The Paradox of the Oppressed (part 5)

The biggest paradox of the oppression is the successful establishment of the oppression. How does an oppressed established that s/he is oppressed especially when the structures of oppression are against her/him? Can an oppressed speak from the margins where no one listens. S/he manages but to speak to her(him)self. After all, that is what the margins designed for by the structures of the oppression.

The idea of establishment of the oppression gets more blurred when multiple ideological and identity oppression acts in tandem. An oppressed is at times both the oppressed as well as the oppressor. For instance, A oppresses B and B in turn oppresses C, and so on and so forth. This is a complicated situation. B is both an oppressor and the oppressed at the same time and her/his position of dominance changes with changing contexts of identity and ideology. However, A is a universal oppressor and C (or the last in the chain) is the universal oppressed.

Intersectionality has helped to resolve these situations successfully to quite an extent yet the very idea of multiple identities and oppression complicates the establishment of oppression.

Fig 1. Cell (1,1) to be read as C is oppressed by A

Disclaimer: I hate to given identifiers in these discussion and try to keep it as objective as possible yet I have do it against my wish for the lack of options.

In the above figure, a white-male is a universal oppressor and an Afro-american-female is the universally oppressed due to their intersecting dominant and marginalized positions, respectively. That is, the Afro-american female is oppressed by both the structures of race as well as gender. Interestingly, the position of Afro-american male is clear too, of an oppressed with respect to the white-male (race) and that of the oppressor (gender) with respect to Afro-american female. The ambiguity that needs to be resolved is between white female and Afro-american male with respect to each other, as both oppressed by gender and race , respectively, and are oppressor by race and gender, respectively.

This is the challenge I have discussed above. And the challenge of establishment of the oppression, if any, needs to be resolved in intersecting oppressive identities. Or taking it a step back, is there always an established state of oppression? Can there be an ambiguous state of oppression too? And why do we wish to establish the direction of oppression. [by direction here I mean, Does B oppress Cor C oppresses B?]

The direction of the oppression helps in not only bringing forth the oppression from margins to mainstream but also helps in taking necessary steps structural changes in law enforcement, policy making, education etc. However, creation of operationalisation ease doesn’t ascertain the existence of the direction. There may not be any direction and any step taken therefore could be a disaster.

Oppression is manifestation of structural norms and the resultant practice. Norms are derived from laws, religion, morality, history etc and practice is their manifestation. If there exists norms such as racism or sexism, as we have seen above, there has to exist a resultant intersecting norm, howsoever ambiguous as that may appear initially. The lived experiences are manifestations these norms and indeed can have multiple exceptions making it difficult to establish and therefore the resultant ambiguity. For instance, Patriarchy cannot be rejected as a structure due to the cases of domestic violence perpetrated by female. Men right groups may refer to cases of judicial bias in cases of divorce and child-custody, yet, these incidents are limited to limited aspects of men’s life. Also, historically the men have been at advantage and these cases are recent phenomenon, though not rare. Incidents and structures, therefore, have to be differentiated basis their normative and praxis values despite the cases of exceptions and their scope.

Coming back to previous example in fig 1.

Case 1: A + B oppresses C + D (Racial oppression White oppression over Afro-american)

Case 2: A+C oppresses B + D (Patriarchy, male dominance over female gender)

Both the above situations cannot co-exist simultaneously, as it would mean that there exists a structure where B oppresses C and C oppresses B simultaneously, which is not possible by the very definition of structure. It also renders both the structures, racism and sexism, therefore, invalid. Historically speaking, both Afro-american male and female have been oppressed by White race. Despite Patriarchy, the white female have always been at a better situation than Afro-American male or Afro-american female. This privilege has continued despite any gains made by male Afro-american. The historicity of oppression plays an important role. The history can neither be reversed nor abrogated.

Now that we have resolved the ambiguity of oppression in figure 1. We can safely say that there doesn’t exist an ambiguous state of oppression by the very definition. The direction of the oppression is well defined and can be safely critiqued or analysed.

Fig 2: B oppresses C, established.

This gives us an interesting way to look at this whole intersectionality issue. Lets say X -> Y represents X oppresses Y.

So, from figure 2:

A->B -> C -> D [ Patriarchy, resultant intersectional Racism, Patriarchy]

The idea of intesectionality gives us a valuable tool to look at the issue of interacting identities, however, it leaves us with ambiguity, when we try to resolve the issues. Therefore, the discourse moves little further in dismantling the structures. However, when we establish the directions of norm and practice, and establish them through historicity and live experience, the ambiguity gets resolved and what we come up with is Hierarchy of Oppression.