For the last couple weeks, I’ve been experiencing a lot of backlash in terms of my own definitions of oppression and privilege. I’m not here writing an article about the specifics of either – although if you are misinformed or don’t have access to these discourses, education in this area of your life will open your mind to a whole new world.
I do, however, want to talk about who defines oppression and privilege. I have posted a lot about this on social media and discussed it with my friends, but it is important that these conversations are being had on wider scales, and I am honored to have the privilege to expand my audience through this wonderful publication.
I’m going to first give some basics about my identity. I am heterosexual. I am able-bodied. I am not indigenous, meaning I am a colonizer of the land we all live on. I come from a middle class family. I have a lot of privileges. I am also a woman. I am a person of color. I don’t have certain privileges. I don’t have certain privileges, and when I personally experience discrimination or prejudice against me because of those privileges, I am allowed to say something.
I am sick of being told that I am not allowed to define if someone is being racist or sexist toward me. I, as being a woman of color who has consistently been treated differently or looked down upon, am allowed to define the oppression that I face. I have the ability to define whether or not something happened to me because of my race or gender, as opposed to just something happening to me. And people without certain privileges have those abilities too. Too many discussions in our world are dominated by the oppressor. Our conversations, the ones about how institutions block certain people from attaining privileges, should not be dominated by the institutions. They should be dominated by the people who experience these injustices themselves.
This might sound like common sense but it is not exacted in our communities or world. Our conversations on problems that exist – global patriarchy, neoliberalist policies enforced by our own government, the occupation of Palestine, the prison industrial complex, the privatization of education, the deportation of immigrants…the list can go on — these conversations are all dominated by the discourse presented from the side of the oppressor. And the ones speaking as the oppressed are labeled too “biased” or “emotional” or “passionate” or “crazy” or whatever other trigger word historically used to exert supremacy over people of color. I am a woman of color who experiences different treatment because of it and I know how to define my experiences, but moreover, my “biases” don’t make my opinions invalid – they fill them with strength.
My experiences should speak for themselves. Women of color continuously being silenced for their ability to define their experiences should speak for itself. I am sick of being told that my ability to define the experiences of marginalized communities is not valid despite my firsthand experience. I am sick of being told I cannot discuss these issues seriously because I am too emotional or crazy. We, people who live in these communities, are not crazy. That word is used simply to oppress. We are strong and we are educated. We continue to talk about the communities we come from because every issue, every space, every opportunity, is different for us. Race and gender (and other identities I don’t have the privilege of speaking about) should be included in discussions of every issue because despite what some might think, it is always relevant. We don’t live in a post-anything society. We exist in an institution of oppression that silences those who deserve to speak against their own pain and anguish.
I’m sick of having my stories told by people who have never taken a walk in my shoes. I’m sick of being told I can’t define whether someone is being racist or sexist. No matter what, these concerns should be taken seriously because I am the one who understands the experience.
We will not be tokenized. We will not be blamed. We will not be stereotyped. We will not be “saved”. We will not be silent.
Don’t be silent. Define your own oppression. Take your experiences seriously, and don’t let yourself be questioned.
Written by Anisha Ahuja