Opression is Not a Relic (A response to “Stop Toxic Identity Politics”)

Kevin Ssonko  ’20, Guest Writer

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My mother grew up in post-colonial Uganda, formerly under British rule. When I was growing up, she shared countless stories with my siblings and I about my grandfather who died before I was born. My grandfather hated the British colonizers for their bigotry and exploitation of the Ugandan people. My grandfather lived most of his life doing all he could to assert his own freedom even though his own nation lived under occupation and in the same vein my mother encouraged us to resist bigotry of any kind, even when such an effort feels futile. If you were to tell me then that bigoted ideas would gain mass popularity again by the time I was a young man, I would not have believed you, but of course these were simpler times. 

I must say when I read lasts week’s article decrying identity politics I was impressed with the effort of the author. It’s quite a task to try and prove somehow that recognizing the brutal exploitation and marginalization of different people groups throughout American history up to the current moment is somehow an inhibitor toward the great American stride toward progress. That somehow the facts that show that America has, and continues to exploit and marginalize specific groups of people for the benefit of the few is not true, is merely just a historical issue, and we should simply just move on from these things. But even if I were to take his argument seriously, the problem is almost none of what he said is rooted in any real fact about the way that things are. Like most right wing thought in our times, it’s just coated in a deep and misguided philosophy about the way that the world is. It’s rooted in this assertion, that somehow after white, wealthy, Christian men have ravaged the world for the sake of profit, that they are the real victims of oppressed people’s striving toward recognition. Indeed, it seems that the authors audacity to pen such ill-founded ideas, completes the prophecy that Paulo Freire presented in his seminal text, Pedagogy of the Oppressed, that when oppressed people begin to create a world without oppression, those who oppressed them will only be able to recognize that world as oppressive to the former oppressors. It seems then that rather than embracing a new world of possible justice, the author of the article like most conservative voices clings to his mythologies about a world that doesn’t exist. One where Martin Luther King, who himself was the enemy of right wingers of his day namely the John Birch Society, sides with neo-conservative thought. And women who side with the patriarchy are “free thinkers.”

I must say I am not surprised though by this lackluster effort. The reality is this is nothing new for right wing thought, because of how repressive conservative thought is it must always rebrand itself to somehow be on the margins of power in order to convince people to believe it. The reality is that conservative ideology finds its roots in support for the status quo and representing the ideas of the elite in an oppressive superstructure. People in general don’t like these ideas, people root for the little guy. But conservative thought roots for the oppressors, so in order to sell itself it must somehow convince people that those who have been on the wrong side of history, are actually the real victims. 

The reality is that whether the author of last week’s article wants to admit it or not, the world is not and will never be as he says it is. We live in a world of steep and unfortunate inequality and the evidence is all around us. To assert that issues like racism are a thing of the past at the very moment in American history where as we speak it is being documented that babies in flint are drinking poisoned water for no other reason than the fact that they were born poor and black, and the planet’s temperature is rising because of people’s insatiable desire for profit, is not just in bad taste, but it’s flat out dangerous. When I read articles like the one written last week that try and downplay the urgency of our current situation, I can’t help but ask myself, what is this person even trying to achieve. What does he expect, to convince millions of people that the oppression that they have faced in their life isn’t real, that 1 in 4 women on a college campus aren’t being assaulted, that every unarmed black man shot in America somehow deserved to die? None of this is true, and because I believe all Dickinsonians are capable of critical thinking, I don’t think he believes it’s true either. All lasts week’s article was, was a tool of propaganda, it’s not based in facts, it’s not based in reality, and no its not making the world any better. So, in the spirit of freedom fighter Martin Luther King who was quoted out of context last week I’ll end with one of his that has stuck with me for quite some time, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”

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