EXISTS UNIVERSALLY IN PRESENT SOCIETIES
Out in the wide world the realization that everyone in our societies has been forced into operating within both oppressor and oppressed roles is still almost unknown and unfaced. Until we understand the deeper nature of oppression our struggle to end it will be in vain. We will continue looking for "the enemy out there" and thus carry on the long sad history of desperate, bewildered human beings substituting a Czar for a Stalin, a Shah for an Ayatollah.
Adultism is the first oppression all people experience. Parents must take charge of their relationship with their children. Presenting the world as a dangerous place with murder and hurtful people along with a "That's the way it is" attitude they instill powerlessness in children. As new forms of oppressions are later introduced, we now accept them without fighting back. Born with an open, zestful and cooperative relationship to everyone we are hurt very early by this irrational behavior of adults. While we are in emotional distress, our vast human intelligence momentarily seems to shut down and the new information is stored wrongly or "jams up" in a tied-up knot, and we are blocked.
Since we cannot understand – or evaluate - such early information from a distress experience, subsequent information tends to get stuck in the same pattern, which over the years becomes chronic - or like a recording which now plays us! Finally we end up with a "distress pattern" of rigid, illogical behavior not unlike that of our parents or other adults. Having gone through such oppression, we then reenact our own experiences on others.
An example from racism: In my workshops young whites - especially from the South - relate with tremendous pain how they in their early childhood developed deep love and affection for their black servants. Thus they were unable to understand why their parents, in the company of other whites, would talk in a derogatory, mocking or even hateful way about blacks in general. In the "warm" presence of the blacks they would be overwhelmed with flushes of guilt if their parents suddenly entered the room.
How torn such whites have been is evident to everyone who sees them break down and cry in racism workshops. Also evident in this example is the development of the guilt-fear distress pattern, which most white Americans suffer from in their relationship with (American) blacks (who have been shaped by this racism).
The fear ingredient is also remembered in different variations by many: We sat on the bus with our mother. A young black male got on the bus and we felt our mother pull us a bit tighter. We didn't understand why this early message was given and it thus had a snowballing and crippling effect on our entire relationship to blacks ever after.
Oppression fighters and liberation movements in the whole world desperately need this powerful insight about oppression. It is useful, in part, because when we see the disheartening appearance of human beings, who we assume are good and wholesome, acting in such oppressive, unwholesome ways it tends to destroy our morale and blight our spirit over and over again. No person would ever agree to, or submit to, being oppressed unless a pattern of oppression had been installed, first by the oppression of adults in early childhood. Only the distress patterns left by adultism allow other oppressions later to be accepted and make it possible to force a person to continue to function as oppressed.
sexism, we know how women through early conditioning develop emotional
blocks toward "male-oriented" learning or work and end up "accepting"
a society of men occupying all the positions of power. In the unique American
brand of black-white racism this pattern is even clearer:
A victim of oppressive forces might bide his or her time and keep a submissive facial expression while the gun is pointed at him, but the oppressor would be overthrown very quickly if the distress patterns of being oppressed were not internalized to enforce the person. Newly imported African slaves in the antebellum South or Caribbean were usually rebellious like Kunta Kinte, whereas blacks born into slavery tended to be submissive.
More than that, no person would agree to function as an oppressor for an instant if the patterns of oppression had not first been installed and the person then manipulated into the oppressor role. For instance, most outside whites would feel repulsed by entering and participating in the old southern Jim Crow system or the recent South Africa under apartheid - systems which seemed "natural" to the native conditioned white. Likewise American Protestants would feel repulsed by the idea of discriminating against Catholics in Northern Ireland and American Jews by and large would not participate in settlements on the Palestinian Westbank.
THE PERSON WHO FUNCTIONS AS AN OPPRESSOR HAS ALWAYS FIRST BEEN OPPRESSED AND THEN MANIPULATED ONTO THE OTHER END OF THE OPPRESSION PATTERN.
