Friday, October 26, 2012

Alliances of the oppressed

There are a lot of oppressed people around: 50% of the world's population who perform the gender of 'female', all the people who are differentiated from the mainstream in terms of racial or ethnic identity and not given equal status or rights because of it, GLBTI people who innovate romantic, sexual and other forms of relationships and are detested by the heterosexualist status quo for it, physically or mentally disabled people who rail against the very definition they are made to align themselves with (some advocate for 'differently abled' or more empowering terms) and are regularly demonised or dehumanised, and so on. This is just one way of thinking about oppression, perhaps the most common - placing people in these groups that have a place in the landscape of popular activism. But it is not the only one.

Anyone who elects to be different, or cannot help but be relegated 'lesser than' the rigid confines of 'white, heterosexualist male,' can expect to have something to fight for. As a Slavic, pansexual female, I am one of the oppressed. And in being oppressed, I am part of the majority. The majority of us aren't white, heterosexualist males who are happy with the shoes they are expected to fill in oppressing others (and, in doing so, oppressing themselves). If we look for similarities between us long enough, we will find them, and it is this radical empathy - the ability to put aside the fear that other minority groups cannot understand us or won't come to our aid - that creates the beneficial relationships across different social worlds and fosters an environment in which 'my empowerment is your empowerment'.

I will always be thankful for the circumstances of my schooling, in which Eastern European immigrants were such a minority that I didn't have access to people who reinforced my birth culture to conform to during the teenage years. The majority of the people in my first high school class were Asian, and so I learned early on to question my formative cultural beliefs and relate to backgrounds different to my own. Unlike my parents, who grew up in a homogenous environment where extreme entrenched racism was the norm, I feel comfortable within a multicultural environment and like my social worlds to be informed by cultural and-or racial diversity. It feels like something is missing if there aren't at least a few different backgrounds in the mix. The most common instance of this is white people clustering together, and reinforcing the ignorance they have about non-whites in the process. Put simply, white people in the West need the lessons that come by the way of non-white socialising. We are letting the potentially most innovative people in our environments pass us by without reaching out and learning from them all we can.

When we forget to feel threatened by other groups, the most wonderful things can happen. New friendships can form, new ideas can be exchanged, new businesses can spring up, a new politics of transracial affiliation is given room to grow. We are changing the culture, one relationship at a time. Changing the nation from a segregated, fearful structure of clinging to old, tired, unproductive norms, to a new dynamic that prioritises openness and inclusiveness.

It all starts with a smile and a conversation, a genuine curiosity and some good-will. Sooner or later, if you make enough connections, you will find the emergence of new allies in your world. That girl who seemed vaguely alien may come up with just the right idea to get you out of your writer's block. That guy who you worried might be homophobic due to his cultural background might have a pivotal insight into your relationship problem. The gender-nonconforming individual you had been slightly avoiding could turn out to be your new best friend if you give them a chance to share their world with you. In difference lies beauty, inspiration, innovation.

Maybe, if you're like me, you feel that there aren't many people out there who can understand you. One thing I try my best to do is not to shut myself off from meeting new people. I don't want to let my sense of isolation prevent me from being open to whoever the day may bring my way. It can be difficult at times, but I know that only a willingness to communicate with others will lead to new the kind of breakthroughs I cannot make on my own.

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