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:
- 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)
- 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)
- 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)
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?