Posts Tagged ‘the nature of oppression’

“The lesbian and gay community has been particularly susceptible to random “picking off,” a form of terrorism that makes […] a particularly effective deterrent to above-ground organizing. Bars frequented by lesbians and gay men have always been subjected to police raids where customers are beaten up by recreational pugilists who lie in wait for their gay prey. To many lesbian and gay organizers (particularly middle-class ones with greater access to private spaces, such as apartments) bars were bad for the lesbian/gay community because they encouraged alcoholism. Bars have promoted destructive individual patterns, but even in the largest cities entering a lesbian or gay bar is an act of self-declaration, and a necessary social focus for lesbians or gay men who have nowhere else to meet.

Bars and baths have been particularly subject to fires, a bizarre hazard wrought by the inadequacy of rundown facilities. Like the media image of black rioters in the 1960s who were portrayed as self-destructively burning their own ghettos, local media hype the angle that disgruntled customers or just crazy lesbian/gays have burned up their own spaces. Within the criminal justice system, lesbians/gays are labeled firebugs, vindictive and vicious people who attack their own community.

Persistent media images (including the controversial movie Cruising) make much of the supposedly “repressed” or self-hating gay man and his potential for destroying other gay men. Society is not blamed for driving gay men crazy, and lesbians and gay men, presumably programmed for self-destruction, are imagined to be doing each other in. […] The lesbian/gay community fights back against disasters perpetrated by negligence or active attack with a veritable “Red Cross” volunteer effort. When gay or lesbian churches, bars, or other establishments have been destroyed, furniture, food, money, clothing, and solace appear without even a request, with the donations coming from all segments of the community. There is a regenerative quality to lesbian and gay “institutions” that transcends the physical space. Amy Hoffman, speaking on behalf of Boston’s Gay Community News after their 1982 fire — set by a ring of ex-firemen from Boston — summed up the ethos of community: “We still have ourselves.”

Lesbians and gay men know that, like any marginal community, theirs is at the mercy of property-owners who would be happy to cash in their insurance policy at their expense. Yet, the image of self-destruction that is part of every U.S. lesbian and gay man’s socialization makes each “victim” wonder whether one of “us” may have done it.”

— Cindy Patton, Sex and Germs: The Politics of AIDS (1985), Ch. 11

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“When Lorde states that the “oppressors maintain their position and evade responsibility for their own actions,” is she talking about those people from the oppressive class who are trying to work in solidarity to dismantle the system from which they benefit, or is she talking about people who are actively committed to upholding the systems from which they benefit? Are teachers who stand in the way of culturally competent and appropriate pedagogy the same as those actively trying to teach students their culturally relevant histories and knowledge? If we cannot make a distinction between the two, if anyone from the oppressive class is always going to remain my oppressor, what hope are we offering to ourselves and to each other that we can transform the oppressive conditions that constrain our lives? None. We are saying that we live in a closed circuit from which there is no escape. We are saying, in other words, that we cannot imagine the world being otherwise.”

“So many of us are attempting to transform the world beyond these systems. So many of us are choosing to join in the fight against oppression, which often means attempting to live between and beyond these two opposing poles. So many of us are trying, failingly, arduously, to acknowledge our oppressive realities at the same time as we work to transform them. I have come to realize that it is not possible to build transformational kinship with anyone if I am unable to give them the space and the permission to come with their full selves. Yes, this means lots of painful conversations and even more painful (un) learnings. Yes, this means I am choosing to sometimes educate someone who benefits from my oppression. But it also means I am creating a bond that can (hopefully) withstand and overcome the oppressive categories that have come to define so many of our lives. Isn’t this, after all, what it means to be a progressive? Isn’t this what it means to be in community with someone? Isn’t this our duty, as people committed to social justice and all that it entails? To be committed to social justice is not an easy task, and yet this binary frame makes it sound like it’s the simplest thing in the world.

A refusal to give people you have allowed into your lives the space to have difficult conversations, to make real and sometimes painful mistakes, is not the work of liberation — it is simply the internalization of the same oppressor’s logic that has perpetuated the very isms we are so ardently railing against. Lorde concludes her essay with these famous words: “[T]he master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.””

– Asam Ahmad, “Who is your oppressor?Canadian Dimension, June 3, 2018.

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