Oppression and unity: a thought experiment

I’ve been writing a lot about Trans Critical Feminists (called TERFs elsewhere), but they’re only one example of a group that rejects or oppresses another group (transgender people in this case).

It always makes me sad when members of one oppressed group turn around and oppress another group. You see it when some black people don’t support LGBTQ rights, when some low-income people rail against immigrants – it almost feels like a law of society that the oppressed will become oppressors.

This kind of quarreling seems especially unhelpful because the people with power – white straight Christian cis men without disabilities – make up such a tiny fraction of society. Imagine how much could change if the remaining 95% all got on the same page!

It feels like a law of society that the oppressed will become oppressors

I’ve developed a thought experiment to help unpack this issue. First, this is where I say I’m a bi, white cis man with a disability – I’ve had more advantages than most but less than others.

Still with me? Then imagine for a moment that you’re unaware of anything like race, class, sex, gender or disability status. All you know is that you’re about to enter the world and that in this world a tiny percentage of people oppress the vast majority of people. You ask why this majority doesn’t rise up against their oppressors and you’re told it’s because the oppressed are broken up into hundreds of small groups; no single group is strong enough to defeat the oppressors, which are few in number but united by their interest in maintaining power.

Before beginning life as a human you must complete a task: you must develop a set of rules for all groups to follow. The catch: you don’t know which group you’ll be in.

What would you do? You’d probably decide that, just by the numbers, you’re likely to end up in one of the oppressed groups that make up the majority. Your task then is to create rules that, if followed by all groups, would benefit the majority.

What would you decide about how oppressed groups behave? What “rules” would allow the oppressed groups to overcome?

Here are some rules I’d create:

All people should be taken at their word as being who they say they are; if someone says they’re a massxbump then they’re a massixbump.

All groups should support each other unconditionally, as long as the group isn’t harming another group.

All groups should remember that the problem is the small oppressive minority; groups shouldn’t get sidetracked by rivalries with other groups.

All groups should quickly forgive injustices or mistakes made by other groups; this will help groups stay united.

What would it mean if these rules were adopted?

Another way to do this thought experiment is to imagine you’ve been assured you’ll be in the oppressive minority – what rules or strategies would you come up with then?

Your most important rule would probably be that each group should focus on its differences with other groups – cis women should tell transgender women they’re not real women, poor people should tell immigrants they’re stealing their jobs, black people should tell LGBTQ people they’re sinful. You’d want them fighting each other so you could get away with whatever you want. Your own group’s rule – the oppressive minority’s – would be to stoke these disagreements whenever possible.

Pretty much like now, I’d say. Turn on FOX and see what they say about LGBTQ people and minorities – what if that isn’t intended for white cis male viewers but members of oppressed, splintered groups?

What if when these groups fail to support each other they’re showing how they’ve internalized the oppressive minority’s values?

Do you agree with these rules? Do you have additions? Is this thought experiment useful or just silly? Let me know what you think in the comments and if you like I’ll include them in an upcoming post!

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