Wednesday, April 09, 2014
Institutionalized Oppression: the American Way?
Having taken a fresh look at institutionalized oppression by re-posting Lindy West's essay on "hipster racism" a few days ago, I'm gonna release a flurry of body punches now on some more very touchy issues related to the socially-constructed, political notion of "race." Institutionalized oppression, by the way, occurs when one group holds another group (or even more than one group) in a position of reduced status for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation means taking advantage of people because you have the power to do so and the whole point of it is the range of benefits (especially economic benefits) that result from the arrangement. In other words, White Supremacy ensures that White people as a group get the most of the best and the least of the worst in the U.S., while People of Color wind up with the most of the worst and the least of the best in that society.
Does every member of the dominating group benefit equally and in all the same ways? Not necessarily. But they all benefit. Does every member of an oppressed group suffer equally and in all the same ways? Not necessarily. But they all feel the lash (pun intended) in ways the members of the dominating group don't typically like to and don't have to acknowledge.
Why don't oppressors have to acknowledge what's going on? Because the oppression is actually embedded in the social institutions: the systems we call family, education, religion, politics, and economics. So people who call themselves "White" can ignore it and pretend that, because they don't indiscriminately use the "n-word" in public (for example), they're not part of the problem. They're good people. How could they be "racist?" And because we're all -- Black and White -- socialized on the same page, People of Color are affected in a whole series of ways by the constant barrage of physical, psychological, emotional, social, and economic reinforcements that produce results used to "prove" their inferiority. (A phenomenon sociologists call "internalized oppression" exacerbated by the widespread practice of "blaming the victim.")
The social institutions keep the ideology of White Supremacy so firmly in place, we have come to view it as "natural." So, we think that whatever White people do is well-meaning and basically positive, while whatever People of Color (and especially Black people) do is unacceptable, embarrassing, and basically negative.
You might want to read these with a little space in between. The first two are pretty intense.
1) "Other People's Pathologies" by Ta'Nehisi Coates (The Atlantic, 3/30/14) -- This is Coates' wind up after a dialogue back and forth with another writer having to do with how so many writers, social commentators, and academics think "Black culture" and "The Culture of Poverty" are synonymous. The "Culture of Poverty" perspective is shot through with the idea that, in order to be "successful" in life, Black folks just need to learn to be more like middle class White folks. Can you see now why I'm posting this link right after the re-post on hipster racism?
2) "5 Reasons Why Young Black Men Resort to Violence" by A. Moore (Atlanta Blackstar, 11/26/13) -- There may be a tad too much psychobabble in this post for some folks, but it raises a number of crucial ideas about institutionalized racism (see above).
3) "Former Undercover Drug Narc on Why Police Don't Bust White People and How He Turned Against Drug War" by Ric Morin (AlterNet, 3/14/14) -- In this article, one Black man who initially just "did his job" on the streets of Baltimore tells how he came to recognize the institutionalized agenda that works to disproportionately target Black offenders (many of whom turn to drugs as a result of unemployment levels), increase the level of violence, criminalize entire neighborhoods, and ultimately, leave the Black community decimated.
4) "A 13-year-old's Slavery Analogy Raises Some Uncomfortable Truths in School" by Liz Dwyer (Good.Is, 2/29/12) -- When a Person of Color challenges institutionalized racism the way this 13-year-old girl did when she wrote an essay for a competition, all hell really breaks loose. And this, interestingly enough, is part of how the whole system stays in place. I know grown Black folks in positions of authority who admit their terror in a heartbeat at the prospect of being perceived by White people as "rocking the boat." In 2014.