Monday, July 7, 2014
The Staircase of Oppression
As I was randomly going through TedxYouth videos on Youtube, I came upon one great speech by Angela Sun. The topic of her speech is the staircase of oppression, i.e. a staircase showing how someone gradually becomes oppressed. What I like about this speech is the fact that her youth brings the subject to a new level, showing that it doesn't necessarily need to be explained in difficult terms to get the essential of it all, and that it is a subject worth pondering upon since such a young person can be so passionate about it. The way Angela Sun explains this staircase of Oppression is by introducing herself and the discrimination she had to face, being an Asian young girl living in Canada. Her talk is quite stunning as she actually explains each step of the staircase, pointing to the development, causes, and consequences of each of these steps.
Angela Sun's explanation starts with the question: "Why does discrimination exist?", to which she answers by gradually completing her "Staircase of Oppression". Because I don't want you to skip the video, I won't go into too much detail about the content of her talk, but I am still going to give you the general idea of what her staircase shows. The Staircase of Oppression starts with Experience at its bottom, corresponding to the experience of a particular community of people staying together to get a feeling of belonging and understanding. With the belief that there are similarities in a community of people, start the inevitable stereotypes, that we consciously or unconsciously use to put people in boxes in a supposedly funny and harmless way. This is the second step of the staircase. On the third one we see Prejudice, which, Angela Sun says, is a stereotype to which value was added, so that we consciously or not, believe that these stereotypes are true. Then, when action comes in, based on Prejudice, begins Discrimination, i.e. when we actively make a distinction between people, which we believe to be similar to one another, and ourselves. This obviously leads to an unavoidable negativity towards the other, who is different from us, so from what we believe to be good. And finally, when power is given to discrimination starts Privilege, the last step of the staircase, which makes the entire society favour people with distinct particularities, and leaving the rest of the population struggle with its non-being what society thinks it should be.
This staircase is important because it not only leads to the question of who is oppressed, but also to the question of who is really privileged in our society. The answer is something that we all know inside, but fear to look at when clearly stated because the probability is that most of us don't really fit in: Cissexual Christian Caucasian middle-aged heterosexual masculine upper middle class/rich man, who is both able-bodied and able-minded. Who is thin, tall, and athletic, whose studies go beyond secondary school and who has a nuclear family. Wow. I clearly don't fit in that, and Angela Sun doesn't either by the way... And when I think about it, no one in my close circle corresponds exactly to that description. So I wonder, how many people in the world do? This fact totally blew my mind, because it forced me to stop acting like everything was okay, like discrimination would slowly lessen over time by themselves. It made me realize that I, even though I don't correspond to all features of the description, still fit most of them, and am thus considered a privileged one, which I see, but which I cannot seem to stomach. I feel like I shouldn't be considered privileged, I should be considered normal, simply because my life and opportunities should be those that everyone normally have, not exceptional ones. But then, if I'm privileged, having 8/14 of the descriptions, which means that I still have to face some struggle in my life for being what I am, then what happens when you don't correspond as much as I do? What happens when you don't correspond at all? Is it normal that only a tiny elite is having all the privileges, while the rest of the population struggles endlessly with society giving it constant hope that if it changes, it will finally fit and be happy. You might think that the descriptions are exaggerating, but if you actually try it for yourself, you'll see that the more people correspond to them, the more easily they fit in society. And there I thought we lived in a world of hope and opportunities for all, away from the old world of determinism... What a blinded illusion... Isn't it time to make a change in the way we think? And isn't it time we start acting different?
Because I couldn't manage to put the TedxYouth video directly on the article, I simply pasted its link for you to go watch it!
Have a great day, and keep your mind sharp!