Saturday, February 2, 2008

Ranking Oppression: An Exercise In Futility?

For the most part, my observation has been that people universally see no use in ranking oppression, i.e. saying one group has it harder than any other. As I mentioned in regards to white anti-racists, a lot of people are of the view that inequality is inequality and such distinctions don't matter. I argue that they do matter. Here are the two biggest reasons why:

You can be oppressed and also be an oppressor. The higher up on the social hierarchy you are, the more likely you're inescapably implicated in the role of "oppressor" daily.
Our hierarchy is more complex than people make it seem, usually because talk of a hierarchy tends to be confined to race and/or sex. But the hierarchy includes race, sex, class, sexual orientation, gender, age, religion, and so on. Because of this short-sight, we tend to talk about the oppressor as white and/or male without recognizing our own ability to oppress.

Being near the bottom of the hierarchy, of course, doesn't mean you can't oppress others at times. It's just that, for example, blacks being racist towards Asians or whites ultimately doesn't hinder their progress in the world, whereas Asian or white racism does keep blacks down. This is because of relative power, i.e. relative hierarchy position. You also have to look at identity intersections. Black men can and do oppress black women, but because they are men--not because they are black. A white transgendered individual can be oppressive towards blacks or Asians, but has this power because he/she is white. Even a black person who happens to have power, i.e. usually financially, can oppress others who aren't black but are lower socioeconomic.

Furthermore, people who are in a relatively better position, whether they realize it or not, not only oppress but have stake in it. This is another one of the reasons why I don't think various minority groups will form wide-scale, effective coalitions. Asians are where they are in society partially because blacks are where they are, partially because whites use Asians in the game of oppression against blacks and partially because of their efforts. However, Asians are still not equal to whites. In some ways, Asians are accomplices in their own oppression, and oftentimes this oppression works against other minority groups.

The most obvious example is the exaltation of whiteness by many Asians. Rather than working to break down whiteness and white privilege, they do things to hold it up, i.e. efforts to lighten the skin, alter the eyes, date/marry and breed with whites, become more culturally white, etc. And in the process, many will agree with white ideals for oppressing other groups, i.e. the amount of Asians who are against affirmative action or who teach their kids that only whites and other Asians are good enough to mimick, live among, have friendships or relationships with, etc, or carry forth these lessons received from their parents/the Asian community at large in their daily lives.

Regardless of whether or not an Asian person grows up to believe in equality for all, the overwhelming majority still act out these thoughts of blacks and Latinos not being good enough to interact with relative to themselves and whites (though many of these same people draw comparisons to blacks, quote W.E.B. DuBois and other black scholars when describing their experiences in the US, listen to rap music, "steal" elements of "black culture" and support Barack Obama). You'll almost never hear them say anything that indicates they consider blacks and Latinos "American" or romantic options like they do whites, yet they want these benefits from whites. In other words, they believe they should be equal and considered good enough but don't exactly seem to extend this same courtesy, resulting in indirect roles in and support for the idea that oppression of/inequality for blacks and Latinos relative to Asians and whites is correct or, at least, acceptable.

Knowing why people from other groups "hate"--or, more realistically, resent--you helps in the quest to lessen/eliminate inequality and discrimination.
We can't make people stop hating one another if we don't understand all the reasons why they hate. For many people, particularly those from minority groups, discrimination is rooted in the idea that the other group is more accepted by the more powerful groups in society and/or the fact that the other group is perceived as more powerful or advantaged. More people know this than they realize. For example, oftentimes when I visit an Asian American message board, someone has posted a news article about a black person attacking an Asian. And the ensuing discussion usually includes at least one person "pointing out" that blacks hate Asians because of the model minority myths--usually the Asian poster is listing off the "myths" as if they are "truths" that instill, apparently, a violent amount of jealousy in blacks.

At this moment in time, you're dealing with an Asian who doesn't particularly care about the stress that allegedly being smarter than everyone else places on many Asians, the fact that certain Asian ethnicities in the US are doing better than others, the fact that whites use Asians in white supremacist games against blacks and all the other arguments more observant/analytical Asians tend to make when they discuss why stereotypes are "just as" problematic to Asians as they are to any other group.

