The Oppressor and the Oppressed

Is the relation between Trump and Russia a mystery? In one sense, it is perfectly clear. But we as a society are afriad to talk about it openly. Even Trump seems afraid to talk openly about what he is thinking about Russia. As if his mind and actions have followed the dots, but he is hesistent to speak up about where the dots are leading.

The progressive framework of the 20th century depends on a contrast, between the opressor identity and the opressed identities.

When colonialism and segregation were true, for the first 2/3 of the 20th century, the oppressor identity was, blunty put, the white man. More generally, white culture traced to European culture of colonialism. And the oppressed identities were all the peoples who were colonized, people from Africa, Asia, Latin America. As well as white people within European and American culture who were deemed back then less than the typical white male: women, jews, gays, the disabled, and so on. Call this the white opressor framework.

In the last 50 years this white opressor framework has seeped into education, popular culture, and the government. Not that white privilege has been eradicated. But the idea that there has been white, male privilege until mid 20th century has become more and more accepted.

A bizarre thing about colonialism was that white people were a minority of the global population all along. It’s just that white people were the ones who had advanced weapons and science and capitalist infrastructure, etc.

But as the rest of the world caught up in the last fifty years, there is no clear sense in which white people  are intrinsically technologically and scientifically advanced. Now science and technology belongs to the whole world. Even brown and black people lay claim to it as their own.

The one sense in which white culture still seems superior is its form of government. That Western Europe and America are the emblems of democracy and a government based on rights and equality for all its citizens. But this sense of the superiority of white culture can seem self defeating, since if democracy is combined with the idea of the white oppressor framework, then democracy itself seems like a framework for unraveling white culture as it used to be. Democracy gives voice to the oppressed to  become unoppressed.

What then does democracy provide those who are seen to be the opressors?

Once the issue of oppression is raised and prevelent in cultural consciousness, the only way to be in a democracy in a way that allows a future of growth is to think of oneself as part of an oppressed identity. Otherwise, one’s way of life is part of the old which has to be changed to make possible a new unoppressed democratic world.

This has led, for many people, to the white opressed framework. To the idea that white people are themselves oppressed, and that their way of life is under threat. The idea here is simple: “Sure, white people were the oppressors fifty years ago, but a lot has changed. And now white people are the ones losing their culture. Standing up against this is not standing up for white supremacy, but simply standing up against the erosion of one’s culture.”

On this white oppressed framework, who are the oppressors? The proponents of a global culture who want to merge different cultures. That is, the people who say the white oppressor framework is still true, and so want to lay claim to getting more rights and more power in America and Europe.

I suspect what is so energizing for many Trump supporters is that Trump refuses to speak in a way which affirms the white oppressor narrative. Unlike many alt right people, Trump doesn’t explicitly affirm the white oppressed narrative. But he certainly doesn’t affirm, through language or action, the white oppressor framework (the way traditional Republicans seem to, and so concede there is white privilege). The more Trump affirms how the media, government and culture are rigged against him, he seems to be pointing to the white oppressed framework without saying it.

This is not a trivial thing. No people can carry the weight of being “the oppressors” for too long. The need for growth and continuation of one’s own sense of community and history is too strong. Many white people are looking for a way out of the straitjacket of feeling like, and being seen as, the oppressor, as if they need to stop growing in their own way. Trump is giving them an existential breather, a relief,  an opening for their growth freed of guilt about a past of colonialism and slavery that they as individuals didn’t partake in. A chance to not just be good and kind to the oppressed, but to feel the energy and sense of growth of the oppressed breaking free and living their own life.

If white people are oppressed, who are they in solidarity with as the oppressed? Blacks in America have solidarity with Africans, or so it seems. Muslims are in solidarity with other Muslims, or so it seems. Women are in solidarity with all women, or so it is said. Then who are the whites in solidarity with?

Naturally, fellow whites who are being oppressed around the world by the same forces of “the global elite” who want a world culture and community. If democracy is the way these global elites are changing Europe and America so that more and more nonwhites can vote and change white countries, then any white leader who resists this global culture movement is a fellow fighter against oppression. Not surprisingly, this is probably how Putin sees himself.

When Trump affirms that the media, government and Hollywood are against him, it is thereby obvious why he seems partial to Putin. Because, as they see it, they are fighting the same global forces. And fighting with the shared identity as whites who are being oppressed by globalists.

The cold war was about whether America or Russia would take over the spoils of the crumbled colonial powers. Fifty years later, as the former colonized states come into their own power, some Americans and Russians are finding a common identity, and a sense that they might have to band together as white people in solidarity.

I am not saying whether this is right or wrong. It is what it is. But if one wants to avoid it, some new mode of thinking beyond the white oppressor model is needed. Because the white oppressor model inevitably leads for many whites to the white oppressed model, and so leads to new identity wars.

4 thoughts on “The Oppressor and the Oppressed

  1. robertmwallace2

    Surely the alternative to both “oppressor” models is simply non-racial cosmopolitanism. Which isn’t particularly “new,” though certainly few people have ever embodied it perfectly. Isn’t non-racial cosmopolitanism what most internationally-conscious people identify with? Of course, to the extent that one identifies with the international corporations, a third kind of oppression might come into play. … All this racial business seems simply to obscure the oppression of ordinary people everywhere by massive corporate power.


  2. Bharath Vallabha Post author

    Totally agree “non-racial cosmopolitanism” is the alternate to both oppression models. I am all for it. The question is: what does that non-racial cosmopolitanism look like?

    One answer that doesn’t work I think is saying what really mafters is economic oppression of the poor by the rich, and overcoming this can be the way non-racial cosmopolitanism is achieved. The problem with this is that often being poor coincides with a greater identification with racial and culrural identities. So the racial oppression issues have to be dealt with one way or another.

    A different answer, which one sometimes hears from some conservatives, is that America is already such a non-racial cosmopolitan society. On this view, no one is oppressed in America, neither whites nor non-whites, neither the poor nor anyone else. It’s all a level playing field. This strikes me as a fantasy. I agree with it as an ideal, and even as a way of thinking so that one doesn’t give into self-pity, etc. But it sidesteps the crucial questions of what such an ideal looks like and how we can achieve it.


    1. robertmwallace2

      Of course I agree that implementing non-racial cosmopolitanism among people who are divided from each other in various ways is a challenge. Certainly the notion that our societies have already arrived at this is sheer fantasy. But most groups in the US agree with it as an ideal. Then the question is, is it possible to have a serious discussion about what this ideal entails, in practice? We had such a discussion around the Civil Rights Movement in the middle of the twentieth century, and difficult though the process was, we reached a fair degree of consensus. Let us hope that, current appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, we can do it again.



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