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Thursday, March 16th, 2017 12:32 pm
(I wanted to argue with someone on twitter and this is way too complex for 140 characters)

A hole a lot of activists seem to fall into is thinking that the axis of oppression they're fighting is the central oppression, the one from all others flow. If people just put their energy into this, the REAL fight, all the others would fall like dominos.

I have seen people argue this about ecomonic inequality, sexism, homophobia, ableism, racism (both in general and against specific ethnic groups), everything. I once read a very compelling argument by bell hooks that the Real Underlying Oppression is against children.

In every case the argument is (a) if you fight X, all the others improve and (b) There is an underlying element of X to all oppressions.

Which is true! But it's true for all of them. Everything is connected. It's all the same struggle. If you battle one, you battle them all. If one becomes worse, all the others become worse too.

So yes, if you are motivated to fight X then you can feel happy knowing you are, at least to some extent, helping out against everything else. And people who want to fight other things shouldn't forget about X.

But it goes both ways. Like, if you're a white feminist, you can't forget racism when you fight sexism. Racism is entwined with sexism all over the place, and if you don't actively try to avoid it you'll end up reinforcing it. And not only does that mean you're making things worse for WOC (who are women! That you theoretically care about as part of caring about women as a whole!), you're also making things worse for white women, because racism reinforces sexism. You can focus on one, but you have to pay some attention to the others too, or you're doing your job badly and making everything worse. See: My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit.

And there is a long and very ugly history of people using "X is the core oppression" to actively hinder other forms of activism and excuse their own complicity in oppression. Not everyone making these kinds of arguments is doing that, bell hooks certainly didn't just care about children. There may even be some validity to the idea that some oppression happened First or is Most Basic. But in practice these arguments are often used in a lot of ugly ways.

"The fight for marriage equality is alienating the REALLY oppressed, and distracting us from the REAL issues"

"Anyone who really cares will be able to afford to support this trans project"

"Acknowledging trans people muddies arguments about reproductive justice"

"Women never experienced sexism before capitalism forced them out of the home"

"Accessibility for feminist spaces is yet another burden placed on women"

And the example that prompted me to write this: "The best way to fight racism is to fight economic inequality" is used to excuse antisemitism, because "Jews are all rich" (the question of whether antisemitism is a form of racism is complex, but this is what happens). To ignore the voices of any POC considered "too middle class" (eg, articulate enough to argue back) to understand the real POC experience. To avoid confronting the rampant racism within leftist spaces. To tell the POC and Jews currently fearing for their lives to be more compassionate to the "real" victims here, poor racist whites, who are framed as if they have no choice about being racist.

And yes, economic inequality does definitely make racism worse. But rich white people are racist (not just using racism to further their greed. Genuinely, sincerely racist) Countries during periods of relative economic equality are still racist. Less than during periods of economic inequality, but still really racist. Unless you mean to imply that that level of racism is 100% ok and not worth fighting against, your argument fails.

And as much as economic inequality does increase racism the reverse is also true! Anti-black racism was literally created to prop up capitalism and prevent slaves from forming solidarity with poor white workers. Racism is currently used to excuse the mistreatment of sweat shop workers, to deflect resentment of rich white people onto Jews and Asians, to blame poverty on immigrants etc. If we can weaken that link, and help white people see POC as equals, then capitalism, and with it economic inequality, will be heavily weakened.

This is a problem which needs to be tackled from multiple angles. Just attacking it from the angle of economic inequality/workers rights etc is fine. But don't dismiss the importance of other angles, especially if you, personally, aren't experiencing the issue they're fighting against. It's very easy to say that racism isn't a pressing issue in need of urgent and specific attention if you're white.

And any time you find yourself thinking "Why are [people experiencing an oppression I don't] unable to see the objective, rational fact that their actions are counterproductive and they should care more about MY priorities" you should probably take a really big step back.
Thursday, March 16th, 2017 06:37 pm (UTC)
The kyriarchy* has many tentacles. And phenomenal regenerative capacity. It's going to take all our collective efforts, from every possible angle, to make progress against this kraken.

Which is to say: agreed. Making one cause your own isn't necessarily a bad thing, but undermining or denigrating all the other causes that should be your allies is a terrible idea and won't help promote any kind of justice.

