With reference to appropriate theoretical frameworks, critically outline your understanding of human oppression.
Almost every major discipline under the Humanities is strongly engaged in understanding the causes of human oppression and offering solutions for its alleviation. Major fields of scholarly inquiry, including psychology, sociology, politics, philosophy, literature and linguistics, have a strong focus on the issue of human oppression.
Imperialism is often condemned for its inherently oppressive effects on the subjects of the colonies. In the field of postcolonial theory, scholars such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak and Edward Said have expressed the far-reaching negative consequences of imperialism on human welfare. In her seminal essay titled ‘Can the Subaltern Speak?’ Spivak questions the idea of the colonial ‘subject’. She criticizes European intellectuals for their presumption in ‘knowing’ the ‘other’, and in the manner in which they construct narratives of the oppressed. Through this “act of epistemic knowing/violence, the essentialization of the other is always the reinforcement of the menace of empire.” (Maggio, 2007, p.419) This can prove to be a dangerous exercise, for this sort of transcendental cultural logic amounts to an apology for imperialism. Spivak’s objection also extends to the manner in which literature is often co-opted by the intellectual elite into a form of political propaganda. While appearing to keep a distance from politics, literature is complicit with imperial oppression through its omissions. Spivak is at pains to explain how silence in the face of injustice leads to acute human oppression. To quote,
“Western thought masquerades as disinterested history, even when the critic presumes to touch its unconscious. The academy is both part of the problem and part of the solution. I think it is important to acknowledge our complicity in the muting, in order precisely to be more effective in the long run. Hence, the intellectual Western scholar is almost in a Derridean paradox, setting the limits of discourse as well as expelling the nondiscourse.” (Maggio, 2007, p.419)
Just as multiculturalism has its share of issues, liberalism, the school of political thought in vogue today, creates equally bizarre outcomes for social groups. For instance, although liberalism seeks neutrality, it actually destroys all difference. The narrative of the oppressed “will be part of the history of [liberalism’s capacity to absorb all difference] and will reinforce the capacity itself. In fact, even the radically postmodern “subject” is still colonial. “(Maggio, 2007, p.420)
Another realm where oppression is often manifests is with regards to gender. Women are sometimes referred to as the world’s largest minority group. Despite the equality in the gender ratio, the tagging of women as a minority group speaks volumes of the oppression that they have suffered throughout human history. Pioneering feminists considered oppression in subjective and experiential terms. In this framework, the measure of any ideology, theory or generalization was based on how exactly it matched women’s experiences. This way of looking at oppression has its drawbacks, for “experience is impossible to discern authentically, and that experience leaves some women out. The concern here is that “experience” is linked to the universalistic category “Woman,” assuming that all women share common experiences.” (Grant, 1995, p. 56) Nevertheless, despite these flaws, one cannot evade from grounding feminist politics, theory and action upon anything other than women’s experiences. It is important to note that women’s experience is modulated and regulated by ‘personal politics’, whereby it is acknowledged that “the things women experienced as profoundly personal in fact came directly from political relations between men and women in a system of male domination — patriarchy. And since the oppression of Woman was transcultural and transhistorical, patriarchy had also to exist across cultures and across time.” (Grant, 1995, p. 56)
Politics is at the centre of feminist discourse. When we analyze feminism under the democratic framework,
“theories of equal rights or class are employed to demand/explain inclusion/exclusion; possibly at unnoticed costs related to a subscription to masculinist methodologies and explanations which are modified to apply to women. By contrast, an autonomist critique questions traditional and leftist knowledges as phallocentric or representative of male perspectives, and seeks to challenge models of knowledge as often inappropriate to women and female thinking…These critiques suggest that a re-evaluation of the feminine by female definition is a necessary step towards female autonomy; feminists must define their thinking, exposing lacks in existent theory in order to create new theory.” (Sky, 1994, p.88)
Race is a basic feature of individual identity. But as much as it has created a sense of communal identification it has also produced grave oppression across ages. Critical race theory holds that race and racism were products of European modernity. This modernity was articulated through “a homogenization of the social, legal, political and medical systems of non-Europeans”. (Sanbonmatsu, 2007, p.218) The European modernist discourse, which can be said to have commenced with the Italian Renaissance ushered an understanding that “racism interlocks with sexism and classism to form an overarching system of oppression that thrice threatens modern movements for multicultural (and/or radical) democracy”. (Rabaka, 2006, p.22) W.E.B. Du Bois’s philosophy of race is of salience here as it foreshadows contemporary critical race theory and, hence offers new paradigms and theoretic points of departure. Richard Delgado has also made important contributions to critical race theory. In his 1995 work of the same name, he states that critical race theory’s “intellectual origins embrace Critical Legal Studies, feminism, and Continental social and political philosophy. It [also] derives its inspiration from the American civil rights tradition, including Martin Luther King, W.E.B. Du Bois, Rosa Parks, and Cesar Chavez, and from nationalist movements, including Malcolm X and the Panthers”. (Rabaka, 2006, p.23)
As critical race theorists constantly remind readers, racism’s roots run profound in many societies. Though it is outwardly invisible, it does permeate the life-experience of every member of a particular society. At this post-modern moment in history, even if utter abandonment of race concepts and race-consciousness were possible,
“the material and morphological, religious and rancorous, public and private consequences of the last five hundred years of extremely racialized human existence – that is, rote racialization and racial injustice and the socio-cultural memories associated with these phenomenon – would remain.” (Rabaka, 2006, p.22)
Often racism is intertwined with imperialism to take shape as a powerful oppressive force. In the neo-colonial context, the Manichean duel of the colonist and colonized worlds is problematized. It is internalized at the heart of the neocolonial and racist structures of oppression. In many ways,
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