Random Thoughts and Musings by moi

Musings by a feisty, opinionated Deaf gal who wants nothing but the best for her community and her people

mercredi 6 septembre 2006

The Nature of Oppression

One situation at work has really rankled for a few years and it was recently resolved. Without going into specifics, we as a team were discussing whether or not we wanted to change one policy, and if so, how we would change it. Most of us wanted to change it in a certain way to reflect Deaf cultural norms and the change would be linguistically appropriate in ASL. One woman insisted that it had to be changed in a way that reflected hearing mores and values. She basically squashed all of us and I feel that the person in charge totally wimped out, letting her do it, even when we protested. I even tried to talk to the person in charge privately explaining why she should not allow this person to dictate this policy, only to be ordered to drop it.

This situation has now been resolved as of a couple of weeks ago, but it’s made me reflect on the nature of oppression, who does it, and who’s on the receiving end. Not only that, it’s made me think about how feeling oppressed can magnify issues.

Truth is, the policy change was not that big a deal for me. I happened to be doing it myself anyway, but it was a personal decision, and I was not going to criticize others for choosing differently. When it was brought up by someone else a few years ago, I supported it but it wasn’t a big issue for me. But because I was told straight out that I was wrong and because the administrator allowed one person to make the decision for all of us, in spite of many objections, it became a huge deal to me. In other words, because I experienced oppression, it heightened the issue for me and made it more important than it ever was before. Being squashed and dismissed like that was such a horrible feeling, one that shook me to the core of my being. It’s also one I will never forget and I think I may always find this topic a sensitive one from now on, when it wasn’t before. This could be a valuable insight on how disenfranchised minorities feel. H’m!

This situation proves that members of a minority group are not immune from oppressing others. The person who declared all of us wrong is an African-American, and I know she is sensitive to racism. The administrator who decided not to stand up for what was right is also a member of an ethnic minority. I'm not saying that all members of minorities oppress others, but it highlights something I believe is important. We are all capable of oppressing others, regardless of our membership in groups or our experiences.

This capacity for oppression that we apparently all have regardless of our experiences should make us pause and consider our words and actions carefully. It is one thing to disagree, but it is another to impose one’s opinion on others and to devalue others. To do so could end up making others hyper-sensitive about something and make unity even harder than it already is. This should be a valuable lesson for all of us, myself included, especially now with all the discussion about how fragmented our community is.


  • At 18:05, Anonymous Curious Eyes said…

    hmm... instead of making it about oppression, isn't it simply about being assertive and speaking up for yourself? Does everything always have to be about race, hearing status, class membership, and dominance or oppression? That person who announced all of you wrong may be just strong-minded ... maybe a dominating type of person. And the person in charge may be wimpy by nature ... not a fighter or someone who enjoys argument and confrontation. The bossy sorts sometimes respect you more if you stick to your guns and present a convincing point of view. Just an idea. I've been in those shoes myself too, and often, geez... I have to pick my battles when it comes to that kind of thing. Some things just have to be approached or dealt with differently.

  • At 20:12, Blogger moi said…

    Curious Eyes, thanks for your input. No, not everything has to be "about race, hearing status, class membership, and dominance or oppression." In fact, people who think that way frustrate me because I'd like to believe there's more to life and interacting with others than that. I'm not one who is quick to say "I'm being oppressed." This is the FIRST time I've ever believed I was being oppressed. So believe me, that's _not_ it. Allow me to address each of your points one by one.

    1. "Daisy," the person who declared us mistaken IS strong-minded and domineering. But she is also very, very sensitive about being "different." She is quick to take offense if she thinks a comment or an action is racially motivated. My mentioning ethnicities was done more to note the irony of the situation than anything else.

    2. The person in charge is not wimpy most of the time but I believe (based on the discussions we had) that she was afraid of offending Daisy by countermanding her demand.

    3. "Sticking to my guns..." I DID. I called in an expert and this expert talked to the whole team, backing me up. Many heads nodded in agreement. Many people came to me privately saying they agreed and they, too, felt squashed and dismissed when they said so during meetings. I openly disagreed with Daisy a respectful tone every time we discussed it and presented my perspective, to no avail. The person in charge told me privately that she agreed with me, but did not feel this was something she could pursue due to the "strong feelings present." Believe me, I stuck to my guns and presented a convincing point of view. I was assertive and spoke up for myself.

    4. Daisy's words were, "Not everything can be the Deaf way. Just because something is done in a certain way by Deaf people does not make it what we should do. For this, we need to do it the hearing way. I'm sorry, but that's the way it is."

    5. #3 and #4 are why I felt so oppressed and called it such. This is the first time I have *ever* felt oppressed. In essence, the person in charge said it was more important to placate someone than to stand up for what the majority of her team believed to be right and Daisy said she didn't give a damn as to what was right according to most of us. Dictionary.com Unabridged says, "To oppress is usually to subject (a people) to burdens, to undue exercise of authority, and the like; its chief application, therefore, is to a social or political situation: a tyrant oppressing his subjects." This is what this situation was.

    6. Picking your battles - yup, I do pick my battles carefully. This was one I had to fight... and I tried every single approach I could think of.

    7. My main point in the post was actually not about the situation itself. It was a cautionary tale to all of us, reminding all of us (myself included) that we have a responsibility to be sure that we don't cross that line when we are standing up for ourselves or asserting our opinions and squash other people in the way that I felt squashed, as I said in the last paragraph and a half.

    I hope this clarifies your questions. Again, thanks for your input. Much appreciated.


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