Racism, sexism, homophobia and other kinds of discrimination are all different manifestations of oppression. But in the Western world we live in (particularly the US and the UK) most people would say that these kinds of discrimination and, by extension oppression, are wrong. And yet the “discriminated” still seem to complain a lot about their lives. Many of the discriminatory laws that held these people back are gone now. Surely this in combination with the moral support of the general population should mean the end of their disenfranchised days? The problem is, it isn’t as easy as that.
“Racism/ sexism/ homophobia doesn’t exist anymore” or “racism/ sexism/ homophobia isn’t a problem anymore” are lines we are familiar with and hear a lot. The argument is that because racist/sexist/homophobic laws don’t exist anymore, we should just get on with our lives. It’s history now, we should forget about it. Stop talking about it, even.
Unfortunately, this argument is based on the assumption that oppression can only exist when the law of the land explicitly allows or encourages it. Being legally entitled to something does not mean you are going to get it. And while you could argue that ethnic minorities, women and LGBT people are entitled to freedom from oppression in this country, the US and other such places, it is simply impossible to argue that these groups are free from it.
While the police force in the UK does not have a healthy relationship with black men, to talk about racism at this moment in time without addressing the events in Ferguson would be silly. But the most important thing to note about the injustice of Michael Brown’s murder is that it is not an isolated event. Of the many documented examples, perhaps the most poignant came on the same day that Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot him six times, was cleared of any charges, as the twelve year old Tamir Rice was shot and killed by a yet to be named police officer.
In a six month period in 2014, UK charity My Sisters Place helped 703 female victims of domestic abuse take their abuser to court. Of these, only 52 resulted in successful prosecutions, and only 5 resulted in custodial sentences.
A 2011 study investigating the lives of transgender people in the US reported that 41% of respondents had attempted suicide. In 2002, 1.6% of the general population had attempted suicide.
Perhaps there is an easier way to illustrate part of the point I am trying to make. Imagine the boardroom of some City corporation. Now imagine the people sat around the desk. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine that they are all white men over the age of 40. It’s easy to imagine because you’ve seen it before in film, television or real life. Now imagine that all the men sat around the table are black. Or imagine that the boardroom is full of women. The image doesn’t exactly spring to mind. This is because we haven’t seen it before in media and more importantly, in real life. The truth is unavoidable: people are still being oppressed, and their voices are not being heard. And that is because they are being drowned out by moderates who claim, and in some cases wish, to support their cause.
Essentially, the problem with being ‘colour-blind’ is that you are also inadvertently being blind to oppression. By not talking about women’s rights because the word of the law does not discriminate, you brush over the very real injustices being suffered and going entirely unpunished. It is too easy to ignore issues that don’t affect you directly, but a society cannot be deemed to be functioning if it allows people to be held back by problems we could so easily fix.
Its’ time to stop denying oppression and start talking about it.