Well...whether or not there's any jealousy there or the reasons are as stated by Asians who believe in the model minority depiction, these statements sound somewhat similar to the truth. It's not that blacks really believe Asians are better than blacks or even whites, as whites and even some blacks will have us believe, and hate Asians accordingly. Rather, it's the fact that so many people buy into the idea of an Asian supremacy of sorts and allow it to affect that way they treat/accept Asians vs the way they treat/accept blacks in society. More specifically, we're talking about white people.

To give an example...I've mentioned that my mother does not like Asians and Latinos. I remember one of my white friends asked me why my mother doesn't like Asians when I mentioned it to her, and I explained it in a pretty succinct way, considering it's more complex than it actually seems. Succinctly? It's because white people treat Asians and Latinos better than black people. Now, to me, this is a reason to hate white people, not Asians, if you're going to hate people based on something like this. It's kind of like how your man cheats on you with another woman, and, yet, you're trying to kick the woman's @ss.

Basically, my mother notices the prevalence of interracial dating among Asians and whites--particularly Asian women and white men. She's one of those people who doesn't really consider Asians and Latinos born in the US "American," so the thought is always that "these people" can come from their countries and have whites "roll out the red carpet" for them, date them, be friends with them, give them all kinds of opportunities that are foreclosed to blacks even if the Asian or Latino can barely speak English or hates America/ns, sympathize with their struggles in their native lands and/or to achieve the American dream while this sympathy is not extended to blacks, etc.

And, to top it all off, "these people" have the nerve to think they're better than blacks. Blacks, who built this country almost single-handedly while whites sat on their @sses, only getting up to rape some poor black woman and beat some poor black man. Blacks, who were born here because they were brought here against their will, rather than coming here of their own volition simply to take from the US, not to give to it. Blacks, who have been here and have been fighting for their rights for over a century, yet still keep seeing people from other nations come right on in and, immediately, they're ahead of blacks on the social hierarchy.

And you know what? I have to agree. I can totally see this pissing any black person off. People from other countries do come here and get all these advantages and acceptance while looking down on blacks and blaming blacks for their own place. Blacks did and do contribute so much to the US while whites generally get the credit. I even agree that people who immigrate to the US are essentially looking to take from the nation--that's what the American Dream is all about, in my eyes. What I don't agree with is blacks were the only ones who built the US, that other people didn't and don't contribute to the US, that Asians and Latinos born here are not more than just more outsiders who are taking from nation, or that--aside from their racism--Asians and Latinos are to blame for this.

Still, the point is: this is how some blacks feel; what to do about it? See, ranking oppression is not the divisive act. The divisive act has already occurred, and ranking oppression is all about pointing the divisive act out. To me, if you understand why tensions exist between blacks and Asians or blacks and Latinos, i.e. we don't like them because they get everything that we still deserve but don't get, then and only then can you start figuring out how to resolve the tension. I get the sense that so many people think that knowing racism and discrimination exists is enough and that we can dive right in working on the issue just based off that limited knowledge. That's not good enough.

And it's certainly not good enough to brush off other people saying, "hey, this, this and that happens to black people and it doesn't happen to Asians." In other words, trying to deconstruct privilege without recognizing your own or why you have that privilege is not going to work. Simply blaming or going after whites is not going to work just like blacks simply blaming or going after Asians and Latinos is not going to work. You have to look at everybody's role. And, as I said, anybody with any privilege has a role in oppression. Therefore, you can't be committed to equality without being realistic about the different types of inequality, who creates it, who participates in it, how they participate, etc. In other words, inequality is not just inequality regardless.
In discussing this topic, I discuss Asians vs blacks more because the piece that inspired this topic was on an Asian site and someone had basically made the point that blacks were worse-off than Asians, to which someone responded that people shouldn't really get off into that kind of thing. My response was that there are times in which it's useful and times in which it's not. Personally, I think that when people say we shouldn't talk about who has it worse, it's usually to save themselves from facing their own privilege and, thus, feeling bad about themselves...or, if they are the less-privileged, to keep from having to think too much about how bad their position really is relative to others who are not the typical white straight male enemy that I pointed out many of us like to focus on in these discussions. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why people tend not to like the argument that immigration is bad for blacks, along with the popular idea that minorities cannot or should not be discriminatory because they experience discrimination.