(*On a philosophical note, I'm not sure that I agree that there is no fundamental underlying oppression, but I do agree that none of the specific tentacles we see and fight are It. What they all have in common is the idea that people can and should be sorted into the ones on top and the ones beneath, the ones who matter and the ones who don't - the rule of lords, in a sense, which is why I find the kyriarchy a useful concept. In practical terms, though, we can't really tackle the underlying concept; it's underlying! We have to work on all the manifestations, or as many of them as we can track. And try to build alternate ways of thinking along the way, since we're all steeped in this mess from birth and breathe it like air.)
Tuesday, March 21st, 2017 09:45 pm (UTC)
First of all I genuinely disagree that there is no single, underlying oppression. Super disagree on that. But I was doing some pretty throwaway tweets and it was a pretty dumb idea to try and fit any kind of nuanced position into that. So my bad!

It feels like you’re kind of having an argument with someone who isn’t me in some parts of this piece? But again I don’t think I explained myself super well so that’s on me. I definitely don’t think racism isn’t a pressing issue or anything like that. Not at all.

I want to be clear that when I suggest that solving economic inequality would work to mitigate other forms of oppression, I’m not trying to diminish the importance of other axes of oppression or the very real effect they have on people’s lives.

Or that we should forget about them! On the contrary in fact, as you point out anti-black racism was created to prop up capitalism and to justify slavery -- it’s impossible to decontextualise class issues from race issues. Especially when you consider that the majority of working class people will be people of colour in the next 10 years. So I’m super aware of that.

But the point I was trying to make was exactly that, in many ways -- economic inequality (under capitalism) is the vector by which oppression spreads and reproduces. As long as we live in a capitalist society, economic inequality will always be at the center of all intersectional approaches to oppression and MUST be addressed in all critiques of it. I genuinely believe a lot of well-meaning progressives have forgotten this fact and they have done so at their peril.

This manifests in multiple ways:

a) Money is power under capitalism, which means that if you have money you can impose your oppressive views -- be they racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever -- on people who don’t have money.

b) If you DON’T have money but another group does -- or they are perceived as having ACCESS to money by preferential job opportunities for example (no matter how exploitative the work and pay is, for example in the meat industry!) -- this means you will probably die or suffer from poverty. This breeds resentment which manifests along whatever tribal lines you care to mention, but generally racism

(On the point of anti-Semitism, I disagree that focusing on economic issues excuses anti-Semitic behaviour. This form of racism “Jews are all rich” for example is intrinsically economic but in the opposite direction, it is a resentment of the rich only made possible by the class structure that is necessary for capitalism to exist -- a better distribution of wealth would be the most direct attack on this particular form of racism!)

c) Money means access to healthcare, nutrition and food, which quite literally means that the oppressed -- poor black people, gay men with AIDS -- will die before they can establish and propagate their own counter-oppressive views

While I acknowledge that there are definitely cultural/gender/etc elements to racism/sexism/etc that are desperately in need of addressing, we can never forget that these cultural/gendered/etc elements nearly always arose directly as a result of economic factors.

Men work while women stay at home because this retains power for men in a capitalist society by consolidating the resources (the money) in the hands of men, and therefore the agency in that society. The wage gap exists because companies want cheap labour, so they hire women, or they re-classify specific duties as ‘women’s work’ so they can lower the pay scale etc etc. Racism against indigenous Americans and indigenous Australians exists to justify the pillaging of their natural resources and land. Religious organisations are allowed extra influence to spread some of their more oppressive views because they pay no tax and are free to gather as many resources as possible rather than sharing them equally.

Ultimately I completely disagree that there is no single unifying oppression, I don’t believe that. There is a single, unifying oppression: it is the class structure of capitalism that enslaves us all. Until we stop living in a capitalist society, we can never disengage from that oppression and it will colour all of our motivations and influence all of our behaviours. Everything else builds on that or is built in relation to it; even if to attack it. Even if we solved everything else tomorrow, that oppression would still be there in the background, creating a rich and poor divide that kills and immiserates the poor.

Again, I don’t say that to diminish the importance of racism, sexism, etc - when I say we are all oppressed by capitalism I don’t mean ‘and that’s the end of it, I don’t see race!!!’. What I mean is that we will never fix these oppressions if we don’t address their underlying economic causes and transmission vectors.

It’s so much harder to be mad at “the other” if you know ‘the other” has exactly the same resources you do, access to the same healthcare, education, and services, and that they aren’t going to be getting anything at your own expense. Again, for sure, rich white people out there exist who are genuinely racist down to the core of their bones -- and radically redistributing the wealth will not make them less racist! But it WILL make them less influential, which prevents them from transmitting their racism across the power structure of society, and ensure that their racism doesn’t stop others from safety, freedom and wellbeing.