Black Looks - Including an African LGBTIQ+ Archive

Racism, Social Movements

Militating Against the Olympics of Oppression…

also find me at: kameelahwrites
No Snow Here linked me to an article by Audre Lorde entitled There Is No Hierarchy of Oppressions and was struck my one quote

From my membership in all of these groups I have learned that oppression and the intolerance of difference come in all shapes and sexes and colors and sexualities; and that among those of us who share the goals of liberation and a workable future for our children, there can be no hierarchies of oppression. I have learned that sexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one sex over all others and thereby its right to dominance) and heterosexism (a belief in the inherent superiority of one pattern of loving over all others and thereby its right to dominance) both arise from the same source as racism-a belief in the inherent superiority of one race over all others and thereby its right to dominance.

While I am hesitant to say that sexism and heterosexism arise from the SAME source as racism because I am inherently uncomfortable with the equation of historical not fixed technologies of oppression, I am getting the overall message here.

I started deconstructing my identities and positionalities in this world and asked if life harder for me as [an anti-capitalist tomboy/genderbending (“nothing about you says girl”- says my mama) Black Muslim hijabi from a poor family who is often confused for an illiterate and non-English speaking “foreigner” who looks 16 but is really 22] than anyone else? I mean I keep keep going…is life harder (and more authentic) for me because I refuse to wear pink, skirts or anything “feminine” while sporting hijab which in a lot of ways signals a certain level of femininity…or because I am a Black kid from the hood who had to struggle against not only white folks who expected me to fail but other black folks who accused me of racial apostasy because I wanted more…or because I am Muslim in post 9-11 (what is with this “post” business? it seems a bit prematurely celebratory…I do not think we are post 9-11 at all; the climate, the strategic excavation of emotions, and the politics are still there)…or because I am often perceived as “non-American”…

Why are we obsessed with winning the award of the most oppressed? Why are we so fixated on positioning our pain and suffering above that of others? Do such self-congratulatory acts validate an authentic existence? What award is there for the oppression olympics? Does your voice become more legitimate when you engage in what ultimately is a narcissistic act that does discursive and real violence to the lives of others? Do we all want to be card carrying members of the “Most Oppressed”?

With all these questions, I must admit that when middle and upper class White women try to equate their experiences as women with that of being Black I do get upset. I am upset not because I do not deny the struggles of being a woman in any context, I get upset because in the assertion of oppression and equation with my life, they deny, obscure and make unimportant the advantages they reap (and take) as moneyed, white folks.

No verdict, except that I would like to say that the olympics of oppression serves in the maintenance of oppression. We need to respect our nuanced and unique experiences, but while we are squabbling about which of us (the Black queer mother of 5 or the Mexican daughter of immigrants) is most oppressed we are waisting valuable energy, resources and time better spent on the forces and technologies that weigh down on the Black queer mother as well as the daughter of Mexican immigrants.


  1. have you read andrea smith’s essay ‘heteropatriarchy and the three pillars of white supremacy’? i’ve been wanting to read it for a while, but couldn’t find it on the internet, and bfp just posted a link to a PDF of it. it looks like it addresses a lot of these issues of ‘who’s more oppressed.’

  2. thanks nadia for the heads up! I am giving it a look over now ­čÖé

  3. Lovely blog. Keep up the gud wuk!


  4. Thank you so much for this post. I think it captures a lot of the complexities of dealing with oppression-systems, in addition to give people some insight into what it feels like emotionally and conceptually to be poked and prodded by the fact of intersectionality as regards oppression.

  5. jon

    I dunno, I think this issue is sort of a symptom of the civil rights movement being unable to gain any real traction in the last few decades. There haven’t been any solid issues to really galvanize the oppressed people together. It was simpler before when everybody was like “we all gotta get together to stomp out these jim crow laws!!” Now we’ve got people fighting AIDS, genocide in various third world countries, the achievement gap in schools, police brutality, police sweeping crimes under the rug, too many black men in jail, immigration reform, demand for ethanol raising the price of corn so poor mexicans can’t afford tortillas…

    On a brighter and less rambly note, I think I’ve got a solution to the whole mess. What we need to do is require inmates to get college degrees or learn practical trades so they can get good jobs when they get out. Then all of the blacks who’ve been in jail for 15 years for marijuana possession and other unfair charges will be able to support the childern they fathered before they went in. The kids will have good male role models and school supplies; the moms will be able to be better parents because they won’t have to work three jobs; and the schools will improve becuase the families will be able to pay more in taxes and get off of the government teat. I suppose this got a little wordy, but it is my brilliant idea for breaking the cycle of disenfranchisement. I challenge you to come up with a better one before you dispute mine.

  6. Katie

    Hmmm, Jon, your comment is pretty ignorant about a few different dynamics at work here.

