Sometimes I stand on the fringes and watch everyone argue about inequality and oppression.
Racism. Sexism. Homophobia. Xenophobia. Islamophobia. And many other IsmPhobias.
I listen in on these debates and realise that it’s the same arguments being used by everyone; the interesting thing is how people switch their arguments depending on which identity is activated at the time.
People who were just arguing against racism all of a sudden cannot understand the fuss about sexism and think women just like to complain. People who say they cannot understand why anyone would hate another simply because of the colour of their skin manage to effortlessly hate people simply because of their sexual orientation.
Nobody sees the hypocrisy. We only see our own struggle. Once we switch identities from the oppressed to non-oppressed — oppressor even — we take on the arguments we were just shaking our heads in disbelief at and throw them at those who have just assumed the identity of the oppressed.
Say a Black man is arguing about racial discrimination with a White man. The Black man in this context perfectly explains the concept of white privilege and the struggles Black people face. The White man thinks Black people just love to play the victim aka the race card.
Scene ends. White man leaves. Enter (Black) woman.
Now the Black man has gone from being the oppressed to being in a position of power, by virtue of being a man. His male identity becomes more salient. The woman here tries to explain the concept of Male privilege, and the horrors women around the world face. The man claims to understand but still thinks women are just whining and playing the victim. Feminism is hogwash and if women really wanted equal rights then why do they allow men open the doors for them and isn’t it sexist to not hit a woman just because she’s a woman and why did women not complain when women and children were rescued first on the Titanic and are you really a feminist if you cannot change a car tyre and women of today are nothing like our dear docile mothers and don’t women know that submission is power?
Exit Black Man. Enter Homosexual (man).
The subject switches her woman hat for a heterosexual hat. The subject goes from gender to sexual orientation and her heterosexuality is activated. The Homosexual man tries to explain the trials non-straight people face and just wants to be treated like a human. The heterosexual says she does not hate gay people but it is still a sin you know and what’s up with the gay agenda on television and she wishes gay people would stop forcing it down everyone’s throats and why is there a gay pride day but not a straight pride day and how will she explain this to her children?
It goes on and on.
Those who have it the worst are those who have the short end of every stick; those who belong to more than one marginalised group e.g gay Black woman.
People who object to racism but support discrimination against others would probably be racist if they were not a member of the oppressed racial group.
“It is so racist and xenophobic to treat immigrants this way” says the person who is trying to get into another country and does not give a hoot about how immigrants in his home country are treated.
We are quick to tag as racist those Westerners who accuse immigrants of coming to steal their jobs and contribute to crime, yet we aren’t any friendlier to those to try to make a living in our countries. Every now and then South Africans attack Nigerian (and other black) immigrants for stealing their jobs and committing crime. Then again Nigeria kicked out Ghanaians in the 80s for what? Stealing jobs and committing crime of course. This xenophobia is not any less prominent in Asian countries.
It is easy to hate xenophobia and scream for open borders when you are the one who needs to go through them. But change the circumstances and we forget how horrible it feels to be discriminated against and treated like dirt.
The fact that someone is a victim does not automatically make them a good person. It is easy to be self righteous when we lack the power or means to be the oppressor. Once we have a bit of privilege we have no problem welding it, and inflicting the same injustice we complained about on others.
We are not angry at the oppression, we are angry at being the oppressed.