Oppression, equality and respect

There’s an acute shortage of socialists who aren’t fighting with one another. During the past four years of activism two things have become clear.

  • I’ve had no end of people being shut out and ostracised from politics because they’re ill-educated or say the wrong things without meaning to offend.
  • There’s no shortage of folk that are blinded by pious bullshit in the Scottish Left.

We cannot have a socialist society without equality and respect. We cannot build one without these qualities either. And many of us are under-equipped. Our understandings of racism, patriarchy, heteronormativity, imperialism, classism, transphobia, disablism, xenophobia and ageist oppression lack a common lexicon and mode of understanding – each form of oppression has its own jargon and sets of terminology.

Despite many of us being oppressed in some fashion, through ignorance and foolishness, capitalism delightedly brewing our infighting, and human beings (because that’s all we are) disagreeing on tactics to fight these aggressive taints.

Our lack of common understanding makes this inordinately difficult.

Furthermore, we’re flawed. Many of us swear, say stupid and oppressive stuff, get things wrong – and shaming, damnation and ostracisation seem to have had limited success among those who could be allies. Many otherwise reactionary working class people don’t understand the multifaceted nature of oppression, but then go on strike, fight together against oppressive common enemies. We stand together, we show solidarity – and the door to fighting further oppressions within those ranks open.

Once you’ve built a rapport with someone, once they trust that you are basically on their side, and not about to screw them over for a small measure of power, you can have much more difficult conversations with them than when you first approach them – it’s much more apt then to speak plainly, educate and have the hard arguments. And it all changes. It doesn’t change because we gave them a pious lecture or scowl at them – but because we paint a clear picture of walking in our shoes, and they share how it feels – oppression and injustice. Their solidarity becomes ours. And we all win as a consequence.

Solidarity wins.

That doesn’t mean we have to be softly-softly nicey-nicey about tackling oppression and injustice. Solidarity and militancy works; it’s damn near the only thing that’s ever really worked against any of this.

A friend and comrade wrote something stupid – and I was offended by it. It’s an ill-advised rant against Social Justice Warriors. People who get offended.

A wise person once told me, “write when angry, edit when sober, and publish when you’re certain.” I think it was written in anger, but not published when certain. Allow me to illustrate a counter-example of social justice warriors, given my friend and comrade’s common factor of oppression – our sexual orientation.

The lesbian and gay community had been reviled in Scotland – having only decriminalised who we were in the early 80s. But there were lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Scotland long before then. What did the brave do?

  • They created safe spaces. Places where they could meet others, comfortably share time, and plan for the future.
  • They sharpened their tongues and their elbows. They organised. They demonstrated. They got arrested. And they kept fighting.
  • People came out, and lived as they chose – within and and outside safe spaces.

It was heroic, and hard.

  • AIDS struck down vast numbers of people, horror stories of “the gay disease” smeared the papers. Tombstone adverts struck fear into the hearts of the populace.
  • People got beaten and murdered.
  • Section 28 made schools hostile to young gay people.
  • Bisexuals fought to claim their space.

Solidarity and compassion clashed against ignorance and hatred. And solidarity and love wins. The message got through. The diplomacy could start. Now we live in a country which has some of the most progressive equal marriage laws in the world.

This is a success story of Crybullies. We live in a better society as a consequence of it.

All of us, every socialist I know, we need to become stronger communicators. We need to craft messages on our terms.

Because the message is what’s left after militancy. That’s why Better Than Zero and TIE are so brilliant. They’ve cultivated (using simple, straightforward graphics and copy) a picture of what it means to be young, low-paid, gay – oppressed. They’ve attracted many to their causes due to their skill. Because the message sticks with you when the militancy stops.

We need to build links – intersections – between progressive movements against all kinds of oppression. Our struggles really are bound up together.

Even so, I don’t understand much of the oppression suffered by others. When helping a local meeting for Women for Independence (I shifted the furniture and helped close up the cafe) I didn’t have any money to go to the pub. So I stuck around. I sat down, shut up, listened and learned.

It was simultaneously shaming and brilliant. I wanted to speak, I really did, but I didn’t. I was fearful of being an ignorant twit, I was fearful of being set upon by these brilliant, tough-as-nails women. I was fearful of being noticed at all. And I was right to.

I was invading their safe space.

I felt guilty and shameful. I was an invader and fellow people of my gender oppress fellow human beings. I can listen to my sisters strife and struggle, but I do not look into a dark alley and impulsively turn my house keys into a weapon as a consequence of attack and rape. I do not earn less than the equivalent men. I can dress as I please without victim-blaming. Because patriarchy is simply not a part of my life. How could I possibly understand, without sitting down, shutting up, and listening and learning?

I do not carry this oppression with me 24 hours a day.

There’s a fair number of us that wear blinkers at our own struggles. It doesn’t need to be that way – because communication, compassion and solidarity is what it takes.

Can we work towards that better communication, compassion and solidarity, my friends and comrades? It’ll involve a little less of using our sharpened tongues and elbows on one another. And forgiving trespasses.


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