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Oppression

  • Oppressed people are treacherous for the simple reason that treachery is both a means of survival and a way to curry favor with one's oppressor.

  • No social problem is as universal as the oppression of the child.

  • In order to perpetuate itself, every oppression must corrupt or distort those various sources of power within the culture of the oppressed that can provide energy for change.

  • Traditionally, in american society, it is the members of oppressed, objectified groups who are expected to stretch out and bridge the gap between the actualities of our lives and the consciousness of our oppressor. For in order to survive, those of us for whom oppression is as american as apple pie have always had to be watchers, to become familiar with the language and manners of the oppressor, even sometimes adopting them for some illusion of protection. Whenever the need for some pretense of communication arises, those who profit from our oppression call upon us to share our knowledge with them. In other words, it is the responsibility of the oppressed to teach the oppressors their mistakes.

    • Audre Lorde,
    • "Age, Race, Class, and Sex," speech (1980), Sister Outsider ()
  • What is surprising is not that oppression should make its appearance only after higher forms of economy have been reached, but that it should always accompany them.

  • It is natural anywhere that people like their own kind, but it is not necessarily natural that their fondness for their own kind should lead them to the subjection of whole groups of other people not like them.

  • If they come for me in the morning, they will come for you at night.

  • It is a historical truism that the most downtrodden in any society rarely initiate the battle for their rights. They are usually too powerless — in Marxist terminology, too oppressed — even to contemplate a change in their status.

  • ... people who by nature and practice make a business of keeping other people down, whether through law or custom, or personal power, are among the world's monstrosities ...

  • ... this is the oppressor's language / yet I need it to talk to you.

    • Adrienne Rich,
    • "The Burning of Paper Instead of Children," The Will to Change ()
  • Oppression does not know the meaning of provincial boundaries. Aren't our energies better spent fighting the common enemy instead of each other?

  • Once any group in society stands in a relatively deprived position in relation to other groups, it is genuinely deprived.

  • It is very difficult for people to believe the simple fact that every persecutor was once a victim. Yet it should be very obvious that someone who was allowed to feel free and strong from childhood does not have the need to humiliate another person.

    • Alice Miller,
    • "Unintentional Cruelty Hurts, Too," For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence ()
  • For it is precisely because certain groups have no representation in a number of recognized political structures that their position tends to be so stable, their oppression so continuous.

  • One of the benefits that oppression confers upon the oppressors is that the most humble among them is made to feel superior; thus, a poor white in the South can console himself with the thought that he is not a 'dirty nigger' — and the more prosperous whites cleverly exploit this pride. Similarly, the most mediocre of males feels himself a demigod as compared with women.

  • All oppression creates a state of war.

  • Personal accomplishment is almost impossible in the human categories that are maintained collectively in an inferior situation.

  • When an individual (or a group of individuals) is kept in a situation of inferiority, the fact is that he is inferior. But the significance of the verb to be must be rightly understood here; it is in bad faith to give it a static value when it really has the dynamic Hegelian sense of 'to have become.'

  • It is the curse of minorities in this power-worshipping world that either from fear or from an uncertain policy of expedience they distrust their own standards and hesitate to give voice to their deeper convictions, submitting supinely to estimates and characterizations of themselves as handed down by a not unprejudiced dominant majority.

  • It is critical for both more privileged and relatively more oppressed groups to listen to each other's pain without playing the who-is-more-oppressed game. We see the same thing done in families or between couples who argue about who has suffered more. Presumably, the person who has suffered less is supposed to give in to the greater sufferer's demands. If this is allowed, suffering is encouraged because it brings with it power. The point, of course, is not to get people further hooked on suffering but to free them to learn about joy, effectiveness, productivity, abundance, and liberation. They need to listen to their own and to others' stories and to acknowledge where their pain is so they can open up the door to growth and change — not to bludgeon each other with it.

  • By identifying with the powerful, the disempowered achieve a measure of safety, at least for a moment. By doing the bidding of those in power, they become a necessary part of the system, useful so long as they serve to contain the stirrings and strivings of the oppressed. By making the rules and values of their oppressor their own, they separate themselves from the rest of their group and, temporarily at least, assuage the pain of their stigmatized status.

