People who don’t face a particular oppression often need to believe that people who do either chose their hardships or can reasonably change how they are.
They often need this because either they
1. Need to believe that it can’t happen to them / if it doesn’t they can fix it easily with hard work
2. Need to believe that they deserve what they have and everyone who deserves it has it because it’s painful to know that others are suffering for no reason and you are okay.
I totally understand and relate to these feelings. I hate knowing that there are people suffering in ways I am not because of luck & privilege. The feeling of wanting to avoid is understandable. But when people take action to reinforce these patterns of belief, they hurt people, and they further these people’s oppression.
For example, people really want to believe that fat people can stop being fat if they try hard enough. Instead of making the world livable for fat people, thin people want to believe that it’s okay to treat fat people badly and that fat people’s own decisions are why they are fat.
To accept that some people are just fat and that losing weight isn’t as simple as “trying hard enough”would mean that every cruel thing they’ve said about fat people was abusive and not justified or “motivating” or “for their own good”. It would, more terrifyingly (for them), also mean that they could become fat one day, and have no escape from the treatment others would give them.
This is true of poverty and disability too. If you believe that only lazy or irresponsible people become homeless or starve, it’s easier to feel secure that you will always have financial security. If you believe that disabled people can stop being disabled if they try hard enough, you don’t have to worry about being disabled one day.
If you frame not being oppressed as “having enough willpower” you can feel safe in your privilege (which you don’t recognize as privilege) because you count on your willpower to save you from oppression.
In situations where you can’t become part of an oppressed group, like being part of a racial minority or being part of the LGBTQIA+ community (though gender and sexuality can be fluid, so in theory you can become part of this community when you weren’t before), then this “it’s your own fault” stuff comes down to avoiding guilt & perpetuating your own power.
I have much less sympathy for this, because there is no motivation of fearing your own mistreatment–these people are only fleeing acknowledgement that basically life isn’t fair and they don’t deserve things more than other people, and all they have to lose is advantage over those marginalized people.
Although maybe that’s not true–it often seems to me in these situations that people who deny privilege exists cannot imagine a world without it. These are men who think feminism is about oppressing them, or white people who believe that reverse-racism exists and is what racial activists want. They are so used to being on top they cannot imagine true equality, even if they say that’s what they want.
Many of them say they are “egalitarian” but refuse to acknowledge any way of making things equal. Because to them, someone has to win. If it stops being them, then they have to be oppressed. And, contrary to what the first group (that is perpetuating ableism, fatphobia, etc.) insists, people would not choose oppression. If you’re afraid that shifts of power have to lead to inequality, I understand doing everything you can to stop it.
That doesn’t make it right, and it doesn’t make it acceptable, or necessary to survival, though they act like it.
And most of us have done this. Often we feel pulled down enough by our own struggles, we do not want to imagine it being worse, or being oppressed in the ways we are not.
I really want to challenge people to, well, challenge themselves. It is painful to know that your life could get worse and things won’t be solved by willpower. It is painful to know that maybe you survive because someone else suffers. But it’s life, it’s truth, it’s important.
If you don’t want to think about it, don’t. Self preservation sometimes looks like walling off. But please stop trying to convince other people the world is fair, when it’s smacking them in the face, for your own benefit. Please stop telling people to try harder, please stop perpetuating that oppression is somehow a choice, that people would rather suffer than try. Because most of the people you meet are trying just as hard as you are at life, if not more.
The less you have the more you have to try to get half of what many people have. And that isn’t fair. That isn’t reasonable, to demand twice, three times, or four times as much work from some than others and say the world is accessible to all who try hard enough. It isn’t. That isn’t equality, that doesn’t make sense at all.
I know that it can be hard to look at this, and so much of it is kind of a sunk cost deal. You’ve been calling fat, poor, and disabled people lazy and faulting them for their suffering for so long, admitting you were wrong now is admitting to a lot of harm.
You’ve been believing for so long that your successes do not rely on anything but your own hard work for so long, you’d have to redefine your identity if you fully realized how much luck and privilege is involved.
It’s difficult, but it is so necessary. It may be easier to believe that other people chose their oppression, but you’re setting yourself up for self-hatred if one day you find your willpower not saving you from an oppression. You’re setting up loved ones for suffering. You’re setting up strangers for abuse & sometimes giving up. It may be easier to frame life as endless possibilities, equal for everyone, but it harms most of us, ultimately.
There is only so much keeping busy and distracting ourselves can do to help us ignore our own suffering and that of others. And the harder the regret will hit, the longer we try to believe that everything is accessible with enough effort.
It’s scary to live in a world where sometimes you don’t get things you deserve, and hard work does not pay off. Maybe it’s less scary to keep blaming everyone for ways they are treated, but it doesn’t give you a more enriching life. It won’t save you, investing in these paradigms. They don’t pay out. You won’t gain weight or get sick, cash in your beliefs and be saved by your mighty willpower. It will hit harder, the longer you teach yourself and others that those suffering deserve no help, only abuse.
There’s more to this. There are people who have more malicious and more misguided motivations than those I’ve listed. There are various sinister benefits to perpetuating other people’s oppression. But this is an area that needs to be addressed–sometimes oppressive behavior is motivated by a desire to believe your own life will never get worse. It’s a very human, very understandable motivation. But it’s still wrong. It’s so wrong, it’s so selfish, and it can ultimately backfire dramatically. It’s important people realize that. Maybe those who are not fully invested in maintaining their privilege, only easing their own fears, could be changed by this sentiment. Maybe they won’t. But I think it’s worth putting out there, in case someone is listening.