I’ve recently read a written piece of work, that aligns itself with the views of people like Kanye West, that as long as we reference slavery and oppression and participate in and continue to think of ourselves as victims of oppression we, Black people, will stay oppressed. This work also discussed the almost cultish ideals of woke culture. While I appreciate what people like this author, and Kanye West (“400 years of slavery was a choice”), are saying but I don’t fully agree with this logic.
I understand the mental gymnastics and how difficult it is to try to rise up when not only is society putting you down for your race, your skin tone, and telling you that you are not good enough but your own community is acknowledging those hardships in a way that feels as if it is submitting to a reality in which it is not empowered. No one wants to be oppressed and continuing to create negative pathways around oppression, slavery, systemic racism definitely feel as if that is honestly helping our oppressors because we feel mentally weakened. My mom raised to remember that everyone who was going to dislike me for a number of reasons including my race was the one in the wrong, which means when I talk about the system of oppression, racism, slavery I do not feel weakened mentally or as if I am further oppressing myself by identifying in that way. I feel more so like I am identifying a problem other people have with me, bringing it to light and asking for positive change.
Acknowledging the systems that oppress us doesn’t further the oppression. I believe shedding light on the issues around us and trying to get people, specifically white allies who have the power to change the systems, is the only way to make people aware of how difficult our struggle really is. And yes, there are other people and places with different burdens, battles, and struggles. As a Black Canadian Woman I don’t often feel as though this system is oppressing me in the same way it oppresses the Indigenous, the way that Black people are oppressed in America or the ways in which life is much more difficult in third-world/war-torn countries. That being said, I have been called the N word in several instances of my life. I have written multiple times about how the school system in NB lacks representation, how the government continues to avoid hiring the Commissioner for Systemic Racism, how we continue to need to fight against unconscious bias, systemic oppression, misinformation and a lack of education and create safe spaces for ourselves.
I do however agree that some demands for allyship and woke-culture end up alienating people who are interested in supporting minorities because of how some people gatekeep their communities. In the same way some feminists do seem to hate men, some Black people do seem to hate white people. I have in the past been guilty of generalizing and of saying on the Podcast “White People” or “White Men” and while sometimes I do actually mean to generalize, there are often times that I don’t. I also understand that when discussing our oppression and issues, anyone speaking in that way can come off as aggressive, or preachy and while I don’t believe we should change our rhetoric completely to be palatable, there is something to be said for understanding the perspective of your audience. If we want allies, telling them that they are all racist, wrong, bad people will not likely make any of them want to participate in allyship but will instead create guilt, shame, and alienate us from them.
All in all, I also agree that an “us versus them” mentality doesn’t help many. That being said, the world and its systems have created an “us against them” way of life: financial status, classicism, racism, sexism. These systems are currently supported by white elite men who want to stay in power. That fact, and acknowledging that does not further oppress me, but it does encourage me to work harder and be louder so that I can try to disrupt and dismantle said system. I do so in my work with community health. I do so by writing this blog, and by participating in the podcast. And while the author of the open letter may be tired of oppression and of woke culture, by sharing their voice as a Black person they are contributing to the disruption of the system even if they are tired of its existence and feel acknowledging their oppression contributes to it. I do believe what is important is community building and education whether it is under the guise of allyship, acknowledging oppression or simply being proud of who we are.