CPT INTERNATIONAL: Oppression is bad, now what?



26 December 2010
CPT INTERNATIONAL: Oppression is bad, now what?

by Tim Nafziger and Mark van Steenwyk

 Both of us have spent time analyzing the way we are part of the dominant
culture in the United States. We know that we, as heterosexual, white men,
benefit from a system that is racist, sexist, and heterosexist and that we are
against oppression. However, we want to move beyond analysis and become allies
to people who are not part of the dominant culture. We have been studying
literature on the topic, including Anne Bishop’s Becoming an Ally, and have
noticed some interesting parallels between the practice of becoming an ally and
what Jesus is trying to do in the Sermon on the Mount.

Naming the ways we see oppression operating in a group setting is part of
becoming an ally.  “Naming” is the practice of unveiling a truer narration
than the one that identifies only blatant bigotry and chauvinism as the

Naming means noticing when members of the dominant culture are the only ones
speaking in a mixed group and pointing it out. It means confessing those times
when we have dismissed people because of our unintentional prejudices. It means
our honoring the moments when members of an oppressed group name oppression
rather than out responding to this naming with defensiveness.  It means making sure it isn’t the women
in a group who have to call out a man for making a sexist remark, intentional
or not. It means breaking ranks with other members of the dominant culture. It
is risky.

Naming happens when we bring hidden things to light, speak truth in the midst
of error, or confess our complicity in systems that devalue others. It is about
letting go or unlearning the lies, and binding the reality with our attention,
presence, words, and actions. We are moving beyond mere symbolism to real
praxis—acting in a way that unveils oppression and co-creates liberation.

Isn’t this what Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount? In the Beatitudes,
Jesus is Naming the truth, thereby opening the space for a new reality. When he
said “Blessed are the poor”, in that moment of Naming, he unveiled lies, and,
with his fellow poor, co-created a new reality—a new moment in which previously
entrenched realities broke open so that a new future was possible. “Blessed are
the poor” is revolution-speak. It is about the in-breaking of God.

Being an ally involves a commitment to move past defensiveness when we are
challenged on our own oppression, as unintentional as it may be. If we are open
to recognizing our own complicity in oppression, members of the dominant
culture (be it heterosexual, white or male) have a lot to gain, both socially
and spiritually. Our relationships with those not part of the dominant culture
can deepen.  And when we are in
deeper community with our brothers and sisters, we take a step closer to the
vision of the beloved community and our mutual liberation.

Mark van Steenwyk is co-founder of Missio Dei, an Anabaptist intentional
community in Minneapolis and a writer, speaker, and grassroots educator.
Sources for this article include Ervin Stutzman, Glen Alexander Guyton, Joanna
Shenk, Sylvia Morrison and Anne Bishop. This is an excerpt of a longer article.
For the longer version, including links to sources, see hhttps://www.themennonite.org/bloggers/timjn/posts/Oppression_is_bad_now_what


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