By Liam McLoughlin 17/08/2016
A closer look at the meaning of oppression reveals just how hard people like David Leyonhjelm and Scott Morrison have got it, writes Liam McLoughlin.
Ever since the Big Bang, powerful white males have done it tough. In the olden days, white Europeans might go a whole day of genocide without so much as a glass of Grange. Today, the labour conditions for oppressed white male politicians and commentators have improved, but still their plight goes unrecognised.
Fairfax journalists like Mark Kenny and wealthy media empires like New Matilda publish mean things about them. These things are so hurtful, people like Scott Morrison and David Leyonhjelm experience profound identification with Indigenous Australians, who’ve been massacred, stolen, incarcerated, and abused over the last 228 years.
Just as these white rulers show empathy, love and compassion for women, queers, Muslims, refugees, and Aboriginal people all across this great brown land, we must do them the same courtesy.
This is why I’m proposing we use the work of feminist and political theorist Iris Marion Young on “The Five Faces of Oppression” to help us understand the profound hardship of being an Angry White Ruling Class Male (or AWRCM for short).
You can read most of Young’s chapter about the mechanics of oppression in Diversity, Social Justice and Inclusive Excellence here.
For now, let’s take a look at how oppression prevents bigots from reaching their full potential.
First, much like Andrew Bolt, it’s important to be precise in our language. What exactly does Young mean by oppression? She writes:
“Oppression refers to the vast and deep injustices some groups suffer as a consequence of often unconscious assumptions and reactions of well-meaning people in ordinary interactions, media and cultural stereotypes, and structural features of bureaucratic hierarchies and market mechanisms— in short the normal processes of everyday life. We cannot eliminate this structural oppression by getting rid of the rulers or making some new laws, because oppressions are systematically reproduced in major economic, political, and cultural institutions.”
In short, “Oppression refers to structural phenomena that immobilise or diminish a group.”
Okay, but how do we define ‘group’? Surely there are huge individual differences between the ingrained prejudices of Tony Abbott and the persistent bigotry of Cory Bernadi?
Young tells us “A social group is a collective of persons differentiated from at least one other group by cultural forms, practices, or way of life.” She argues that groups are defined primarily by a sense of identity.
A quick way to see if you are at risk of suffering from AWRCM oppression is to first check if you are a Parliamentary member of the Coalition or work for Rupert Murdoch. Second, check your sex organ. Finally, see if you identify with this handy list of top ten AWRCM likes and dislikes.
Likes: coal, God, hate speech, attention, the sound of your own voice, capitalism, white people, corporations, power, and privilege.
Dislikes: minorities, science, the ABC, the UN, Adam Goodes, Gillian Triggs, human rights, reason, coherence, and knowledge.
If this is you, take a quick break from tearing apart our social fabric, contributing to a rich record of human rights abuses, and shredding our international reputation, and read about the following five ways structural phenomena prevent you from achieving your boyhood dreams.
You can read a neat summary of these categories here, from which many of these quoted definitions are taken.
“Exploitation is the act of using people’s labours to produce profit while not compensating them fairly.”
Think sweat shops, African miners, or gender exploitation, which according to Young includes “transfer of the fruits of material labour to men and transfer of nurturing and sexual energies to men.”
For AWRCMs, the clearest example of exploitation is their relationship to the press. Men like George Christensen work tirelessly to express things in the most ignorant and offensive way possible, maximising virality for media outlets who gleefully throw such men the megaphone. While George is kicking goals for the media, and kicking those in the LGBTQI community while he’s at it, where is his recompense?
“Marginalisation is the act of relegating or confining a group of people to a lower social standing or outer limit or edge of society. Overall, it is a process of exclusion.”
Asylum seekers are not just marginalised from public debate, they are excluded from the Australian mainland and placed in island prison camps. This country also has a long, dark history of marginalising and denigrating Aboriginal communities.
In much the same way, Andrew Bolt has been marginalised from Channel Ten and the hard right of the Liberal Party has been largely excluded from Cabinet.
“Some of the fundamental injustices associated with powerlessness are inhibition to develop one’s capacities, lack of decision making power, and exposure to disrespectful treatment because of the lowered status.”
Australia and the United States have a history of shared values; freedom, democracy, and the iron will to disenfranchise and destroy black lives. We see the dire consequences for black communities in both countries; mass incarceration and police violence, as well as appalling health, education, and housing outcomes. Professionally, they lag well behind their white counterparts.
To which Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz would rightly say “Tell me about it”.
“The groups that have power in society control how the people in that society interpret and communicate.”
In the past, Judeo-Christian belief systems and Anglo-American culture reigned supreme in Australia.
But now that Sharia Law is official government policy and Home and Away has become everyone’s favourite soap about how a community of Islamic preachers take control of Summer Bay and fill the diner with Halal snack packs, it’s pretty clear political correctness has gone absolutely bonkers.
“Members of some groups live with the knowledge that they must fear random, unprovoked attacks on their persons or property. These attacks do not necessarily need a motive but are intended to damage, humiliate or destroy the person.”
Children on Nauru and Manus, as well as many women and Aboriginal, Islamic and queer communities across Australia, could all testify to that.
Similarly, interpreting violence pretty broadly, there was that time The Chaser’s Kirsten Drysdale and Zoe Norton Lodge used logic to make David Leyonhjelm appear a bit silly. And let’s not forget Scott Morrison’s epic battle with bigotry on Twitter.
For too long Australian public discourse has seriously, thoughtfully, and meaningfully grappled with the exploitation, marginalisation, powerlessness, cultural domination and violence experienced by this nation’s most vulnerable people.
Can we please, just for once, spare a thought for Angry White Ruling Class Males?