Anti Oppression Organising
What does So We Stand mean when it talks about ANTI-OPPRESSION?
Anti-oppression is not a political dogma, it’s about how our interpersonal identities affect our place in a very real social system, and being honest about our privileges.
What do we mean by privilege?
By privileges we mean this – Privilege is derived from the Latin and literally means ‘private law’ or ‘law for one person’. It is about aspects of your person that grant you certain benefits in society.
More specifically to the context in which we use it we mean;
“It is important to remember that the word “privilege,” when used in this context, does not mean absolute privilege. There are a lot of White folks, for example, who certainly could not be considered to be “privileged” because they are poor, were raised poor, had other disadvantages, etc. With respect to a similarly situated person of color, however, they are considered to “have privilege.” In other words, having “privilege” means having an advantage, all other things being equal and is not the same as “being privileged.” Like “racist,” it refers to what we are, not who we are: “I am someone who has privilege, but I am not privileged; I am racist, but I am not a racist.” Failing to appropriately define the concept invariably results in an unraveling of its meaning; after all, only a very small fraction of the population would be considered to be “privileged” in the broadest sense of the word (someone always has it better). Most of us have some degree of privilege in one context or another”
[taken from http://raceproject.org/2009/08/beyond-white-guilt-role-of-allies-in.html]
These privileges are based on who we are (not what we think) For example privileges are given to people dependent on aspects of their identity such as – race, sex, gender, cisgender, ability, age, class. The system that we live in is based on a hierarchy of these identities.
This privilege is not necessarily obvious – sure, there are a places a woman feels unsafe to enter on an immediate basis, but it also, for instance, creates a ‘glass ceiling’ (an invisible barrier) to women accessing the same heights in work and labour as men. And being a black woman, or a disabled woman, or a queer woman, or a trans woman create more and more glass ceilings in all aspects of your life. Conversely, being a white middle-class male grants you a lot of privilege. As does being a white female, or straight, or able-bodied… you get the point.
The thing about privilege is, that the system works to make you unaware of — it (we) normalises the privileges so that it’s much easier to see what you don’t have then what you do. This is systemic injustice. For instance, it’s easier to understand how living as a woman impacts on yourself in a patriarchal society (ie negatively) then to understand how being a white woman impacts (ie positively).
What is ‘the system’?
We are the system and the system is what we operate in — it is environmental injustices, it is Tory cuts, it is the conversation you had with a shop assistant yesterday.
Having these invisible privileges makes people entitled without even realising that they are so. Being the only working class black person in a room of white environmentalists… the way that race/class/privilege plays out is more than being (or not being) subjected to abuse. It is who takes up space, it is the language that’s used, it is the invisible power structures, it is being treated as ‘the other’ without people even realising they are doing it.
Having privilege means that to truly want to destabilize and fuck the systems of oppression as they stand, you need to want to destabilize and fuck the systems of oppression that you, personally, uphold. Self-educating, understanding, learnining how to deal with being told that your behaviour or language is oppressive, challenging (and losing) our sense of entitlement, being willing to shut up and listen to those with less privilege, not dominating spaces while you’re dealing with processing and understanding what your privilege is are all ways of doing this.
Having the space and time to think about. process and learn about your privilege is also a privilege, not at the disposal of those on the other side of the race/class/sex/ability/gender/age/sexuality divide. The people who HAVE to deal with priviliged peoples shit all the time, whether it be living in the shadow or waste incinerators or dealing with the individual behaviours of people with privilege.
How, then do we organise if we recognise we have privilege which is oppressive? Solidarity.
Solidarity is not about finding the thing that you care about and trying to champion it, it’s about recognising that the system we all uphold is fucking over certain frontline groups most and then, letting them lead on how to make it better, supporting where and when they want you to and not trying to educate them with a superior sense of understanding. Learning to be a good ‘ally’.
Being an ally is not about reaching a higher state of being, where you are no longer white, or male, or able-bodied. It is a process of understanding that those aspects of who you are, carry privileges that others do not have, and constantly working at challenging those privileges in yourself, while simultaneously supporting those without them to take up more space, and have greater access to spaces/resources/talking space etc then they are normally granted – on their own terms.
So an anti-oppression framework is basically not seeing these things as an identity politics that are secondary to the ‘real revolution’ but as seeing the hierarchy of identity as the very tools that uphold the masters house. Realising that we, in our very existence, embody these privileges and underprivileges and acknowledge them as weapons of the elite. Therefore, learning what they are and how they are used, and being honest, open and critical about what arms we are carrying into every interaction, room, institution, protest and discussion is the first step in destabilising the masters house.