Let's discuss systematic oppression.
I want to preface this by saying that while this springs out of a specific discussion that some of us had going in one of the Ellen Pao threads, the things I am about to say are not about Pao specifically (though I might use references to her as a currently popular example) or any Reddit drama. This is about some large structural problems in society, something that is oftentimes easy to shrug off on the internet owing to anonymity, amongst other things: this is about systematic oppression, what it is, why we should care, and why as active members of the vastest communication channels in the history of time (I'm referring to all internet communities and modes of discourse on the web) have more responsibility towards fighting it, not less.
I wanted to write this post after some very well-meaning comments in this discussion that I started raised my concern and I hoped to engage this community in a conversation about oppression. It's not a pretty or fun topic and it almost always challenges us to address our own role, big or small, in the process, often to a point of discomfort. But from the moment I joined this community a few weeks ago (shortly before the recent big surge) I got the feeling that the users here were intelligent and thoughtful and open minded; perhaps you all would be willing to have this conversation. Let's just say I would never make this post on reddit. That said, if this is not content suitable for the lounge, please feel free to move it around as appropriate.
Now, I am a sociologist. Perhaps that's putting it a bit strongly; I am a second year Sociology Ph.D. student. And a woman of color and immigrant student in the United States. None of this is to say that I am in any way more qualified to speak to the issues of oppression, just that I tend to (and have been trained to) notice it a tad more in ways that the average person might not. Here is the short version:
Any behavior that contributes to the culture of oppression, sometimes in seemingly insignificant or innocuous ways, perpetuates a societal structure of oppression.
Individuals are deserving of criticism of all kinds of reasons all the time and recently in the Pao context someone made the argument that people are just expressing their frustrations with her perceived failure as an entrepreneur via attacks on any aspect of her being they can tap at. I want to quote user blitzen but would like to emphasize that this isn't a criticism towards him/her in the slightest, it's merely an example that serves to explain something I am getting at here. I apologize if this makes the user uncomfortable and will be willing to remove it in said case.
I think of it like getting cut off while driving. You might be angry at the driver, and yell insults based on age, race, gender, looks, baldness, big nose, whatever… You don't hate this person because they are say, bald, but it's the easy thing to pull out and insult with.
There is an astronomical difference between delivering insults regarding features such as looks, baldness or the size of the nose versus aspects such as race and gender. Sure some forms of the former are better desired by some members of society than others, but they don't signify a deep history and continuing struggle for equality in a large social structure of power, where certain groups have always landed on the subversive. There isn't a culture of oppression around baldness. There isn't a history of oppression for bald people. So using insults pertaining to baldness is in no way, shape or form the same as using gender or racial slurs.
It isn't about the individual who is being subjected to said insults, it's about how it represents and reinforces the systematic inequality that are already in place; one many of us want to fight. I can't speak for everyone, but most of us probably would want to see a society where all groups are equal. If we turn a blind eye to racial slurs and misogynist statements, or shrug it off as inevitable, then continuation of oppression becomes inevitable. This stands very true in real life, but even on the internet. Perhaps sometimes even a bit more on the internet. The internet is a virtual sample of the population, a sample that grows larger and larger by the day and eventually might encompass the whole population (in 20 years, 100 years I do not know). The internet isn't really an exception the world we live in, it's largely the norm. So in order to eradicate existing forms of oppression, sometimes it's important to not accept forms of behavior just because it's being committed by an anonymous group in a virtual platform.
Another user mentioned something along the lines of the concept of "playing the [race or gender] card." This phrase gets thrown around a lot in many places, and I get what people are trying to say: perhaps that some individuals are prone to using their minority status as an excuse/a tool/a ploy? Society isn't a game of poker, and if it were,any sort of minority would be the last person to have a real ace up their sleeves. Not all accusations of racism or sexism are warranted, sometimes they are baseless in the given situation. But again, if we think about it with the entire social structure in mind, minorities have throughout their lives experienced various forms of oppression at various points, sometimes directly as an individual, other times as member of a group that he/she may not even directly identify it -- think of how black men are overwhelmingly more incarcerated than any other groups, think about the STILL existing gender pay gap in OECD countries, etc. There is no race card. There is no gender card. There is the occasional individual who in isolated circumstances gains the odd benefit of their position in society which is made up almost entirely of disadvantages.
I took the time to write all of this because I care about these issues very deeply, and have developed respect for this community in a very short time so even if my message reaches 1 user that may now think about systematic oppression in a way he/she wasn't before, I will have considered my time well spent.
And I am also curious to see if this gets a discussion going and what other people have to say on the subject! Let's continue to be a unique community by being respectful, and maybe we can also be one of the first online communities that does not accept or make light of any small behavior that perpetuates systematic oppression, offline or online. Thanks for reading!