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When woke theories become oppressive

July 19, 2018

Liberal theories on oppression are a response to toxic traditional theories that have been used to sustain oppressive societies. Their aim is to be liberatory. The fact that they always aren’t liberatory or the fact that the philosophies are taught in a way that becomes the opposite of liberatory exists because the theories have been created by people who were socialized and conditioned to reason in an very un-liberatory society.

 

One of the reasons why liberal theories on oppression have failed to live up to their potential is because the very way in which they are taught lack a love ethics. To be clear, the philosophies, it it of themselves, are not always bad. The way in which the philosophies are often analyzed or understood, however, is toxic.

 

 

For instances, one of the main objective of liberal theories on oppression is to understand the world through ways in which oppression takes place. A byproduct of this is that people begin to connect things that happen to them to oppression. While it is imperative to do this to understand the world, one needs a more holistic picture to understand situations that transpire. For example, to understand an interaction between someone, one might need to understand the person’s personality type, their culture, upbringing and the way that the circumstance they are in might be a reflection of a systematic issue. To understand this, one must practice deep listening. They must critically interrogate both their own locations and their conversational partner's identities and allegiances that inform how they live their lives and make sense of their world. This may require them to give their conversational partners a sense of security by acknowledging their conversational partner's legitimacy and the ideas that they put forth as legitimacy. This isn't something that is talked about much when people teach about liberal theories on oppression. And because many liberal teachings on oppression fail to discuss this, because they lack a love ethics in this way, people only partly begin the process of de-colonization. So really a lot of the people who adhere to the philosophies in question aren't in the business of de-colonization at all.  Their activity becomes something that is the opposite of liberatory because they only partly understand the phenomena at hand. 

 

 

 

It's imperative to note that these philosophies are predominately used by oppressed people and their allies to navigate the world. This world, by the way, is often traumatizing. The world they live in teaches them daily that their lives don't matter in a variety of ways. It prevents them from social, economic, and political rights, and privileges due to them. And because the status-quo is seen as ethical or just for those in power so their acts of transgressing the status quo, their speaking out against injustices done to them or working to take ownership of the social, economic, and political rights and privileges due to them, becomes a violation of a right. It becomes a violation of rights and ethics because a world in which they are unseen, not believed, or treated unjustly is seen as the way things should be. 

 

The adherence to the fallible liberal theories on oppression, along with the the circumstances the oppressed people and their allies endure work together to create a situation in which oppressed people and their allies act as if they are a group of PTSD survivors who all take their hallucinations, for lack of a better word, (I say hallucinations because while they have a reason to feel fear of particular groups or to be on edge in conversing with them, it may not be necessary in instances that they think they are necessary in.)  seriously because they are still being traumatized and don’t always know fact from reality. It may seem harsh to say that they don't always know fact from reality, but I think it is an accurate claim. Since the lack of love-ethics in their philosophies that help them navigate the world only partly get at reality, they are not equipped to understand reality as it is.



An example of traumatized people misunderstanding reality could be when oppressed people and their allies stay away from or stigmatize places or people that are reminders of the traumatic experiences they've endured because they believe that the places or people will put them back into their trauma-filled space. Some marginalized people may perceive white people, heterosexuals, or anyone with privilege to be worthy of distrust, fear or disdain. Their perception will inevitably lead them to show this in a lot of different ways. It may be sensible in many cases to think that certain people are worthy of distrust, etc, and act on it. The decision to do this might be based on righteous and understandable fear and anger at a group's (white people or men's) behavior towards them. However, because not all individuals amongst the groups are necessarily worthy of distrust, fear, or disdain, the way that they show individuals that they think that the people are worthy of distrust, fear, and disdain may be unjust. In making incorrect assumptions about individual's because of the behavior of the group they belong to, they  misunderstand reality.

