A shared understanding of how oppression affects people similarly in spite of differences in the cause of the oppression can increase understanding and support for all.
STAGES THROUGH OPPRESSION
June 13, 2004
These are my thoughts about the different stages that individuals might pass through in response to being oppressed. I don’t think everyone necessarily goes through each stage. Some people leap passed a stage. Other people get stuck at a stage and never move beyond it. Regrettably, it seems that only a few seem to make it to the final stage.
These are only my thoughts based on my personal experience with being oppressed and my observations of other people as they journey through the storm. I don’t claim that these thoughts are “right” for anyone but me. I don’t claim that my thoughts may never change. But, if it is helpful or even just interesting to someone to get a glimpse of my perspective and experience, I am happy to share…
We are all born “perfect” and innocent. I dislike using the term perfect when referring to people because inevitably someone starts feeling that “perfect” should be a goal and chaos ensues. But, I do like using the term when referring to babies because they are all exactly that, “perfect”. In their perfection, for them, there are no power structures; there are no classes of people; there are no stereotypes. We all just are. We all need the same things. In the very beginning, equality exists. Ironically, we all start out awash with an innocence that is actually a place of untainted human wisdom that we need to strive to reclaim after traveling through the torrential stages of this journey called life.
AWAKENING TO THE OPPRESSION
But, it doesn’t take long before the child learns that so much of life seems to have to be lived according to someone else’s idea of which group we belong to and their ideas about what that group can and can’t do, what the “value” of that group is and how that group fits relative to all the other groups. At this stage, the child can list the groups and they know which ones are the good, better, best, and which are the bad, worse and worst. It is a time of just knowing who is who and where everyone is in the pile.
Then, as people begin learning “their place”, they respond to it. Not everyone responds in the same way. I first responded to this awareness by feeling totally powerless. I felt totally helpless, unhappy and depressed. As a child I cut out magazine advertisements that depicted “my place” and made a collage with it. I wrote lists of examples of the injustices. I didn’t know exactly how to respond but I did know that this oppression existed since the beginning of time and it existed in every country and it existed in my family, school and life. It was everywhere I turned. It felt impossible to change. I felt doomed with a certain fate and completely out of control. I saw those in power as having permanent control and I knew that those without power would never have power.
MIRROR THE OPPRESSOR
I never went through this stage myself but I have witnessed others who seemed to want to dress like the oppressor, talk like him and do what he does to get to the places of power that he holds by becoming him. These people became what I used to call “plastic people”. They were not real. They didn’t have independent thoughts. They were only robots who had sold their souls to the corruption. This often meant that they would become as ugly as the oppressor and that seemed ok with them. They were ready to vigorously oppress their own kind and anyone else on any of the lower echelons. In fact, they seemed to relish becoming the oppressor. The people at this stage had total a lack of self awareness and a total lack of self-respect and self love. Their anger causes them to act as if they idolized the oppressor as they worked to victimize the oppressed. But, by doing so, they lost themselves.
DESPISE THE OPPRESSOR
But, then it starts. They finally realize that equality, opportunity and freedom can never be achieved by buying into and supporting a twisted system. They still feel “lesser than” but at this stage, the anger at oppression is now directed at the oppressor. They start creating lists of all the character defects held by the oppressor. They start listing all the reasons that the oppressor is in fact inferior to them. They see no redeeming features in their oppressors. Their analysis is narrow in that it aims to only vilify the oppressor and stops short of seeking any viable solutions. In spite of the accuracy of this limited and narrow analysis, they support these views primarily in an emotional way because their feelings are creating a pressure that is beginning to overtake them. The “big picture” understanding with all the possible nuances and options for action are obscured. At this stage they believe that people from their group who don’t share their views are stupid or at best uninformed. This stage is the beginning of the realization that self awareness and self respect is lacking and desperately needed. But, a lot of work still has to happen to learn about one’s own worth. This learning begins in a serious way at this stage.
The lists of oppressor defects are now the fuel for the most intense whirlwind of feelings that are expressed as nothing less than rage. Judgment is impaired due to the heat of the rage. The gathering of the details that support the overall analysis of the oppression has resulted in a huge, massive “pile” of understanding. Over time as this understanding has accumulated and been processed, there have been many years of intense feelings pulling this way and that, and the eye of the storm hits. It is often expressed in extremely negative messages of outrage and indignation. People in this stage often believe that others from their group who don’t share this rage are sell outs and traitors. They see options as being limited. The responses to oppression at this stage can be irrational, emotional and intense. Violence and advocating for the destruction of the status quo can often be seen as the only viable option. This is in spite of all the accurate information that went their understanding. This is in spite of the fact that they know that their stance of advocating for the overall obliteration of all associated with the oppressor is not only unlikely, it is impossible. Their feelings of hopelessness cause them to see themselves as the warrior who martyrs himself to make a statement. Sometimes the intense emotions can based on the fear that maybe they really are inferior as the oppressor says. Some are shaken to the core by this fear. For some, this intense rage and combined with the fear tells them that they must stop and figure out what needs to be learned. Otherwise, they risk being swallowed alive with the intensity of the pain. Some are so shaken by this intensity that they finally do stop focusing on the oppressor and start looking inward. Some begin to seek the truth which is that the only real power that exists is inner power.
This is the stage where extremely intense personal work is done. They realize that beliefs can be changed. It is the stage where old, unhelpful beliefs are identified, destroyed and replaced with new, helpful beliefs. Perhaps for the first time, the person realizes that giving the oppressor so much energy and focus is neither necessary nor helpful. The person works to learn of their actual worth. They begin to feel their actual value. With this learning, they begin to feel their real power. They may become truly alive for the first time. They become reacquainted with their true selves. After this, they finally realize that their oppressor’s opinions matter less than their own. They know that they don’t need to be with any certain grouping to feel ok about themselves, other people or life. They see the groupings as merely human structures for categorizing. They respect groupings for themselves. They can begin to see the value in not looking down on others for not seeing things “right”. Instead they claim their birthright as respect-worthy and capable. They see the oppressor for what he is, an unhealthy person who hasn’t made much progress down his own personal path. They see oppression is a corrupt system created by many unhealthy individuals who have no more actual power than they have themselves. They know that what humans put together, human and take apart.
At this stage, the person begins to not only to see themselves more clearly, they see others more clearly. They no longer need to judge people as good or bad. Instead, they see them as where they are on the path and they understand what that means in terms of keeping oneself safe and participating a plan for the greater good. They can see people as being either way back on the beginning of the path, somewhere in the middle or farther along towards enlightenment and true power. They see everyone and everything for where they are and what that means. They can see and evaluate problems and injustices with calm confidence. With their new clarity, they are able to arrive at sound solutions based on the big picture. They see many, many options. The normal sadness and pain created by witnessing and feeling the injustice is welcomed since these feelings fuel their commitment to action. But, they are not stuck in the feelings of sadness and pain. Rather, they learn from it and move forward. Their positive, optimistic outlook along with their determination attracts people to participate in the solution. Their ability to see people, situations and life is clear due to the shift in their response to the dominating and intensely negative emotions that previously either immobilized or severely limited them overall. They no longer give their power to the oppressor. Although the oppressive system still exists and claims victims, they themselves are freed from the oppression because they now have absolute knowledge of themselves. Now they can use their innate abilities to engage their power towards mobilizing people in the direction of the solutions. And, they are now able to fully love all their brothers and sisters who are farther down the path, still suffering severely and who are in need of comfort.