Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Appropriation of languages of the oppressed

One thing that's been really bothering me lately is how anti-sexist or anti-racist language are often appropriated by people in positions of power, whether it's people benefiting from white privilege, class privilege or male privilege. It's the same patronising and condescending attitude of "I know better than you" or "I know more about your oppression than you do". It really fucking pisses me off and it is another form of appropriation to maintain or enhance positions of privilege and power.

Activists/anarchists/feminists who have learnt the languages of the oppressed - without actually understanding the context in which those languages exists and the particular experiences they refer to - are perpetuating hierarchy and domination through a more subtle and sinister means. The use of it often ignores their own privileged backgrounds and addressing their own racism/sexism/class/ethnocentrism. I think this is extremely problematic.

What I mean by languages of the oppressed, is the discursive tools to call someone up on oppressive or abusive behaviour or to explain injustices. So when this is used by those who are structurally oppressors: for example, a man saying "you're being anti-feminist" to a womyn or a white/pakeha person to say to a non-white/indigenous person "you need to understand non-white or indigenous perspectives on things" to re-assert their dominance, that's when it's appropriation and a technique of manipulation. When this ideological ammunition created for liberation is used by the privileged to oppress those which it seeks to liberate, that's really fucked up. For people who come from a position of power within this white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy to be so arrogant and condescending to tell people who are structurally oppressed what they should and shouldn't be doing/thinking is another form of oppression and anyone who does that is not an ally of mine.

I think this all come back down to colonial assumptions of cultural and educational superiority that is so taken for granted and manifests in interpersonal relationships and intercultural relationships in structural, sometimes subtle and sometimes overt ways. The colonial arrogance of needing to "educate" (i.e. brainwash into assimilation and subservience) sadly exists even within anarchist/feminist/activist networks and often internalised uncritically. And it's not acceptable.

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