 

This could, of course, lead to more issues between the groups. When people are made to feel like they are unjustly distrusted, feared, or bad because of the group they belong to, they will begin to resent those who hold negative attitudes about them. Personally, I think that people should try to be understanding of oppressed people in these circumstances. However, I think it is imperative to recognize that that this phenomena may lead oppressed people and their allies to treat people who benefit from oppression badly. They may report, cancel, or embarrass them for crimes they have not committed. But also, they could come in the habit of coming up with solutions to issues that do not help or address issues at hand. For instance, they may practice viewing people as bigoted when in reality the person in question is either confused, immature, or just different culturally. This will cause them to reprimand miscommunication issues, personality differences, and cultural differences as if they were acts of bigotry.

 

Instead of doing the sort of conversational or analytic practices I discussed earlier, (regarding a love ethics) like deep listening or patiently investigating all parties beliefs, many will assume that their conversational partner is bigoted or evil. They may cancel them, cut off all dialogue with the person, report them, or publicly embarrass them. While I am not saying that any of these actions are bad in it of themselves (there may be good reasons to cut off dialogue with people, etc, I do think that some people partake in these actions for bad reasons. I also think that having a culture in which it is acceptable to do this because one's way of understanding the world lacks a love ethics, can lead to toxic environments.

 

The thing is that members of oppressed groups will legitimize these unhealthy practices (staying away from people and places that are reminders of the traumatic experience, being easily shook by things that remind them of the traumatic experience.) For instance, it has become normalized in many "left" circles to associate anything from one's use of buzz words and theories, to mannerisms in people’s conversational practices to oppression. These things can work to remind people of the trauma they've faced (being unseen, misrepresented, and mistreated) and make them think that the trauma is taking place again.

 

For instance, some will hear others say things that they perceive to reinforce toxic norms, euro-modernity, Euro-centricism, or hetero-normativity. However, the ideas that the perceived bigoted person expresses won't directly touch upon it but they will treat the statement as if it was a slur term or made a bigoted statement. Sometimes the ideas that are expressed come from a good place but are actually bad. It's sort of like when you are trying to solve an algebraic equation and there’s several steps to the problem. You get the first 5 steps right but you mess up on step 6 and because of that the whole answer is wrong. Sometimes people have the right intentions, or even the right way of framing the issue, or have a legitimate ethical concern they are raising, but because they say something slightly off or because they don't talk about things in a certain way, people assume that they are saying something bigoted or unethical. In these cases, it may be wrong to automatically assume that the person is reinforcing oppressive narratives. 

 

Many oppressed people and their allies have created a culture where this is normalized, acceptable, and sometimes even deemed as ethical on the basis that everything is being done in love when members of the group take each other's perception of the event seriously because members of the group are listening and believing other members of the group. This is, of-course, important because their trauma is based off of being unseen, not being taken seriously, not being believed, being treated unjustly. But because they are all legitimizing each other's "hallcuinations", for lack of a better word, (I say hallucinations because while they have a reason to feel fear of particular groups or to be on edge in conversing with them, it may not be necessary in instances that they think they are necessary in.) people begin to view them as the boy who cried wolf.

 People sympathize with their plight but feel that they aren’t completely credible. This of course, hurts them more because, as stated before, they are still living having to endure trauma. A lot of times they are right. They are correct when they attribute things that people say and do to oppression at play. But now, because they are so often triggered, and most of the time they are rightly triggered, the injustices that they report aren't seen as credible by people who have the privilege of not understanding their circumstances.

 

Some would call them snowflakes or call them weak for getting triggered as they do.

 

 

I think it is unjust to do so. I really just feel like people are doing the best they can with the cards they are dealt with. Understandably, their actions sometimes end up creating toxic environments. Their actions and conversational practices sometimes end up hurting well-meaning people. I just don’t know if it’s right to blame them for that. This isn't to say that  we shouldn’t hold them accountable. It doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t call them out on their mindsets and behavior. I honestly don't know what it means exactly but I think we should practice being understanding of the people who do this- their actions, after all, are in response to a world that treats them as if they don't matter. 

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