constellational thinker. critical educator.


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Dear Everyone: Let’s Stop Playing the Oppression Olympics and Let’s Stand in Solidarity to BS

So like my last post, this one is pretty reactionary.  I was planning on coming home after a nice day at work, having a beer, and getting through one more episode of OITNB.  Then I saw some things that caught my attention and got heated.

Last week, Sierra Mannie’s article was promoted by TIME Magazine online; it was originally published somewhere else.  I read the article and there was some GOOD stuff in there.  Mannie makes excellent points about cultural appropriation and the intersectional oppression that Black women face in the United States.  She’s calling White gay men out for appropriating culture, which others have discussed.

Then, people reacted to her article with their own. Why yes, those are all separate links; thanks for asking.

Reactions ranged from the “I get what you’re saying but (this) but I still get what you’re saying” to the “slow your role and let me tell you about how gay men are oppressed in this country while I oppress you.”  The response articles ranged from direct reactions to broader discussions of culture and appropriation.  The authors of those seven articles I linked above in particular (who I am assuming to all be cisgender men), for the most part, acknowledged that they will never understand what it means to be a Black woman in the U.S. and that there are some good points in Minnie’s article.  There seemed to be an understanding that we all live different realities in our daily lives based on our identities – we can be asked the same question about our lives but could all give different answers.

What really bothers me about the reactions and Minnie’s article…well, there are a few things:

1) Folks are oppressing one another in the very articles that are calling for solidarity.  Why are we attacking one another?  Minnie calls out gay men who “claim their a [Black] woman” and is telling them to stop appropriating culture.  Other articles discuss that being gay is not something that cannot be so easily hidden or made invisible just from a lack of knowing how one identifies as Minnie suggests.  Both sides make valid points but then further demean or deny each other in the process: they perpetuate the oppressions of the other.  For instance, talking about and perpetuating ideas of color blindness (aka not seeing race) is harmful. Saying that sexuality is easily hidden versus other identities is harmful (sometimes it is the only option some folks have).  Why do we perpetuate these harms in our own posts?  I’m not saying don’t call out oppressive ish; but let’s refrain from that in the process; go for the argument, not the person and their identities.  You may not have intended to be sexist, racist, or homophobic in your rhetoric, but you still had thatimpact with your words.

2) Let’s stop playing the Oppression Olympics.  For those familiar with the term, I do really align with the critique of the term Latoya Peterson discussed back in ’08 but I have not come up with a better term to describe what I mean here.  For those unfamiliar with the term, you may have seen the Oppression Olympics in this form (provided by EverydayFeminism):

“How can you say that (insert oppressed group of your choice here) have it so hard? I’m from (insert oppressed group of your choice here). I know real oppression. You’re so f*cking stupid. Get a hobby.”

Basically, related to what I wrote in #1, let’s acknowledge that all forms of oppression and discrimination (e.g., homophobia/heterosexism, ableism, racism, sexism, transphobia, religious oppression) are all bad in their own unique ways and one isn’t any better than it’s rude neighbor.  H. Alan Scott wrote:

I mean, gay white men are everywhere, and everyone loves them. They’ve never, ever been murdered for being gay, or denied housing, or medical care. They’ve never been arrested for being gay, or have had to have the Supreme Court rule that their sex was finally legal, definitely not in 2003. Nope, none of these things are true for gay white men, because they do rule the world (oops, did I just go all Beyoncé on her, my bad, I’ll stick with Madonna, or will I piss off Italians?! FUCK!).

Which he followed up with my VERY point about the Oppression Olympics…and then said more stuff, which leads to my last critique…

Seriously though, this isn’t a game of, “My minority is worse off than yours,” or, “more of my people have been killed than yours,” because that’s not the point. The point is that recognizing the things that she thinks belongs only to black women is the very thing that causes the separation and hate in our society. There’s a reason why this country is called a “melting pot,” because eventually, once you lose the bullshit separation and start appreciating what makes us all amazing, you start realizing that, “Wow, we’re not all that different after all.”

Along with this comes the elitism around “knowing” where culture comes from.  Two of the authors point out that shade, reading, and the like come from Ball Culture, which had its origins in clubs in New York…with Latino/Black gay men and trans* folk really establishing that culture.  But White men are also claiming that for themselves now?  Don’t think about it too long – your head will hurt.  Can we just stop out oppressing and out “knowing” each other?  Can we stop with the social justice elitism and just listen to one another?  Heck, it’s why I’ve quoted so many others in this because their words (amongst others) should be recognized, validated, and digested.

3) SO WHAT IF WE ARE DIFFERENT – Really, I could talk to you for hours (really 10 minutes) about why the melting pot analogy is problematic.  However, since I have your attention in this handy post, I’ll spare you that.  Some educators use the analogy of a salad bowl analogy of American culture:

In the salad bowl model, various American cultures are juxtaposed — like salad ingredients — but do not merge into a single homogeneous culture. Each culture keeps its own distinct qualities. This idea proposes a society of many individual, “pure” cultures in addition to the mixed culture that is modern American culture, and the term has become more politically correct than melting pot, since the latter suggests that ethnic groups may be unable to preserve their cultures due to assimilation.

Some of the critiques, as I read them, defended cultural appropriation and discussed this idea that our cultures are already blending, which then helps to promote…equality?  This is one of my fundamental pet peeves around the idea of equality – that we must be the same and that there must be something inherently the same about all of us to have political and legal equality.  Do we all have to be the same for access to the same rights and privileges bestowed upon others?  For instance, many are on the quest for the gay genebecause if gay people are indeed “born that way,” well then there’s no way to deny them equality.  What if gay people weren’t born that way?  What if it was psychological?  Sociological?  Or just choice?  Would that mean we would not deserve equal rights to marry the people we love or have our sexual behavior made illegal because of choice?   No.

So, can we agree on a few things?

Maybe we could just shut up, listen to one another, critique with care, and work together to end the BS.  There are gay White men that have appropriated Black female culture.  There are black women that have furthered the oppression of White gay men.  We can be (are) allies and be (are) friends.  Or we could just try and talk over one another, stick to binaries and a dualistic understanding of one another, and just be demeaning.  Cause that’s really worked so far?


P.S. In the event you’d like more tips on how to do these things, I’d recommend starting here.

Alex Lange