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Demosthenes's avatar

Is constantly focusing on past oppression counterproductive?

Asked by Demosthenes (9739points) 1 month ago

I’ve heard the argument before that incessantly reminding a community that they were or are oppressed works as a de-motivator, convincing people their situation is hopeless, that they can never succeed because the “system” is against them. I’m reminded of a Hispanic friend of mine who took a Chicano Studies class in college but soon dropped it when it seemed to him to be nothing but talking about how oppressed the Chicano community is. He found the pessimism and negativity off-putting.

Is it true that focusing on an oppressed status demotivates? What has been your experience? Do you think we need more messages of hope, that we are too mired in the oppression and misdeeds of the past? If so, how can we avoiding “sanitizing” history?

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25 Answers

janbb's avatar

If you as a people are still suffering from the effects of past oppression and are still suffering from oppression, probably makes sense to keep focusing on it. Seems pretty obvious to me.

zenvelo's avatar

Sounds like an argument for entitled people to ignore current structural oppression.

People don’t focus on “past” oppression; they bring up past oppression to demonstrate the current systemic bias.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Counterproductive is always the complaint of those intent on revisionist arranging of both the past and present. We all know the narrative of the “happy slaves” or the requirement to “civilize the natives (savages). The idea that things will somehow improve minus complaints from those exploited has proven consistently disappointing and a direct counter to functional reality.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@Demosthenes: “I’ve heard the argument before that incessantly reminding a community that they were or are oppressed works as a de-motivator, convincing people their situation is hopeless, that they can never succeed because the “system” is against them.”

Keep in mind that you have heard this argument beaten into you from right-wing media that wants to keep people from understanding history. We learn a completely sanitized history that completely avoids systemic analysis of how certain people rose to power and others find themselves perpetually fighting for the scraps. Of course people don’t want people to understand their history. They want everyone to buy into the mythology of the American dream, which is as fantastical as any myth every created.

@Demosthenes: “I’m reminded of a Hispanic friend of mine who took a Chicano Studies class in college but soon dropped it when it seemed to him to be nothing but talking about how oppressed the Chicano community is. He found the pessimism and negativity off-putting.”

I’m sure he did. Many women find women studies to be depressing. But most find it to be thoroughly inspiring. The history of women is one of oppression and the fight against that oppression. I can’t imagine anyone learning the facts about their own history and not feel a sense of pride and hope. The US erases history in such as way that “Chicano studies” is an unfortunately necessity. If we were to all study history in an accurate way, Chicano studies would be redundant.

@Demosthenes: “Is it true that focusing on an oppressed status demotivates?”

It’s the complete opposite. Since being oppressed is a daily reality, focusing on the past successes and failures provides a blueprint for people moving forward.

@Demosthenes: “Do you think we need more messages of hope, that we are too mired in the oppression and misdeeds of the past?”

Like I said, you can only truly have hope if you aren’t stripped of your history and forced to toil under the impression that you deserve your fate.

@Demosthenes: “f so, how can we avoiding “sanitizing” history?”

Too late. US study of history is completely sanitized and inaccurate. You have this completely backward. “African American studies”, “Chicano studies”, “women studies”, etc are only a reaction to the sanitized obscenity that is considered “history” in the US.

Additionally, you seem to be implying that history is of mere intellectual curiosity, and has nothing to do with current lives. This also couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone’s current condition is necessarily a result of the past. To understand the present requires one to understand the past. There is nothing more relevant.

Dutchess_III's avatar

“Trump To African Americans: ‘If You Don’t Understand Your History, You Will Go Back To It’” Source
An African American friend of mine took it as a threat.

si3tech's avatar

Absolutely!

Jaxk's avatar

Yes I believe it is a de-motivator. Think about it like this. If you are told from the day you’re born that you can not succeed, that the world (country, whatever) is biased against you and you don’t have a shot, your chances of success are diminished. Once you’re convinced that it is true, that you don’t have a chance, your fate is sealed. If however you believe that you can succeed, however hard it may be, you have a chance.

Nothing guarantees success but believing you can’t guarantees failure. There are plenty of examples of success stories for every race or gender to provide encouragement. Nothing should be lost to history but nothing stands still either. There’s no problem in celebrating our progress and providing hope and opportunity for our youth.

stanleybmanly's avatar

@Jaxk what if you are told from the day you are born that you CAN succeed, that your country is a place with an even playing field, where race or class are irrelevant and we all stand equal before the law? What is your reward (or disappointment) if you accept this as fact?

elbanditoroso's avatar

It is counterproductive. But in the same way that your girlfriend (or boyfriend) wants to talk about the argument that you had last week or last year. It may feel good for one party to talk about it, but it’s ancient history and the discussion won’t lead anywhere.

