Last week, news of the slaying of two young black men caused pain to many in a time where we are already so sensitive. In the case of Ahmaud Arbery, it hit home for me because I run around three miles, four times a week in my neighborhood. The sense of unease I felt taking that first run after this story broke made me think about power dynamics.
This unease made me think about how I do not usually feel oppressed or see myself as oppressed, and yet there are moments when I do both. Since my work here is about helping others tap into their Creative Power, I thought about how oppression is in direct opposition to this. And that led me to want to dig into this topic a bit.
Oppression is strangely situational, frustratingly viral, and very real.
Let’s work backward on that last sentence.
Oppression is real. It’s essential to start there, to validate the oppressed and deny the gaslighters.
By definition, oppression is “prolonged cruel or unjust treatment or control.” That ‘prolonged’ piece is critical. It’s why oppression is often carried out by one group of people against another group of people. One gender against another (almost always men against women), one race against another, one religious group against another, one tribe against another, and on and on.
But sometimes oppression is carried out by a single person against another person. An example of this is an abusive relationship. We are learning that the move to stay home while making overall society safer from COVID-19, is making some people very unsafe. Statistically, these people are usually women.
Oppression happens, it’s fundamentally inhumane, and none of us should feel indifferent about that.
Oppression is viral. This, to me, is the most troublesome aspect of oppression. Not always, but all too often, victims of oppression (due to trauma, miseducation, or both), oppress others. Something terrible happens when this viral transmission occurs. The one who chooses to oppress, even though they were once oppressed, is now a perpetrator.
While we can have empathy for what one has undergone, we cannot abide oppression, regardless of its root cause. Our job as caring humans is *to stand with people being oppressed who do not oppress others*. Those who perpetrate must first be held accountable for the oppression they carried out before we can stand with them. This is how justice works.
Finally, oppression is situational. In this way, oppression can be complicated. There are cut and dry versions of oppression like slavery. The overwhelming majority of humans can look at slavery and say it’s clearly oppressive and unjust. However, many forms of oppression that happen today are complex. They aren’t always this obvious, but they are still at play.
The inequity that exists as a result of generations of slavery or racist/sexist laws is one such complex form of oppression. There are no specific, current laws that stop a woman or a person of color from voting, buying a home, or getting a loan from a bank. But for hundreds of years in America, there were. Today, the after-effects of those laws from years ago are too often in debate. The oppression that lasts for many generations cannot be resolved in a single generation. Future generations have the responsibility of seeing that justice is carried out for those that are no longer here.
This complexity explains why I do not usually feel oppressed, but sometimes I do. I am not always or even often oppressed, but sometimes I am.
In this time, where the crisis society is in only brings more stress to the oppressed, I wanted to organize my thinking on this complex topic into an axiom that would help me frame oppression and guide my emotional response to it. Here’s what I came up with:
The oppressed are not weak, and the weak are not oppressed.
The first part of this sentence is an assertion of power. People who are oppressed are not weak; they are wronged. Yes, they need support, but not because they are somehow weak. They are not. To survive oppression, and not, in turn, become an oppressor, is among the strongest things any human can do. The oppressed deserve our love, support, empathy, and in many cases, protection.
The second part of this sentence is more nuanced.
The weak are not oppressed.
I mean two things here.
I just said that those who are oppressed are not weak. Yet weakness does exist.
Weakness is not permanent; it is a state of being. It can be changed, and that change comes from within.
Those who are genuinely experiencing moments of weakness still have their agency and their power and can find the strength to overcome their weakness. It’s important to remember that when we are not held down by others, we have within us the ability to turn weakness into strength. Don’t claim oppression when it’s not present. That disrespects both those who are truly oppressed as well as your own Creative Power.
But I mean something else, too.
I mean that those who choose to oppress others are weak.
Any human or group of humans that have to derive their power by abusing another human or group of humans is weak. Deeply weak.
We heroes have to stand up for the oppressed and to the oppressors. This calling has existed as long as humans have; it is a feature of our lives, not a defect. It is part of the noble Hero’s Journey, and it raises us to higher levels of purpose, achievement, and fulfillment when we accept it.
Let’s not dishonor ourselves or those who are genuinely oppressed by giving our power to people who simply challenge us. Too often, we hand our power over to others, instead of claiming it and taking the actions we can to be strong. Understand, someone being nasty to you doesn’t necessarily mean they are oppressing you. Oppression is about power, choice, equity, and justice.
Rest in Power, Ahmaud. You were wronged, and you were strong.
Have a grateful day.