This is old human knowledge: child abusers have usually been abused themselves as children. From classism - the institutionalized inequality between rich and poor - we get a good insight into this process from England. How does one become "ruling class" there? Members of workshops, who were brought up in England, often describe the oppressive preparation for being "presented to the Queen" or how they are taken away from their parents at an early age and sent to special boarding schools where they are tortured and systematically degraded in the most inhumane ways: being kept as "slaves" by the older students, running the gauntlet, etc. In later years, they are then manipulated onto the other end of the pattern, forced to give the same vicious treatment to the younger boys in preparation for their "ruling" role.
Or from America: How do American doctors "justify" earning more than doctors anywhere else in the world or 10 times more than their hospital workers? Well, during the hard years of internship they are often forced to work 30-40 hours without sleep. Without any logical reason for letting such zombies literally hold human life in their hands, such oppression gradually creates the feeling in them of having earned "the right" to such great classist (and sexist!) power.
realization or principle is met at first with indignation by victims of
oppression. "You're trying to tell me that those were innocent humans,
those people who tortured and shot and gouged out my family's eyes? You
are going to tell me that Hitler, Saddam Hussein or Milosovic were human
IF WE CAN HELP THE PERSON ACTING OUT AN OPPRESSOR ROLE IN A PATTERN TO DISCHARGE THAT PATTERN OR ASSIST THE PERSON TO BE RID OF IT, THAT PERSON WILL GLADLY CEASE FUNCTIONING AS AN OPPRESSOR AND WILL BECOME AN ALLY.
principle is easy to realize when we look at the two ultimate distress
patterns of racism: on the one hand the white Klansman, on the other hand
the black mugger - both overwhelmed by feelings of hate, insecurity and
rejection from mainstream society. It really shouldn't come as any great
surprise that on the personal level it is often extremely easy to befriend
them both and by giving them attention and affection we are automatically
helping to steer them away from a destructive path. In my experience they
are both starving for love and recognition, so when we reach out to them
and make them our allies we are thus actually helping to make society
a less oppressive place for everyone to live in.
Most victimized people do not act out their pain in such violent extremes, but instead express this pain in the form of racist, sexist, homophobic and anti-Semitic slurs or thinking. On every campus and in every work place we can help make the atmosphere less oppressive by making such bigots, male chauvinist pigs etc., our natural allies. Most campuses have had a strong increase in racist and sexist incidents in recent years reflecting a worsening of the underlying oppressive patterns in society. We know that people are not really worse today than they were a few years ago, so this should empower us and embolden us to seek allies much more widely, to keep up our own morale and our strength. Let us repeat again and again:
If a distress pattern attacks you (and nothing else ever will), help is always close at hand. This is the human being locked inside the distress pattern, the pattern's victim and your best ally, who can be reached in ways that we are now learning to recognize.
OPPRESSION CAN BE AND IS INTERNALIZED
The realization that oppression is usually internalized will, if we can communicate it widely enough, make a great difference in our work. If we can reach the liberation forces of the world with this understanding, it will reinforce their strength several times over. One of the most disheartening examples of internalization is seen in homophobia. For centuries the oppression has been so severe that nowhere in the world have gays been able to respond freely, kiss and hold hands in an open atmosphere without fear, and thus have been forced underground like dissidents in the most totalitarian countries. Seeing few positive gay role models around, young gays are unable to freely choose their true sexual identity.
And so they end up loathing homosexuality before reaching adulthood, adopting and internalizing straight definitions of good and bad and are forced throughout their lives into painful, futile attempts to straighten their lives with the same crippling effect on self-image as when blacks straightened their hair to "pass". To avoid internalization (or frequently suicide) they are forced to leave family and friends in many native areas (such as the Midwest and the South) for exile in ghettos (such as San Francisco, New York, New Orleans, etc.) not unlike traditional Jewish ghettos in Europe, Catholic ghettos in Northern Ireland or black ghettos in the U.S. But most have suffered a slow death from internalization in futile, destructive intermarriages with heterosexuals.
