I know compassionately in a way that will allow mutual understanding to flourish.
I wrote this piece just after my first child was born. It's about oppression and my developing more consciousness of who I am. But, in truth, it's about what I try to do when I get new information, uncomfortable information, painful information...about me and how I am positioned.
I think it's relevant. In love and in struggle, I hope that the rest of you understand its relevance, too.
Breaking It Down:
Acknowledging The Emotions Attached To Recognizing Oppression And Achieving Consciousness© December 2002
What are the feelings attached to recognizing our own oppression?
Initially for most dominated people feelings around being oppressed include regret, embarrassment at having been lost, ignorant and willingly colonized for so long. Rage at having been treated as if our feelings, our pain and our needs don’t matter. Fear over being verbally, psychologically or physically abused if we should speak up. Worry about still being ignored or alienated even if we should identify who we are and what we want. Sometimes hurt if we should finally get the courage to speak the truth of our realities, point out or describe our oppression and the ways the people around us are complicit in our pain, only to be attacked, shouted at, silenced, told we are being too assertive or too powerful. Sometime we can be out-and-out ignored, shunned, pathologized, physically/emotionally maimed or killed.
What are the feelings attached to recognizing the ways we can oppress?
Most writings on oppression tend to concentrate on the emotional well-being of the colonizer or the oppressor falsely setting up a dichotomous situation where one is simply either oppressed or oppressor. This or that. Many writings by revolutionaries, feminists and other advocates of change have not examined the difference between personal power/grounding power and unearned power/power over. Not a lot of work has been done mapping out grey areas, the in-between spaces where those who exist as the dominated, can in other ways, exist as those who dominate.
Take for example, my experience with a Black person who was also male, straight, heterosexual, conservative, middle-class and as far as I could tell from simply observing, fairly erotophobic, meaning possessing no analysis around sexual oppression in his society or community.I remember wielding my personal power, my power to speak and to resist by attempting to question him around his sexual conservatism and his very obvious classism.
His reaction? Enraged, he jumped up, yelled at me something about taking offense to my questioning and stormed out. I observed the ways he utilized the unearned power and privilege he claimed to not possess in a heavy handed attempt to stop me from questioning him.
Knowing that there would be no accountability for his attempt to silence me as he continued to masquerade as one of the revolutionary leaders of a certain set of young, Black, artistic yet still extremely conservative, classist, homophobic people, I decided to open my mouth and speak...often. I spoke, not to humiliate him as he still tries to insinuate, but to give my experience voice and to keep myself from creating and struggling in isolation.
I trust my perceptions and my ability to speak out about Black community and spoken word spaces as venues often supporting an empty, a-political, hypocritical, homophobic, heterocentric, sex negative conservative bottom line. This is work I do on my own as a queer woman who many conservative Black gays and lesbians refuse to ally themselves with because of my insistence on verbalizing, never hiding our lust for sexing against the grain. I understand that this sexual deviance marks me as different from them because I am not about trying to fit a Black, conservative, oppressive norm. Even with a straight man on my arm, I’m not about trying to be acceptable or assimilating.
Whether the other Black, Caribbean people I’m acquainted with, yet not presently allied with ever find the courage to question our African descended brethren and sistren is neither here nor there. Whether they ever find it in themselves do more than silently roll their eyes when confronted with the evidence of their own oppression is not my issue.
What I need to point out is that the sort of critique I level at other people is no different than the sort of work I expect of myself. How far can I stretch?