“I have come to see that violence against other living things is oppression, just as I have come to see that oppression is violence”.
Oppression is when anyone regardless of their race, gender, class, age etc imposes their will against another through acts that are harmful–physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually. This also plays out at a societal level where institutions use their power to exploit, deceive, enslave or imprison. To me all of these are an abuse of power. Recognizing our own oppressive behaviors and the oppressive behaviors in our community institutions is an important first step in developing into healthy, freer individuals and communities. Developing practices that liberate can build strong and powerful communities. Working toward the greater good, having a generosity of spirit and using timely and clear communication while restraining those parts of ourselves that want to act out or behave badly is key. It means developing an internal discipline, where we don’t give those parts of ourselves that are mean, angry, rageful, resentful, racist etc. permission to act out. It is about becoming aware of them and taking responsibility for holding those parts of us accountable to our values and visions. (As an aside, it is those parts of ourselves, those shadow parts, that make us most vulnerable to infiltration, cooptation and discord.)
As we develop personal practices rooted in a healthy use of our power, we can begin to undo the cultural programming or socialization that makes us racist, sexist, homophobic etc. As we dismantle this internally, within ourselves, our families and our communities, we undermine the oppressive systems and structures in our society. These structural forms of oppression whether it is physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, have created a society riddled with unjust institutions and amazing amounts of violence against women, people of color, elderly, queer and trans, and children.
There are also an amazing amount of really privileged people in our communities, country and world. Privilege is not good or bad it is how you use it. It is all around us. but it is often invisible to those who have it. We are socialized into believing certain things about ourselves and others. If you are white or male or straight or rich you are told you are desirable, important, special, superior. If you are a woman, a person of color, queer or poor – you are taught that you are less than, not important, inferior, that it is impossible for you to succeed. This is really powerful stuff and it runs deep in our culture. It is a cornerstone really. We can undo this by becoming conscious of these beliefs and practices and then by using our privilege strategically with those who are oppressed to be in solidarity with actions they are taking own behalf.
Strategic Use of Privilege is something I’ve been learning from the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond and from my friend George Friday. She is the one who really helped me understand this.The following is based on my notes from one of her talks.
Work in Community – must have a community context. everyone gets to participate, it’s everyone’s and we all have a role.
Build relationships – it takes work, time and honesty. We must develop an everyday practice learning how to ask for what you want, even if the answer is no.
Focus on the Root Causes – racism, capitalism, misogyny Deal with sexual identity, class, ethnicity, faith right up front, get it over with Figure it out quickly to know how to help support each others needs.
Strategic Use of Privilege is an easy way to build our movement and honest relationships.
- If I have more privilege – it is up to me to dismantle it or use it. How can I use it?
- If I am in the room with gay person, it is my job speak in favor of each person having the right to love and wed whom they choose.
- If am more educated, then I must translate, breakdown, or insure that everyone can understand what is going on.
- If I am a man, I need to support women’s leadership
Stay In It – means we will screw up, so get that over with to, so go ahead and get it out front. We will offend each so do it, say it and take responsibility of it.
Be Easy On Yourself! Operating with Strategic Use of Privilege is for the Rest of Your Life, so no need to beat yourself up.
It is also helpful to understand some of the masters tools that keep us divided and down.
Forms of Domination
Those interested in power over utilize a variety of tools. Five master suppression techniques or forms of Dominations that have been identified by Berit Ås a professor of Social Psychology at the University of Oslo are:
- Making Invisible
- Withholding Information
- Damned If You Do And Damned If You Don’t
- Heaping Blame and Putting to Shame
These tools of the master are used to break one’s spirit, to disempower, to confuse, to divide, to immobilize. These tactics are another assault on our humanity already laid bare through the devastating affects of institutional racism, patriarchy, classism and heterosexism. Those more privileged go around with an inflated sense of self, believing that they deserve all they have because, at some level, they feel they are superior. Those who do not fit into the mainstream cultural paradigm go around in a state of deflation; carrying a sense of internal inferiority, where at some unconscious level they don’t believe they could ever succeed. Those who work to be conscious can see that these unjust institution and practices can be undone through understanding history, developing a deeper analysis, strategic use of privilege, organizing, leadership development, mutual aid/shared resources, solidarity and respect.