Jaxk's avatar

@stanleybmanly – That’s a good question for Ben Carson since it is what he was told. The one sure way to fail is to believe that you can’t do it.

hmmmmmm's avatar

@Jaxk – I’m convinced. We should immediately eliminate all history classes. And since wealth is not accumulated across generations, and history doesn’t matter, we should just eliminate the concept of inheritance.

Seriously, though – do you even believe the fucking inane shit you write?

Demosthenes's avatar

Be nice. :) I appreciate his input.

zenvelo's avatar

@Jaxk But what about the child who hears he can do anything, even grow up to be President, and then when the eighth grade English teacher asks, “what do you want to bE when you grow up?” And you answer, “lawyer” and the teacher says, that the legal profession isn’t realistic for a black person.

(That was Malcolm X.)

Or you strive for self sufficiency and work towards developing a neighborhood program to feed poor kids and open a free clinic for poor people, and the head of the FBI calls you disruptive and dangerous, and the says the 2nd Amendment doesn’t apply to you?

(That was the Black Panthers)

Many children of color grow up with lots of encouragement and mentors and support, only to be told they don’t measure up, even if they are EMTs that have never committed a crime, and their boyfriend hasn’t either, but undercover police use a no knock warrant to murder you in your bed. And the police union says nothing wrong was done.

(That was Breonna Taylor).

People are not demotivated Because of growing up hearing of oppression; they grow up very free of it until it smacks them right in the face, and people like @Demosthenes say “don’t dwell on the past” and @Jaxk blames the parents.

seawulf575's avatar

I think there are two parts to this question that have entirely different answers. Should we focus on oppression? Absolutely. If we don’t, we never truly identify it or address it and it continues to be a drain on our society. Should we dwell on the past and continue to dredge up things that happened centuries ago? No. That is entirely counterproductive and becomes a crutch, an excuse, for every perceived slight you’ve ever seen. It also tends to avoid looking at the whole picture. It focuses only on one small part of society and ignores all the others. If something is wrong in one part of society, it is wrong in all parts of society and needs to be addressed as such. For example, Breonna Taylor or George Floyd. Both were killed by cops using excessive force. That is bad. But cops don’t only kill black people with excessive force. They don’t only shoot black people. They shoot Hispanics, whites, Asians…all of them. In fact, they kill more whites than just about all other ethnic groups combined. But because we don’t make a big stink when that happens, it is ignored and continues. And by making a big stink when it is a black person, it negates the losses by those families and friends of those other ethnic groups. And to bring up slavery as a reason for all these things is just ignorant. Slavery was outlawed in 1865. That is 155 years ago. Was slavery wrong? It was in my book. Should we forget about it? Nope, we should remember and learn from our mistakes. Should we say it is why things are happening today? No. It has become an excuse, and an ignorant one in my book.

zenvelo's avatar

@seawulf575 Quit bringing up your manipulated statistics about cop killings.

More whites may be killed by police, but disproportionate numbers of black People are killed by cops.

And white people killed by cops are almost always killed in the commission of a violent crime, while too many black people are killed by cops under circumstances where white people would not even be approached with a drawn weapon.

You cannot conflate a white criminal pointing a weapon at a cop with Breonna Taylor or George Floyd.

seawulf575's avatar

@zenvelo Thank you for making my point. You want to negate anything other than blacks getting killed. I have posted before a list of several white people that were killed for no apparent reason other than the cop was acting unlawfully. I had a discussion about Justine Damond and the reaction to her murder. Because the cop was black and the victim was white, the left went crazy crying “racism!” when they wanted to bring charges against the cop.
Yet those mean nothing to you. You don’t really care if cops kill white people or Hispanics or Asians, only blacks. So you are creating a division in society instead of addressing the issue. That is EXACTLY what I am talking about. I knew one of you liberal fools would jump on it.

Demosthenes's avatar

Well, Mohammed Noor is in prison now, where he belongs. But many of the cops who’ve shot black people have been acquitted. I guess we’ll see what happens to George Floyd’s killer.

zenvelo's avatar

@seawulf575 Thank you for making a strong argument for defunding police. I do not discount the devastation brought about by police violence on white, Asian, or hispanic people; a phalanx of armored cops in helmets carrying assault weapons are not the friendly beat cops we were taught about in school.

But you are arguing that people should not complain about current injustices, while the premise of this thread is “quit bringing up past injustices.”

To quote Santayana, “those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

canidmajor's avatar

I think white men in America suggesting that focusing on oppression is counterproductive is disingenuous, when the persons who experience it are likely experiencing it every day one way or another. For the white folks, it may seem overblown, for the people of color it is constant, and raising awareness is likely helpful.

I’m guessing that when women were protesting and being beaten and raped and arrested and force-fed because they wanted to vote, the white men were asking this question. That is only meant as an example, not another subject to muddy the original intent of the Q.

