Saturday, July 17, 2010

Let's have a brain storming session about internalized oppression

An idea is like a virus. Once implanted in a person's mind it is extremely hard to kill.

Internalized oppression. Say it out loud 3x.
(There is nothing to be afraid of, I promise no witch will appear.)
Notice the sounds inherent in the words.
Do you notice how "internalized oppression" even sounds like a small cage?
Notice how your tongue feels when repeating these words.
Does a heaviness enter your mouth? Does your tongue become a memory foam where " internalized oppression's" indentations obscure your taste buds?

I am beginning to realize that internalized oppression is like the boulder I keep pushing up the mountain, and I am Sisyphus. That is, the longer I try to pretend it doesn't exist, the longer it persists. Up until recently, I was under the delusion that because I identify as a disability rights activist and am becoming acquainted with an attitude of almost radical pride, that my experiences of shame, fear, or insecurity due to my disability would cease to exist.
I was wrong. I experienced all of those emotions about an hour ago, which is why I decided to quickly jot them down in this blog.
The situation happened as follows.
I was getting my oil changed in my car. When the attendant told me to pump my gas pedal three times, I accidentally pumped my brake. I giggled and apologized. However, almost simultaneously my mind was flooded with thoughts like:
" Oh no! He is going to think I am slow now"
" He is going to wonder how the hell I got a license"

Now, it's important to realize two things. First, the above thoughts are only significant to this discussion when analyzed within the context of internalized oppression. Meaning, that those thoughts were sparked by a thought process of internalized oppression which I will detail in the next paragraph. Secondly, at no point in my oil change was the attendant even aware of my disability. I only say this to specify that my thoughts were not a reaction to the attendant's actions, I was reacting to my own perception of the situation.

I would like to take a moment to exemplify ( through detailing the experience of having my oil changed), what I mean when I write the 'thought process of internalized oppression'. Through out my life, I have had the repeated experience of having my intelligence and integrity questioned due to the way I walk. This experience can be called a pattern of oppression. My reaction to this pattern , has beento prove my intelligence. The byproduct of this then, is an internalization of the experience that I am not allowed to make mistakes and must always be percieved as extremely intelligent, or I automatically will be discounted as slow. This thought process becomes a feature of internalized oppression, when the patten of oppression happens so often that my that I internalize all its implications and proving my intelligence becomes associated with proving my personal worth. Thus, when I made the mistake of pumping my brake pedal instead of my gas pedal, I instantly became afraid that the attendant would see this as a reason why, he should treat me like a person who is slower.

When I have an experience of internalized oppression, I become ashamed and want to keep it to myself. I feel like I should "know better", then to react in that manner. I am hesitant to share it with people because I don't want them to pity me for my experience and / or question my sincerity or loyalty to various rights causes I am a part of. Thus, the shame that comes with some experiences of internalized oppression, becomes exacerbated(sp?), by the belief that one should not be "giving in" to internalized oppression. I really wish I could walk around like an iron fortress of pride, which society's discrimination's and prejudices can never penetrate, but that idea is absurd. It becomes exactly like the Myth of Sisyphus, in that it lets me believe that I can actually deny my own imperfect humanity.

I do not believe the experience of internalized oppression is not specific to people with disabilities. Internalized oppression affects all minority groups, whether individuals are aware of it or not. I believe it is the reason why social hierarchies even exist within various civil rights movements. (The establishment of a hierarchy within a rights movement, even if it may be subconscious, works only to reinforce the system of power and oppression within the context of that movement. The only difference is that the people who hold the power and who are recreating the power, are also oppressed by society.)

So how can we fight internalized oppression? How can I maintain my belief in diversity, pride, and crip - ness, without denying my internalized oppression? Do they have to be mutually exclusive? Doesn't the socially acceptable way of dealing with internalized oppression (which from what I have observed is silence), just add fuel to the fire?