  • The oppressed without hope are mysteriously quiet. When the conception of change is beyond the limits of the possible, there are no words to articulate discontent so it is sometimes held not to exist. This mistaken belief arises because we can only grasp silence in the moment in which it is breaking.

  • In order to create an alternative an oppressed group must at once shatter the self-reflecting world which encircles it and, at the same time, project its own image onto history.

  • The tyrant grinds down his slaves and they don't turn against him, they crush those beneath them.

  • They say that oppression engenders hate. They are heard on all sides crying hate hate.

  • The revolt against any oppression usually goes to an opposite extreme for a time; and that is right and necessary.

  • So, all of us would do well to stop fighting each other for our space at the bottom, because there ain't no more room.

    • Cheryl Clarke,
    • "Lesbianism: An Act of Resistance," in Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back ()
  • Oppression involves a failure of the imagination: the failure to imagine the full humanity of other human beings.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Amnesty International: An Address" (1981), Second Words: Selected Critical Prose 1960-1982 ()
  • Those who have to face persistent political persecution become highly politicized. Our lives take on a rhythm different from those who, on waking up in the morning, do not need to wonder who might have been arrested during the night and what further acts of blatant injustice might be committed against our people later during the day. Our antennae become highly sensitive to vibrations barely noticed by those whose everyday existence is removed from political struggle.

  • ... growth requires purposeful division. Responsible dissent is the essence of democracy.

  • First they came to take our land and water, then our fish and game. Then they wanted our mineral resources and, to get them, they tried to take our governments. Now they want our religions as well. All of a sudden, we have a lot of unscrupulous idiots running around saying they're medicine people. And they'll sell you a sweat lodge ceremony for fifty bucks. It's not only wrong, it's obscene. Indians don't sell their spirituality to anybody, for any price. This is just another in a very long series of thefts from Indian people and, in some ways, this is the worst one yet.

    • Janet McCloud,
    • in Ward Churchill, Fantasies of the Master Race ()
  • Usually, when people talk about the 'strength' of black women they are referring to the way in which they perceive black women coping with oppression. They ignore the reality that to be strong in the face of oppression is not the same as overcoming oppression, that endurance is not to be confused with transformation. ... The tendency to romanticize the black female experience that began in the feminist movement was reflected in the culture as a whole.

  • Racism and oppression have traditionally been synonymous with good business practice for America.

  • Within our society there are hierarchies of need because there have been hierarchies of oppression.

  • How universal was the language of oppression! They had said of the Masarwa what every white man had said of every black man: 'They can't think for themselves. They don't know anything.'

  • ... the history of an oppressed people is hidden in the lies and the agreed-upon myth of its conquerors.

  • The oppressed never free themselves — they do not have the necessary strengths.

  • Women are the only oppressed group in our society that lives in intimate association with their oppressors.

  • Poor and afflicted and oppressed people have faces, and we are required to look squarely into them. We can't love what we won't experience.

  • If given a choice, I would have certainly selected to be what I am: one of the oppressed instead of one of the oppressors.

  • ... the trouble with discrimination is not discrimination per se but rather that the people who are discriminated against think of themselves as second-class.

    • Rosalyn Yalow,
    • in Sharon Bertsch McGrayne, Nobel Prize Women in Science ()
  • In South America euphemism appears to be the grisly preserve of violent power. 'Liberty' was the name of the biggest prison in Uruguay under the military dictatorship, while in Chile one of the concentration camps was called 'Dignity.' It was the self-styled 'Peace and Justice' paramilitary group in Chiapas [Mexico] that in 1997 shot 45 peasants in the back, nearly all of them women and children, as they prayed in a church. What have the souls of the south done over the past few decades to deserve quite so much liberty and dignity and peace and justice?

    • Isabel Fonseca,
    • "A Land in Exile From Itself," The New York Times ()
  • ... hatred of oppression seems to me so blended with hatred of the oppressor that I cannot separate them. I feel that no other injury could be so hard to bear, so very very hard to forgive, as that inflicted by cruel oppression and prejudice.

