Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of White people screaming about racism.
I wish these were anti-racist ally White people who were speaking about the prison industrial complex or about systems of privilege and oppression, but no.
These are White folks who are claiming that the Obamacare tax on tanning beds is “racist” against White people. These are White folks who are claiming that affirmative action is racist against them. These are the White folks who honestly believe they suffer more racism than people of Color.
And every time I hear these folks cry racism, I can’t help but think:
And it’s not just people of racial privilege who are doing this!
Certain Christians claim they are being religiously oppressed because the rights of Lesbian and Gay people are now being recognized at federal and state levels. The entire Men’s Rights Movement is basically predicated on the idea that men are far more oppressed than women (or transgender people or genderqueer people or really anyone who isn’t a cisgender man).
Now aside from the mountains of evidence that makes someone look a little silly when they claim that those with seemingly endless identity privilege are widely oppressed in society, I am realizing more and more that we have a problem of language precision.
Too often, when people are talking about racism or sexism or heterosexism or any other form of oppression, they’re simply referring to when a person was made to feel bad for or about their identity.
There is absolutely no acknowledgement of wider systems of oppression and power.
And this is no accident.
There has been a concerted effort made by a small but loud group (like the Limbaughs, Zimmermans, or Robertsons) to coopt language and shift the discussion so that things stay just the way they are.
But whenever we say things like “Well, sometimes women can be just as sexist as men,” we are contributing to the problem.
Precision of Language
Yes. Any person of any identity can be an asshole to any person of any other identity. But that doesn’t make it oppression. It doesn’t even make it racism or sexism or heterosexim or any other -ism.
There is a profound danger in watering down our discussion of identity by removing any mention of societal power, oppression, and privilege.