discrimination, oppression

On Oppression

Oppression is a global experience. Men and women regardless of race, gender or class have come face to face with oppression in its many forms. For me, oppression is being made to feel different, uncomfortable and uneasy because of gender, sexuality, age, class, race or ethnicity. Consider the following true situations:

  1. Cape Coral, FL: An African American teenager walks into a gas station to pay for a soda. A Caucasian man walking by mutters “Get out of my town you little n*gger!” (racism)
  2.  Pittsburgh, PA: During a scholarship interview, an African American woman is asked what she would do if she doesn’t receive the money. The head of the scholarship committee, a Caucasian woman, says, “Well, you can always sell your body.”(sexism)
  3. Lancaster, PA: A Caucasian man in his sixties is laid off from his job. On an interview, the Caucasian woman interviewer notes that despite the man’s years of experience, “You will have a hard time finding a job, especially at your age.” (ageism)
  4. Northeast Philadelphia, PA: On the playground a Jewish girl overhears a group of kids talking negatively about Jewish people. Upset, she says, “Well, I’m Jewish.” The group says, “Well, you don’t LOOK Jewish.”(anti-Semitism)

Everyone feels a similar, systematic powerlessness when confronted with oppression: We first feel stunned. Then, we have an internal struggle with the fact that something is not right, that it’s not ok for someone to say, do or act this way towards us. Then, the powerless feeling turns to anger and frustration: why didn’t I say something in the moment? Why didn’t I defend myself? What can I do to get rid of this anger?

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s essay “Three Ways of Meeting Oppression” (from Stride Toward Freedom, 1958) argues that the best way to deal with oppression is nonviolent resistance or rejecting a violent, physical response in favor of building a community to overcome oppression. He writes, “nonviolent resistance is not aimed against oppressors but against oppression.”  Our fight is against oppression and not each other. In lieu of Dr. King’s model of nonviolent resistance, the following is a few options for everyday nonviolent resistance:

  1. Talk to someone: Sadly, these situations are common. Talk to someone about it. You will probably hear a similar story of how they overcame oppression.
  2. Read, read, read: Confront your feelings of powerless by educating yourself about oppression. Human Rights Activists, Feminists, LGBT activists, and many others have been fighting for our rights to not be oppressed. Reading about their past and current fight will provide you with knowledge and a support system against oppression.
  3. Continue the conversation:  Start your own human rights conversations with friends, family, and other people that you know have experienced oppression-induced powerlessness. This will lead you to understand oppression in many different ways.

The idea behind this entry is to start a conversation about oppression. As a black woman, I have experienced oppression in many forms. Through various conversations, I have realized that all people experience oppression in some form, no matter how they identify themselves.

How have you been affected by oppression? How do you incorporate nonviolent resistance into your life?  

academia, discrimination, stress, Uncategorized

Grad School is Hard

The day I walked into the Cathedral of Learning for the first time I had no idea what I was in for. No one told me that graduate school was this hard. Waking up after half an hour of sleep, studying for months on end for my Comprehensive Examinations, teaching hundreds of Spanish I and Spanish II students, attending professional conferences, reading dozens of books, the list goes on. Did I mention how little you get paid? Did I also mention you’re probably not going to finish all of the work you need to? Lesson 1 about grad school, if you’re a perfectionist you’re going to cry a lot. Lesson 2 about grad school, grad school is NOT like college; it’s really hard and it only gets harder with each coming year. Lesson 3 about grad school, we don’t talk about grad school.

The third lesson is actually the most relevant for this blog. No one talks about how horrible grad school is. No one stopped me on my way to my first class to warn me. I’m sure no one warned you either. Well, now you’re stuck in school, with loans and have a dozen papers to grade. Take a minute and tell me about it. This is one of your first and only free therapy writing sessions.

I’ve been asking friends what they wish someone had warned them about when they first got to grad school. So far, my husband (who quit) wishes someone warned him about the culture shock. In his physics program, there were 50% Southeast Asians, which was obviously very different from his Southeast rural PA upbringing. I, personally, wish someone warned me about the racial discrimination. No one told me that as an Canadian woman of Jamaican descent, people would get lost among the hyphens and just lump me in with a typical “African American” woman, whatever that means. I constantly have to defend myself, which is something distinct, new and unsettling for me. Hopefully it gets better, but I doubt it. The shock still hasn’t worn off and I don’t think it ever will. The one stability that I have in grad school is that it is constantly a challenge, constantly stressful and therefore an accepted part of my crappy student life.