MOST DAMAGE DONE BY OPPRESSION IS DONE BY ITS INTERNALIZED FORM.
To realize this is of importance in eliminating oppression, and in discharging oppression patterns. The blows from outside came early, they will still come occasionally, sometimes they come viciously when the struggle is joined against oppression. But almost all the damage done by oppression is done by its internalized persistence, by the self-invalidations, self-attacks, attacks upon each other by the members of the oppressed group and by the fierce attacks and competition between different oppressed groups that otherwise would be, and can become, each other's supportive allies.
us repeat: The blows first came from outside, but day in and day out we
wreck ourselves, wreck each other in the internalized continuation of
Under slavery, if black male children showed any trace of spirit or rebellion, this so frightened the slave owner that they were subject to instant execution. Black mothers deliberately kept their sons alive by humiliating them and degrading them and forcing them into submissive patterns of behavior in which they were expected to endure without resistance. The tactic was successful in keeping them alive; but the internalizing of the oppression has carried on generation after generation to this day (with reinforcement, of course, from new oppression) with all the persistence and contagion, which such patterns, can have.
Since such patterns are not nearly as dominant in other ex-slave societies it is easy to conclude that slavery in a way never really ended in the U.S. Which black child hasn't heard, been affected by or even crushed by the "You ain't shit, nigger" curse uttered by people close to them, echoing the aversive guilt-fear patterns of a distant, and thereby seemingly "innocent" white racism? As the white oppressor becomes more and more invisible or distant for most blacks, internalized racism is getting out of hand in these years and threatening a near total collapse of traditional family and inner city structures, and ultimately threatening the very fabric of American life. Thus it is clearly affecting white lives too with oppression's age-old boomerang effect.
THE PERSON OUTSIDE A PARTICULAR OPPRESSION CAN BE POWERFULLY EFFECTIVE AGAINST THE INTERNALIZED FORM OF OPPRESSION
Contrary to what seems to be the reality (and, of course, is actually our fears), when blacks invalidate each other, compete with each other, pool their discouragement and hopelessness and the white draws back and doesn't dare say anything about black oppression because the white is "of course not an expert and doesn't want to intrude in "black culture" and make a fool of himself or herself," contrary to that is the reality that an aware white in a black group can be decisively effective in interrupting the internalized oppression simply by seeing the viciousness of it and speaking clearly from the outside.
In one workshop several Latino women were speaking out of their internalized oppression, of how ugly they felt and how they longed for long blonde straight hair all the time they were growing up. One aware white man felt sincerely indignant since he felt they were beautiful women, all of them without exception, and he spoke from his heart when he said, "How can you talk that way? You are the most beautiful women in the world." At first they felt he was being sarcastic and wanted to fight him, but when they heard that he meant it, a heavy discharge (emotional release) took place. With each other, up to that point, they could only be sarcastic.
It takes some skill to contradict oppression, but we can all help to loosen up such emotional blocks. West Indian blacks (not so affected by American racism) have often been of great help for U.S. blacks in identifying and discharging their emotional blocks and have even formed organizations to help motivate American blacks not to drop out of school or college as a result of internalized oppression. From sexism we know that for a long time men looked on bewildered, timid, id and fumble-footed as women struggled to liberate themselves. Now they are beginning to find out that they don't have to stand back, ashamed of their sexism and apologizing for it forever. They can move in and be of great assistance to the emergence of women from their internalized oppression.
And likewise with classism, which American workers have internalized to an unusual degree. They have adopted hopelessly outdated "bootstrap" and Horatio Alger fantasies even better than their actual oppressors - the so-called owning class - and it can be of great help for them to be contradicted in this pattern by people from Europe where a strong traditional working class consciousness has won many struggles. It is easy for an outsider to see how American workers pull each other down, settle for less and often support the most reactionary candidates working against their own deeper interests.