    • Charlotte Forten,
    • 1854, in Ray Allen Billington, ed., The Journal of Charlotte Forten ()
  • At times I feel it almost impossible not to despond entirely of there ever being a better, brighter day for us. None but those who experience it can know what it is — this constant, galling sense of cruel injustice and wrong. I cannot help feeling it very often, — it intrudes upon my happiest moments, and spreads a dark, deep gloom over everything.

    • Charlotte Forten,
    • 1854, in Ray Allen Billington, ed., The Journal of Charlotte Forten ()
  • ... oppression does not remain static. It carries the seed of its own destruction.

  • I have always looked on disobedience toward the oppressive as the only way to use the miracle of having been born. I have always looked on the silence of those who do not react or who indeed applaud as the real death of a woman or a man.

  • But it is not really difference the oppressor fears so much as similarity.

    • Cherríe Moraga,
    • "La Güera," in Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back ()
  • In this country, lesbianism is a poverty — as is being brown, as is being a woman, as is being just plain poor. The danger lies in ranking the oppressions.

    • Cherríe Moraga,
    • "La Güera," in Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back ()
  • Silence is the first thing within the power of the enslaved to shatter. From that shattering, everything else spills forth.

  • If you're going to hold someone down you're going to have to hold onto the other end of the chain. You are confined by your own system of repression.

  • Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.

  • In many regions water turns rock-hard! That is how it is with us! Falling helpless victims of oppression again and again, our hearts grow hardened one day.

    • Binodini Dasi,
    • "The Story of the Star Theater" (1924), in Susie Tharu and K. Lalita, eds., Women Writing in India ()
  • The essence of oppression is that one is defined from the outside by those who define themselves as superior by criteria of their own choice.

  • There are levels of outrage, and there's a point at which you can't be trespassed upon anymore.

  • The Gringo, locked into the fiction of white superiority, seized complete political power, stripping Indians and Mexicans of their land while their feet were still rooted in it. Con el destierro y el exilo fuimos desuñados, destroncados, destripados — we were jerked out by the roots, truncated, disemboweled, dispossessed, and separated from our identity and our history.

  • These my two hands / quick to slap my face / before others could slap it.

    • Gloria Anzaldúa,
    • "The Woman Who Lived Forever," in Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa , eds., This Bridge Called My Back ()
  • ...'oppression olympics' is what smart liberal Americans say, to make you feel stupid and to make you shut up. But there is an oppression olympics going on. American racial minorities — blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and Jews — all get shit from white folks, different kinds of shit, but shit still. Each secretly believes that it gets the worst shit. ... However, all the others think they're better than blacks because, well, they're not black.

  • Minorities have never been given their rights. They have always had to wage a political and legal battle to win them.

  • I am Chicana / Bastard child of the universe / because you make me so.

  • Too many women in too many countries speak the same language — silence.

  • Now I say that with cruelty and oppression it is everybody's business to interfere when they see it ...

  • When you don't know when you have been spit on, it does not matter too much what else you think you know.

    • Ruth Shays,
    • in John Langston Gwaltney, Drylongso ()
  • Where a system of oppression has become institutionalized it is unnecessary for individuals to be oppressive.

    • Florynce R. Kennedy,
    • "Institutionalized Oppression vs. the Female," in Robin Morgan, ed., Sisterhood Is Powerful ()
  • Oppressed people are frequently very oppressive when first liberated. And why wouldn't they be? They know best two positions. Somebody's foot on their neck or their foot on somebody's neck.

    • Florynce R. Kennedy,
    • "Institutionalized Oppression vs. the Female," in Robin Morgan, ed., Sisterhood Is Powerful ()
  • Trying to help an oppressed person is like trying to put your arm around somebody with a sunburn.

  • We the oppressed — you, me — may we not perhaps be also in our turn someone's oppressor?

  • As long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you otherwise might.

  • ... where there is one slave there are always two — he who wears the chain and he who rivets it.

    • Jenny d'Héricourt,
    • in Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage, eds., History of Woman Suffrage, vol. 2 ()
  • ... within every form of oppression lies the seeds of liberation.

  • ... there are few souls great and gentle enough not to want to oppress when they know themselves to be the stronger.

  • if you have never / stood with the oppressed / there is still time.

    • Rupi Kaur,
    • "Lift Them," The Sun and Her Flowers ()