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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.


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