As a result they get very short vacations (where Europeans get 6 paid weeks), have hardly any maternity or paternity leave (Europeans get 7 to 10 months), hardly any kindergartens or profit sharing or decision making and control over their companies and those on minimum wages get less than half their European counterparts (which helps lower the wage level of salaried workers also). Without effective job security and adequate recuperation, their productivity is far behind that of Europeans (unless they put in more work hours!). Since this directly affects American competitiveness it is evident, as it always is with oppression that in the long run it also hurts the oppressors.
EACH PARTICULAR OPPRESSION HAS CERTAIN FEATURES IN COMMON WITH ALL OTHER OPPRESSION
Every oppression, for example, includes a lack of respect for members of the oppressed group. Every oppressed group develops feelings of powerlessness, self-hate, self-blame or self-doubt in relation to the oppressor.
EACH OPPRESSION IS ALSO UNIQUE AND NEEDS TO BE UNDERSTOOD IN ITS UNIQUENESS
As liberation fighters we need to master the knowledge of these particular characteristics. Some examples would be the "settling for less" conditioning of women by sexist oppression or, the denial of education and information to U.S. blacks by white racism (a worsening trend: in the 80's more than 20% of blacks have dropped out of college and more are now in prison than in college). It is desirable for us to become experts on the oppression of every group of which we are not a member (in order to be of decisive assistance against the internalized oppression of members of the group) and to become experts in combating the internalized oppression of our own group.
SOME PARTICULAR OPPRESSIONS PLAY KEY ROLES IN THE OVERALL STRUCTURE OF THE OPPRESSIVE SOCIETY AND IN RELATIONSHIP TO THE OTHER OPPRESSIONS
The oppression of the working classes, which is, in its foundations and at its core, economic exploitation, is the fundamental oppression in society. The taking of the value produced, from the working persons who produce it, by those in "ownership" could be said to be what the whole society is "all about." (Internalized classism and the present absence of any clear practical alternatives to such a society creates tremendous emotional blocks in most people against an objective definition of the problem).
ALL OTHER OPPRESSIONS MIGHT HAVE DEVELOPED AS MEANS OF ENFORCING CLASS OPPRESSION, AS MEANS OF DIVIDING THE ECONOMICALLY OPPRESSED AGAINST EACH OTHER SO AS TO SECURE THEIR SUBMISSION TO AND COMPLIANCE WITH, THEIR ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION.
This began already in the first slave societies and continues right up to the present day. Working people are divided along lines of gender, age, race, physical ability, size, presence or absence of physical handicaps, sexual preference, religion, nationality, culture, and language and are turned to oppressing each other and are thus discouraged from uniting against the economic exploitation.
OPPRESSION OF JEWS (ANTI-SEMITISM) IN THE WESTERN AND ARAB COUNTRIES PLAYS THE ROLE OF A "PRECEDENT-SETTER" OR AN "OPENING WEDGE," FOR THE USE OF VIOLENCE AGAINST ALL OPPRESSED GROUPS IN TIMES OF SOCIAL CRISIS.
The oppression of the Chinese in Southeast Asia and of East Indians in the countries of East Africa is very similar.
Classically, Jews have been a visible, distinct minority population in the countries of their exile who brought with them skills of survival and a highly developed culture. They, or their leaders, have been required to function as a tool of the ruling groups of the majority population as a condition for the Jews as a whole to be tolerated. At the same time a continual low-level, "unofficial" campaign of anti-Jewish propaganda is kept evident among the oppressed majority population. In times of threatened revolt by the oppressed people of the majority population, this is replaced with violent, official anti-Jewish propaganda. Pogroms, massacres, and expulsions are organized to turn the resentments of the oppressed majority population, which was on the edge of rising against the oppressors, against the Jews (or Chinese or East Indians), using them as scapegoats. This clear strategy (the fact that Jews were generally invited to new countries shows how well it was thought out) has been used over and over and over again in the last two thousand years.
