[STAFF EDITORIAL] Oppression is not a competition: recognize privilege to create change


Ellie Putaski

HIGHER GROUND. Putting the experiences of visible and invisible diversity on the same level diminishes the oppression that minority groups actually face. Instead of searching for reasons to consider oneself a minority, acknowledge where privilege is held and where it can be used to make a difference.

Race-fishing. Misusing AAVE. Wearing cultures as costumes. Actions like these taken to conform to a certain group become problematic when people believe the only way to be perceived as different is by fitting into a minority label. Appropriating aspects of minority identities only glorifies the oppression they face and ignores the existence of privilege. But privilege is not inherently bad; being oppressed is not a trend or competition, and hiding privilege is counterproductive to allyship and enacting change.
The desire to be seen as unique or special can manifest in efforts to fit into certain minority groups. A study from Scientific American showed that majority groups tend to overestimate the size of minority groups because they stand out as being inherently different, leading to a greater recollection of them compared to that of the majority. Overestimating the size of minority groups also caused a decrease in support for them because of the fear of being overtaken. However, a stronger perception of minority groups can also be a reason that people want to be considered a minority in order to be seen as special or different. When people believe having a minority identity is directly linked to standing out, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that appropriating those minority aspects would bring more attention to them.

Hiding privilege is counterproductive to allyship and enacting change.

Connections made within a minority group can also imply sharing experiences of discrimination, receiving understanding without explanation, and being around similar individuals. This form of belonging, specific to minority groups, can be appealing because of the acceptance and similarities they offer. In the pyramid hierarchy of human needs, belonging is a central social need, making it an important motivation for human behavior. When minority groups have networks of connections, often created by the commonality of understanding similar struggles, the acceptance and support offered within the group can seem appealing to outsiders even if they are not part of it. Even without the shared experience of discrimination, the desire to belong to a community can lead people to create reasons to be included in it, specifically through oppression.
Is claiming oppression a productive way of expressing empathy for an issue? No. Is it simply wanting to be included? Unlikely. While intersectionality, the overlapping of different identities, can imply facing oppression as part of multiple minority groups, it is equally important to acknowledge when privilege is held in some areas and not others. As described by legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw, who originally coined the term to describe the oppression of black women, “Intersectionality is a lens through which you can see where power comes and collides, where it interlocks and intersects.” While everyone has some sort of intersectional identity, there are always some areas where certain people have social advantages. Putting visible and invisible diversity on the same level devalues the privilege held by people who can choose when and where to show their identity. Instead of glorifying the struggles that minority groups face, it is crucial to recognize that appropriating minority identities only makes privilege lose its meaning.
Acknowledging certain areas of privilege does not mean one’s own struggles are not valid. There are other forms of acceptance that are not limited to minority groups, and the first step is examining the reasons as to why someone would want to be oppressed. Instead of glorifying the hardships caused by oppression, consider whether the true appeal is the attention or the validation of others or something else. Support for one’s own struggles can be found in other communities without actively creating reasons to be victimized. Additionally, privilege can be used productively to create change instead of being hidden. Take the opportunity to recognize spaces where privilege is held and use it to make progress in the places where it can make a difference.