There was a time in my youth where I didn’t fear anything. I was free and easy enjoying my toys loving the outdoors and freedom that comes with being a child. I remember having a big wheel bat mobile and driving it in the parking lot of my building complex and playing with action figures in my room throwing them up in the air and watching them fall to the floor. After awhile I began to be self conscious about how I looked, my mannerisms, and my likes and dislikes. Based on other’s judgments of me I started to judge myself. When you’re young you don’t have much yet to base your self judgments on except what you’ve heard from other kids or teachers and such. Wasn’t until I was much older and probably close to 30 years later that I started to realize that the judgments I had placed on myself weren’t mind. They were actually the judgments of others that I had subconsciously placed on myself. Some of these judgments actually came from oppression and it was slowly and subconsciously imposed upon me over a long period of time.
Oppression can come in many forms and I’m afraid to admit that my family is no stranger to oppression themselves. Black families like mine aren’t the only ones who have experienced oppression but I would like to refer to mine as it is one I’m most familiar with. As I mentioned I had a nice youth at first as we all start off having. My mother was an excellent provider and my Dad loved me just as much. My mother and father separated before I was 3 years old. Seems like after that was when the judgments started to come in for me. Because there was no one there wise enough at the time to erase all the things build up in my head from classmates and even teachers at times, I was lead to me believe these judgments about myself. When I speak of judgements I’m speaking about subtle forms of oppression. For example when I was in preschool I remember playing with some toys and another classmate, who happened to be white, asked to play with the same toy that I had. Because I was already playing with the toy I felt that it was unfair and so I told him no. He then told the teacher, who also happened to be white, that I didn’t want to share with him and so she came over and demanded that I give him the toy. Me being smaller than her and feeling inferior to her authority I did what she asked but the rebelliousness inside of me that knew it was wrong threw the toy at the boy. Because I threw the toy the teacher told me to go and stand in the corner which I had to do for the remainder of the day. My heart still gets sad thinking of that time. After school was over that day my Mother came to pick me up and the teacher explained to her what happened but added that I was so angry about going to the corner that I almost knocked another student over across a desk. This in fact was not true but because of her authoritative stance I cowardly agreed that that was what happened when it wasn’t. Looking back at that time I realize that the teacher had lied on me, but I wasn’t brave enough to admit that she was wrong. I for some reason felt that my Mother would believe her over me because I was a child and she was an adult. That was a form of oppression.
Oppression is the prolonged cruel or unjust treatment, Mental pressure or distress. We see the most obvious form of this when we look at the injustices done on Black people in America through out American history. In the years of slavery we saw oppression take the form of whippings, starvation, rape, bondage, and separation from family members. After laws where passed giving people of color freedom from slavery we seen oppression take the form of lynchings, unfair pay wages, restrictions of education, and later Jim Crow laws. Today oppression takes a much more subtler form like excluding images of black people in advertisements, campaigns, television commercials and even how we are allowed to wear our hair in cooperate settings.
This thing called oppression can also be very obscure and surprisingly we can also see this play out within black families. The tactics that have been used to keep slaves in check back years ago like beatings and whippings have also been adopted by black parents when disciplining their children for the sake of “ keeping them in line”. There have been so many times that I have gotten in trouble in school and been terrified to go home because I knew that the repercussions would be severe. It’s a learned behavior that has been passed down through generations and causes what’s called “ Learned Helplessness”. Learned helplessness occurs when depressed or oppressed people, become passive because they believe their efforts have no effect; helpless dogs and depressed people both suffer paralysis of the will, passive resignation, and even motionless apathy. We see this play out all the time within ourselves and amongst certain social classes. We turn a blind eye to things we know are unfair in the work place. We accept someone cheating on us because we feel we can’t stop it and our unworthy of something better. Criticizing remarks over time can make us feel less than which in turn can give us less will to turn our thinking around or to call out something that’s wrong. The downing of ourselves with derogatory comments or choosing lighter skinned over darker skinned are all obscure forms of oppression. Dark skinned people have become so used to lower forms of treatment that we can’t even recognize anymore the subtle ways of oppression that still effect us today.
There comes a time when we must recognize the psychological structures within our minds that keep us oppressed. The meek responds to adversity is no longer to our advantage. Realizing that we are tired is a start towards change however if we were racing in a 100 yard dash to win we couldn’t just stop in the middle and say we’re tired. In order to win and in order to overcome we must continue to run even faster. We have to push through being tired so that we can make it to the finish line. When one becomes aware of such knowings one then is changed, and when one is changed from knowing what will one do then?