When the oppressors have diverted the revolutionary fervor of the oppressed into such shameful activity, it leaves the people who threatened rebellion ashamed of themselves and discouraged, and the Jews dispersed and plundered. Later, the Jews are re-instated in the country where the violence occurred, or in the new place to which they fled, and forced back into the role of visible agents of the oppressors.
This scapegoating imposed upon Jews (and upon East Indians and Chinese in other sections of the world) has been possible in the past in part, because until recently, there was no homeland nation with psychological power to support Jewish populations in other countries and the homeland nations of the Chinese and East Indians were, until recently, under colonial domination and so were almost powerless to protect their émigrés on the world scene. The fact that a Jewish homeland was created at the expense of oppressing Palestinians was - in the final analysis - the ultimate result not of Jews, but of rampant anti-Semitism in the Western and Arab world. How deep anti-Semitism runs in the U.S. is not commonly understood among gentiles. Stereotypes such as "Jews are naturally good with money and control the economy, banks and media" are not only used by the KKK and neo-nazi groups, but has become misinformation so socially sanctioned that these facts surprise most Americans:
- In 1965, 45 of the 50 largest U.S. banks had no Jews in upper management. 38 of the 50 had no Jews in middle management.
- In 1979 only 15 of the 345 senior officers in the largest New York banks were Jewish, and only three of the top 86 were. Of the 22 officers of big New York banks who were members of the Board of Directors, none were Jewish.
- Of the 2,000 daily newspapers in the United States, Jews effectively own less than 100.
- Of the six major oil companies and their 300 senior officers, less than 25 are Jewish.
It is important to understand the hollowness of such stereotypes and the deeper reasons for them. On the other hand, the fact that Jews in the U.S. - contrary to most other oppressed groups - are not economically deprived as a group also needs to be comprehended in order to fully understand oppression. Equipped with a strong cultural identity they could internalize some aspects of anti-Semitism without becoming defeated by them. Thus the gentile oppression has in some ways encouraged them to seek success just as white racism has encouraged the West Indians - also called "black Jews" - to succeed and the sense of isolation has also encouraged most new immigrants to excel).
Their common insecurity has enabled these groups to develop more refined techniques - such as "Jewish guilt" - for oppressing their children with "drive" and "success" enabling them to ultimately wind up in disproportionate numbers in higher academic institutions. With a great intuitive understanding of oppressive patterns they have probably been better able to create for each other the safety necessary to discharge such patterns, through, for instance, merely being able to talk freely about their problems. This has helped them to avoid many of the emotional blocks towards learning, etc., which ties up the intelligence of so many other groups.
Rather than being mystified by why personal achievement at a given moment in history seems to come easier for some groups than others, we should feel encouraged to work together on the oppressive patterns which instills in so many children and young people the crippling sense of powerlessness. Otherwise we tend to waste our energies on destructive debates about "affirmative action" (through which minorities are placed in positions, where they would have arrived naturally if they lived in a free society). How little even liberals understand about oppression is shown in their incredible definition of this important, but clumsy policy of countering it: "to remedy the effects of past discrimination." Not surprisingly their ignorance is reflected in angry counter-charges of "reverse discrimination."
To fully understand how hysterical such debates are we need to look beyond the closed vacuum of our own society. In the coastal areas of Costa Rica, historical circumstances have helped to make blacks an affluent upper class of landowners, which hire poor white land workers. Listen to what these cultured blacks say about whites: "When I meet two whites at night I cross over to the other side of the street, " "Whites carry knives and are prone to violence," or even better: "Whites are oversexed." The poor whites can't help but internalize such negative perceptions of themselves. As a result the blacks are succeeding into university (often in the USA), while whites fall behind or drop out. This is what "reverse discrimination" really is all about - the power to force another group effectively behind, and nowhere in the USA have I seen affirmative action being capable of forcing whites as a group behind blacks in jobs or education!
