The Oppression Olympics is where you argue about which group has it worse – as if there were some kind of special prize for the “winner”.
For example, in the US, do gays have it worse than Blacks? Do Blacks have it worse than Asians? Black men or Black women? What about Muslims, Natives, and trans women? The Irish? Jews? Or what about White middle-aged working-class men – whose life expectancy has been going down and who favour Trump?
It is a common derailment: People who do not want to hear about the injustice done to your group will make it about their group or some other group. “All Lives Matter.” “The Irish had it hard too!” “What about … ?” Etc.
But sometimes it is seriously meant. There is more than enough injustice to go round and people tend to think that done against their own group is the worst, especially if they or their family have experienced it directly.
If you grew up in the US and are willing to listen, you can learn something new, filling in the holes left by a Whitewashed education and media.
But after a point it becomes a dead end:
- Oppression is not one-dimensional. There is no clear way to measure oppression and boil it down to just one number. Some of the side effects can be measured – poverty, unemployment, substance abuse, life expectancy, high blood pressure, police killings, etc. But which measure or what mathematical formula do you use? And some oppression cannot be bottled in a number, like racist beauty standards, stereotypes or cultural appropriation.
- Oppression is not exclusive. In the case of White supremacy, it is fully capable of oppressing more than one group at a time and do it in different ways. In Oppression Olympics, people seem to act as if there can only be one oppression at a time, that highlighting one group’s oppression means downplaying or overlooking another’s.
- Oppression is intersectional. Most Americans are not, for example, rich straight White cis males nor poor gay Black trans females. That means most Americans are privileged in some ways and marginalized in others. Their privileges do not cancel out their marginalizations and their marginalizations can intersect, creating something worse.
A useful way to look at racial oppression in the US is Andrea Smith’s Three Pillars of White Supremacy. White Americans oppress Blacks, Natives and Browns (Latinos, Asians, “Muslims”) each in different ways for different reasons – while at the same time using each group to oppress the others!
For example, Blacks in the US are used for forced labour and medical experiments, even today, and yet live on land they helped to take from Natives. Natives, meanwhile, serve in the military, bringing death and destruction to Asia in American wars of empire. And so on. There is no moral purity of group victimhood to be had in the US.
The gold medal in the Oppression Olympics always seems just out of reach because it is not there.
– Abagond, 2016.
- The Three Pillars of White Supremacy
- cultural appropriation
- Donald Trump
- Model Minority stereotype – perfectly designed for starting an Oppression Olympics