    The formerly incarcerated are subject to the realities of the business world, which often discriminates against or outright bans hiring based on the existence of a criminal record, whether or not the applicant has a degree or trade. You’re certainly making the assumption that they don’t have a trade or degree, by the way. Add to that the fact that your solution doesn’t address the laws that are shunting people of color into the prison industrial complex, and it looks like your forcible-college-degree solution is a giant waste of money.

    (And “requiring” inmates to get a college degree is pretty ludicrous. You’re going to take away *more* rights from the imprisoned by forcing them into an education program, rather than giving them the option to do it? Smacks of fascism to me.)

    Many of the things on your list of new problems since the Civil Rights era are not new – they’ve been around forever. Police brutality? Too many black men in jail? Genocide? The
    “achievement gap”? Please. These are things people have been fighting a long-ass time. I think your assessment of the situation has alot more to do with the revisionist history we’re fed, and perhaps your willingness to believe it, than the actual situation.

    I don’t want to be too harsh, but you really need to think about the implications of some of your statements, and especially your “solutions.”

  7. jon

    My solution was crafted in a quick, utopian, vacuum kind of way. I know there are finer points to be ironed out, but this blog isn’t the place to frame the entire concept. Yes, I know people with skills and educations are incarcerated, but do you think they make up the majority of the prison population? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect they do not. And, yes my idea doesn’t directly address the shunting of blacks into jails, but I think helping to give them steady jobs and sources of income is probably a good start. Maybe there are better ones, but helping them contribute back to the economy benefits everyone. The “giant waste of money” bit is particularly amusing to me though, like prisons aren’t already gigantic wastes of money, labor, and lives (but making prisoners lives better is just crazy). I don’t know if people would consider the forced education practice racist or not, but why not ask some people in jail whether they prefer learning or shivving each other (besides we’re already incarcerating them for years, depriving them of their families and employment, but making them take english 101 is taking it too far?)

    As to the rest, the long time thing was the point. IN MY OPINION, minorities are engaging in the “oppression olympics” because they haven’t gained much ground on these numerous issues recently and are squaking at each other to decide who has it the worst. Maybe not, I don’t know (I’d be happy to hear what the “actual situation” is if you’d care to enlighten me.)

    You’re not being too harsh, the implications are meaningless because no real change is going to come from blogging comments anyway (we’re all here to blow off steam besides attending city council meetings where real issues are decided), and what solutions do you propose?

  8. LOL at real solutions being decided in city council meetings…i have rarely found that to be the case.

    as someone with a college degree who has never even been arrested and still can’t find a job other than seasonal, part-time retail, i’m pretty skeptical about the idea that a degree is the answer.

    i think jon’s comment is exemplary of a major problem…people looking for some grand idea that will make everyone’s problems go away…and some charismatic leader to lead us all to freedom, who has that great idea. we’re talking about mulitple systems and interactions/intersections of oppression, and each one is different but they might share common themes, perpetrators, or serve common interests, so a good start (i think) is examining these commonalities and differences. if we have a clear idea that we are fighting to make all people free regardless, this makes it easier to bring groups/people into the loop, to strategize about how we can best support each other, etc. this is not a simple thing, and thinking about in overly simplistic terms (i.e. economics are THE problem, race is THE problem, gender binaries are THE problem, etc) weakens the base.

  9. sorry–i have been too absent from this discussion. thanks to those of you who shared constructive criticism and positive affirmations…now for those of you who did not:
    @jon: your first comment shows a disastrous level of myopia that relied on crass generalizations and stereotypes as well as ahistoricism. like katie has already stated, a lot of your framing of problems and solutions just seem a but off kilter.

    and on the note about the incarcerated giving back to the economy–the incarcerated DO give back to the economy, esp. in private prison where they are free labor to companies like dell, victoria secret etc. so before we just assume incarcerated folks are in prison chilling, recognize the economic and financial roles of prison. the more people locked up, the more prison contracts that are signed for prisoner uniforms, prison food, prison guard pay increases (they get paid loads in california), the architects to build the prison! so…prisoners do (unwillingly) ‘contribute’ to the economy in the most sadistic and degrading way.

    i am going to piggy back on nadia’s comment. too many folks are looking for a quick solution and the reality is that is has taken centuries to build up the horrendous manifestations of a lot of the oppressions we see today, so we are being silly to think that JUST electing a new president or JUST giving prisoners education will wash away centuries of ‘strategic planning.’ i think examining commonalities and differences is an important start, and i think more so that we should get more in the habit of thinking about what kind of world we want–no need to live in so we can start building there. in all honesty, sometimes i think we get so bogged down in describing problems (which is a much NEEDED effort because as we can see, our framing can be myopic) that we forget to imagine and dream in a real+tangible sense, what type a world we are builing toward. i think this goes beyond an anti-racist world or an anti-patriarchal world. of course this image will shape over time, but i think it is nice to have something to build toward in addition to knowing what we want to tear down. our differences and similarities are of course important because they will guide how we go about this change–methods, alliances, collaborations etc. like nadia has said we cannot distill this down to simple soundbites and easily digestable units–the difficulty of this task is also the beauty of it.