Misinformation about Jews not only leads to justification for the continued mistreatment of Jewish people regardless of class and social status, but is also an opening wedge designed to divide our attempts at liberation. If there is one stereotype Jews are proud of, it is the fact that almost everywhere they are disproportionally over-represented in liberation groups (even, in many places, in Palestinian support groups). For it is simply impossible to go through 2,000 years of constant persecution and oppression by ruling classes without developing a refined understanding and heightened sense of oppression. Being true victims of the classical "divide and rule" strategies has made them far more readily than most to reach out and seek allies.
Now where anti-Semitism in the black community is again being used to divert attention from the underlying oppressive patterns in society, it should not be forgotten that the great majority of whites who gave their lives in the Civil Right's struggle were Jewish. (This, of course, does not make American Jews as a whole less racist, sexist, homophobic, etc., than others, just a bit more committed to work on these oppressive patterns. Perhaps we also need to add that the above was written by gentile white allies of both Jews and Palestinians.)
ELIMINATING ANY ONE OPPRESSION, THOROUGHLY AND COMPLETELY, REQUIRES ELIMINATING ALL OPPRESSION
No one is free as long as there is one person oppressed!
(This principle is easily understood in America where everyone now lives in fear of crime and everyone is now paying for the astronomical cost of putting more people in prison per capita than any other country on Earth!)
This appeals to our intuition when we have our heads out of our distress, but it is also very practical. Any example of oppression going on with another group of people drags down and fetters our own struggle repeatedly. The white male working-class movement has continually floundered and weakened itself, in every practical sense, by going along with sexism, by going along with racism.
In the feudal society of the southern United States between the post-Civil War Reconstruction period and the Second World War, the enmities assiduously cultivated between the white sharecroppers and the black sharecroppers, the serfs of this feudal economy, kept both groups viciously and perpetually oppressed. Neither group could move out of the bondage as long as they tolerated the bondage of the others.
PEOPLE NEED SEPARATE DISCUSSIONS WITHIN EACH PARTICULAR LIBERATION GROUP BEFORE THEY CAN HOPE TO COMMUNICATE WELL TO, OR UNITE WITH, THE OTHER GROUPS
Whenever this principle has been applied, it has been very powerful. Where it has not been applied, such as in the drift into having an oppressed group and its allies in the same mixed support group or workshop, we develop difficulties that take time and trouble to sort out. Each group must caucus separately first in spite of their fears of segregation and their eager desire for unity. They must have a time to get together in the safety of their similarities, their commonalties, or their homogeneity. For instance: children of alcoholics and victims of ableism - handicapped people - are often under so much distress that they need to define their own similarities before being able to join broader liberation groups. People having the same backgrounds need to first discuss and agree on what they want the other groups to hear from them. Once that is accomplished, they can come together and listen to each other with respect and achieve the real unity that they would otherwise seek too quickly or too simplistically.
This principle has been forgotten over and over. Working-class support groups, for example, have started enthusiastically and then many times tended to wither because of the considerable differences in backgrounds among the twenty or thirty people that enthusiastically come out first. They have one or two good meetings and then, unsafety. Individual members complain bitterly about "the things they had to listen to." The underlying unity is obscured by the differences.
FROM OPPRESSION REQUIRES A THREE POINT PROGRAM: ONE, A CLEAR LIBERATION
The first steps are best tackled together in that the members of the oppressed group should participate in the working out of the policy. (Not necessarily without a first draft being written by someone else. We have found that one can write a first draft of a liberation policy with considerable ease from outside the oppression compared to doing it from the inside, but then the group itself should review and revise that first draft so that they participate in working out that policy.) This will help to organize the group. To participate in working out the policy can help to achieve unity. You will achieve the policy and the unity at the same time. The third step is the winning of allies. This has been known intuitively in a very few quarters, but almost all liberation movements have neglected it, almost entirely. Almost all the liberation activities of the 60's floundered and wasted their resources for lack of that third action, the winning of allies. Right here we are trying to use the Internet for that purpose....
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