Oppression is Bad, Now What?

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by Tim Nafziger and Mark van Steenwyk

We have both spent time analyzing the ways in which we are part of the dominant culture in the United States.  We know that, as heterosexual white men, we 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.  In studying Anne Bishop’s Becoming an Ally, we 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 is part of becoming an ally.  

“Naming” is the practice of unveiling a truer narration than that which identifies only blatant bigotry and chauvinism as the problem.

“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 honoring the moments when members of an oppressed group name oppression rather than responding 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 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.

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.  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.
Sources for this article include Ervin Stutzman, Glen Alexander Guyton, Joanna Shenk, Sylvia Morrison and Anne Bishop.  For the entire article see https://goo.gl/6UuIi 

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