Jaxk's avatar

@zenvelo – “But what about the child who hears he can do anything, even grow up to be President, and then when the eighth grade English teacher asks, “what do you want to bE when you grow up?” And you answer, “lawyer” and the teacher says, that the legal profession isn’t realistic for a black person.”

That is exactly what I talking about. Why would a teacher say that field is not open to blacks when it obviously is. Obama was a lawyer (so was his wife) Kamala Harris was a lawyer (not to mention Attorney General). Hell there are thousands of examples to choose from. If you want to say “that field didn’t used to be open to blacks but now it is” that would at least have some validity.

I grew up in the 50s and a lot of things were different back then. I have no problem with teaching that history but I do have a problem with not acknowledging that things have changed. Hell there was a time when the only way out of the Ghetto was sports. Even worse was a time when sports were not open to blacks. We’ve got to stop telling the current generation what they can’t do and start telling them they can.

Why are we obsessed with negative messaging. You can be anything you want if you have the ability and the drive. Yes it may be more difficult for some than others but there are no obstacles that can’t be overcome. Stop pushing the current generation down to highlight past transgressions.

seawulf575's avatar

@Demosthenes Yes, Mohammed Noor is in prison. But what the outcry over this event? Was it that a cop shot an unarmed woman in her pajamas? Or was it that it was racist to dare to try holding him criminally accountable? I’ll give you a hint…it had nothing to do with the woman. And the cries of racism go right back to focusing on oppression being counterproductive. He was an asshole whose actions were grossly wrong, regardless of his skin color or the skin color of his victim. Yet when you try making it about race, you are trying to say oppression is somehow a part of this.
As for Chauvin? I hope he goes away for the maximum sentence. What he did was extreme and atrocious. But I would say that if his victim was white as well. It was just wrong on every level.

seawulf575's avatar

@zenvelo “But you are arguing that people should not complain about current injustices, while the premise of this thread is “quit bringing up past injustices.” Not at all. In fact, I stated quite clearly that when oppression is present we need to focus on it to address it. But let me ask you: What does a civil war statue have to do with George Floyd being killed? There really isn’t any evidence that Chauvin acted based on racism. He was just an asshole. He was a dangerous person to give the power of the badge. His actions were horrible, but there really isn’t anything saying they were racist. Except people that want to dwell on oppression. You know, the same ones that want to dredge up slavery from the earliest years of our nation and use that somehow as proof that it was a racist act.
So you are trying to claim racism is the cause and using that as the justification that racism was the cause. It seems contradictory. And lets dig a bit deeper into this “oppression” thing. Ever see the statistics on crime by race? It is interesting. Blacks make up about 13% of the population and whites are about 62%. All things being equal, that is pretty much how the ratio of crime would look, right? But it isn’t. This table shows that while whites make up about 69% of the violent crime, blacks make up 27%. Huh? How did that happen? But let’s get really detailed and look at homicides. Here we find that whites commit about 46% of all homicides and blacks commit about 48%. Huh?!? With 13% of the population, they are committing almost half the murders in this country? Kinda speaks out, doesn’t it? So things aren’t equal. Blacks do commit crimes and some of them are violent. They commit these crimes disproportionately more often than whites. Yet for some reason we are supposed to ignore that? Cops are supposed to ignore that? And look at the stats! Blacks are responsible for most of the crime against blacks. So where is the oppression? Is it whites abusing blacks or blacks abusing blacks?

stanleybmanly's avatar

No one disputes that things have changed regarding race in this country. But it is precisely because the history of the country is unknown or ignored that racial disparities exist. For the most part we are in the majority good and decent people, but understandably unaware of just how skewed we are to equate America with white. I’m trying to remember how many times while growing up I ever heard any of my white classmates being told they were on a path to be a credit to their race. As an adult, which of you has heard anyone suspect of being pulled over for “driving while white”? Of course there are sadistic cops who will abuse anyone. But the intellectual failure in assuming the cops equal opportunity oppressors is in missing the obvious fact that cops (like everyone else) run rough shod over those they can get away with. It has been only a very short time in the history of this country that you could risk stopping a black kid, snatching him out of the car and beating the shit out of him without fear that his parents might be important enough to call you to account. Sure slavery is gone. But the function of police departments regarding black folks (and not just in the South) has been and stubbornly persists as “keeping them in their place”, and not allowing them to delude themselves as to what or where that place is. The advent of body and dash cams, and particularly the advent of cell phones has clued the society in general to the facts that every black person knows by age 10–facts that never occur to white folks at the sight of a police cruiser. I don’t actually fault the cops. It isn’t exactly their fault that their “unwritten” function is now taboo. All of those cameras have rendered traditional business obsolete, and it is impossible for any institution to turn on a dime. But the point is that racism along with our other perfections are built in to the design and function of THIS society in more ways than we want to believe.

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