Oppression

Oppression is at the top of the societal chain. It encompasses prejudice, discrimination, microaggressions, bias, hate and bigotry. It contains the word “press” which is significant because oppression is all about pressing people down. Oppression is a system, i.e. it is systemic and across the board. Oppression is an unjust exercise of authority or power in order to harm a particular social group. Oppression does not really operate on the individual level like prejudice does; it is a group benefitting from the oppression of another group. Oppression is subjugation and it is a pattern of control. Oppression is the injurious outcome experienced by targeted social group members due to the cruel and capricious exercise and abuse of power in our society.

Let’s talk more about the outcome. Oppression is unbelievably destructive. I firmly believe that the ultimate destination of oppression is death. As Audre Lorde wrote in her poem “A Litany for Survival”, we [oppressed people] were never meant to survive. In addition to death, oppression affects the living in a myriad of ways. This includes: impoverishment and economic stratification, homelessness, institutional discrimination, lack of education or miseducation, joblessness, employment discrimination, poor or nonexistent health care and minority stress. It is overwhelming when you are impacted by all of these forces of oppression. It is not just one thing coming down on you but multiple things simultaneously crashing down on you and your kin.

The topic of minority stress is incredibly important. Minority stress greatly affects a person’s health primarily due to the accumulation of excess stress. The daily nature of systemic oppression affects a person’s health physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.

According to Wikipedia:

“Minority stress describes chronically high levels of stress faced by members of stigmatized minority groups. It may be caused by a number of factors, including poor social support and low socioeconomic status, but the most well understood causes of minority stress are interpersonal prejudice and discrimination. Indeed, numerous scientific studies have shown that minority individuals experience a high degree of prejudice, which causes stress responses (e.g., high blood pressure, anxiety) that accrue over time, eventually leading to poor mental and physical health. Minority stress theory summarizes these scientific studies to explain how difficult social situations lead to chronic stress and poor health among minority individuals. It is an important concept for psychologists and public health officials who seek to understand and reduce minority health disparities.” [Emphasis mine]

Oppression leads to poor health. This poor health can then lead to an early grave, which returns us back to my point about the ultimate destination of oppression being death of the person. This statement is not hyperbolic. Life expectancy is the ultimate issue for oppressed people. This is why we can never talk about oppression enough. We need to eradicate oppression but in the interim we need to lessen oppression so we can lessen minority stress and improve people’s health in the here and now to increase their life expectancy. It is not just psychologists and public health officials that should seek to reduce minority stress. We should all be attempting to do that in whatever way we can.

I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but I am very convinced I will not live an average life span. I have faced a lot of oppression, stigma and prejudice in my life and I see it shaving years off my life. I already have a constellation of physical health, mental health and economic problems that make my day to day life very stressful. I have seen how oppression has played out in my own life and either outright caused or been a serious factor in the development of mental and physical ailments and chronic health conditions. Oppression is insidious, dangerous, destructive and deadly. We all need to work together to lessen the scourge of oppression in targeted populations. It is not only our health and well-being that depend on it, but our very lives.

Hatred

After writing two entries about love, I would be remiss to not write about hate. It brings me no pleasure to write about hate. Writing about love is pleasurable. Writing about hate is highly uncomfortable, particularly if we write about it in an honest manner. Hate is not just an emotion “out there” amongst those bad people. Hatred runs deep within everyone. It has different amounts in different people, to be sure. But it is in all of us. That, to me, is the most important lesson about hatred. We need to look deep within ourselves, not just cast aspersions on those bigots that are more overtly hateful.

The man who we will not name, who we will call 45, is one of the most hateful people to ever show up in public life. A commentator referred to him as Archie Bunker with a Twitter account. He is undeniably racist, with a long and vile list of examples of racist behavior and language. That he is POTUS and so hateful is abhorrent to an unprecedented degree. We have seen an uptick in hate crimes and bias in our country. It is not surprising given that it is coming from the top. The most powerful man in the U.S. and possibly the world is setting an example of hatred, bigotry and prejudice.

45 deserves to be called out for days. There is no doubt that he is harming our nation and harming our people. He could bring us to the brink of global catastrophe in the blink of an eye. 45 brings hatred into the public square. Perhaps the only silver lining is that there are more discussions of racism, misogyny and other forms of bigotry. We need to talk about this abhorrent man and his hate, but we also need to talk about the other, more insidious hatred: the hatred within. None of us are immune from it. When someone says they don’t have a prejudiced bone in their body I have to laugh. Is this person actually human?

We are taught to be afraid. We are taught to fear each other. We are taught to have prejudice towards others. We are taught to hate the other. For most of us, it is not overt. It is covert and hidden, but it is still there nonetheless. Every institution from family to media to the government, etc. indoctrinates us into the beliefs of what bell hooks terms the white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy. We cannot escape this socialization and enculturation. The result is internalized dominance for people in the agent class and internalized oppression for people in the targeted class. Hatred affects us all but targeted social groups bear the brunt of the oppression while advantaged groups lose part of their humanity.

Some of the hate that I have is the result of being hated. You see, hate begets hate. It is like a chain of dominoes. The way to get rid of the hate within is not to deny it. It is to confront it and interrogate it. We need to examine our own prejudices that have congealed into hatred and ask how it has happened. What have we learned and what fear do we carry around with us? How can we consciously attempt to confront these fears and dislodge this hatred from our being? There is no easy recipe to get rid of our hatred. But the first step is admitting that we have it. Pointing fingers at 45 is not enough. We need to look in our own back yards.