Debate · Life · Thoughts

The Balance between Privilege and Oppression

There is a very delicate balance between acknowledging your privilege and simultaneously being aware of your oppression. In any given situation it may happen that you are in a position to be both the oppressor, and the oppressed.  At any given time you could be powerful, within measure, and also powerless against the systems that oppress you.

That is the importance of intersectionality. For those who may not know, intersectionality is a term used to describe the different systems of oppression that connect and work against someone. Many of us view the world through a lens of the simultaneity of gender, class, sex, race, body type, physical disability, sexual orientation oppression and more. Certain people will have more systems of oppression working against them, and others will have less. People with the least or no structures of oppression working against them (e.g straight, white, able-bodied, rich, cismen) are and most likely always will be the most successful amongst us.

If person A is poor, black, and lesbian, they have three strikes against them. Three different types of oppression target them, each in its own damaging way. In comparison, if Person B is poor, black, and straight they have privilege over person A because their sexual orientation is widely accepted. Which is not to say that person B isn’t still oppressed, they just have the privilege of being straight. And that privilege protects them from being discriminated against for their sexual orientation. If my privilege as a straight woman gets me to places where people will listen, it’s my job to use that platform to create conversations for people with sexual orientations that aren’t as accepted as mine. And when safe spaces for those conversations are created, it’s my job to step aside and let those less privileged than I am speak for themselves.

This is not synonymous with a victim mentality. And it’s not oppression Olympics either. This is the deplorable manner in which people treat those who are seen as “lesser”, because powerful people made it that way. And until these powerful structures that work against minorities are destroyed, this is how it will always be.

To reiterate, being aware of the privilege you have, alongside the oppression you face is delicate and uncomfortable work. It teaches you when to speak and empathize, and when to be silent and give your platform to those who are oppressed in more ways than you are. You have to be willing to embrace the critical thinking and self-work necessary to push back against your privilege, even while experiencing oppression. You will make mistakes; we all will. Sometimes we will be blind to our privilege, and we will hurt others. But we have to keep doing the work or else we risk becoming the very thing we hate.

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