"Anti-oppression has become a commodity"

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Catchfire Catchfire's picture
"Anti-oppression has become a commodity"

One of the cool things about the internet, and about tumblr especially, is the way that it allows for the quick propagation of all sorts of antiracist, antisexist, antihomophobic, etc., ideas.  The appearance of sites like Color Lines, Jezebel, Racialicious, Feministe (sites which vary greatly in quality and ideological orientation), among others, have all been really important in popularizing antioppression ideas in general, and in producing a class of people able to problematize and critique oppressive discourses, especially those that can be found in popular culture.  

One of the not so cool things about the internet is that it has helped to produce a class of people who are, relatively speaking, quite comfortable in their general anti-oppression stance.  Anti-oppression discourse, nowadays, isn’t even about a politics (i.e. working collectively to change the world you inhabit) as much as it is about style—about speaking the right language, using the right terms, expressing outrage at the right moment, etc.  Unlike previous generations of people discussing anti-oppression ideas, we who are members of this class don’t need to go to long, drawn-out meetings or to join activist groups in order to satisfy our desire to be against oppression.  The discussion, in many ways, comes to us—just follow the right people, read the right blogs, etc.  Anti-oppression, that is, arrives to us with the slick, polished ease of a commodity.

Without even talking about the billions of people who cannot access this kind of discourse precisely because the very late capitalism that provides us with cheap-ish computers and internet access needs to keep their wages incredibly low in order to do so, I’ll end by saying this: I believe that there’s a difference between producing evidence of oppression, explaining oppression, and fighting oppression.  One can produce evidence of oppression without being able to explain why oppression happens.  My problem with the Jezebels and Racialiciouses of the world, as well as with a lot of stuff I see around here, is that they glorify their own capacity to produce evidence about oppression without explaining it.  Or if they do explain it, the explanation tells us very little: it relies on the fact that we know oppression is bad and the fact that it feels good to know that.  This, I think, is why sarcasm works so well on Jezebel and various other liberal feminist blogs—it allows its reader to ignore the lack of analytical depth by allowing her to substitute the feeling of Knowing Better Than Someone Else Does.

You might think that people who analyze oppression professionally would at least think about the question of who benefits from oppression, a question that necessitates at least a critical view onto capitalism.  The problem is, of course, that those who produce evidence of oppression professionally have a class interest in not explaining or learning to explain who benefits from oppression.  Folks like (Racialicious founder) Carmen Van Kerckhove have found creative ways to make a living off of talking about race (and talking about talking about race) without explaining much at all save the fact that racism exists, a fact that we seem not to be able to be reminded of enough.

But the fact that an entire industry has emerged to produce evidence about oppression without doing much at all to fight it should tell us something about where we’re at in terms of capitalism.  Anti-oppression has become a commodity, too, and “we” are part of the machine by and through which that commodity is made and consumed.  I’m not trying to trivialize or downplay the existence of oppression—oppression exists, and exists on a scale any in ways I am not even in a position to know or speak about.  But I am trying to begin to understand how capitalism has enabled people—especially upwardly mobile, college educated people like me—to generate an anti-oppression discourse that allows many of us to feel as if we are doing much more to fight it than we actually are.


Issues Pages: 

When it comes right down to it I have heard far more forceful arguments which also ask me to accept a political position on faith.

Don't get me wrong, I sort of get the argument here, and I sort of agree: that you don't want s movement to get too comfortable or co-opted.

But I also detect a hint of "things were cooler when we were more transgressive" , and frankly, I don't think approaching issues of social justice in a lighter or light-hearted way is that much of a problem, when you consider the days when there was no such more mainstream territory.

I read Jezebel regularly, and I have complaints about it, but it is specific instances where I see corporate or dominant culture working AGAINST progressive change. I don't see a problem with that change being more widely accepted. I don't even mind that it is a for-profit website with an eye to popular culture.

Or that it can be irreverent.

If you want real change, what do you ultimately want, if not for those differences and lines of oppression to disappear? And why would you complain when you see areas where that is happening?

I prefer to look on the positive side and see it as a stepping stone to more active engagement, or at the very least a bit of a break for those who like social change to be something other than beating your head against a  brick wall 24-7.


I have to say though, I am surprised that blog didn't explicitly mention Jezebel's ownership by Gawker.