When we think about the word “oppression”, we often think of physical violence; lynch mobs, police brutality, slavery, trafficking, and even the Holocaust. These are, of course, all forms of oppression, many of which continue to this day. However, in an era of constant news feeds and cameras everywhere, oppressors have had to become more subtle, and this often results in victims of oppression being gaslit as to the extent of the problem.
During June, LGBTQAI+ Pride Month, you cannot turn on the TV or open social media without seeing multiple corporations who have changed the colour of their logo to the iconic six-striped rainbow that represents Pride. Slogans telling us it’s OK to be different, to embrace our individuality, and that love is love plaster every screen, although rarely do we get to see just how many of their highest paid leaders are not cis-gendered, heterosexual, white, able-bodied men. Every year, online discourse promotes family friendly Pride events where you can eat rainbow cupcakes and ride inflatable unicorns (probably), and decries even the vaguest mention of sex despite a big chunk of queer oppression relating to our sex lives. The fact that queer and trans people literally had to riot to even start getting basic human rights is usually overlooked. Section 28, legislation forbidding the mention of our community in schools, was in effect for some of time when I was in education, and laws allowing us to marry are less than a decade old. Sickeningly, torturous “conversion therapy” practices are still legal, and while a ban for queer people is being discussed, it is likely that trans people will still be excluded from the ban.
All of the above still contributes to the current oppression of LGBTQAI+ people. It perpetuates rumours and stigma, it emboldens people to harass or even physically assault us, and it is also just enough to convince some people that we do actually have equal rights and instead we want favourable treatment. You cannot convince people to fight an oppression that they do not believe exists.
July is Disability Pride Month, and while less corporations are currently active, disabled people face similar issues. Laws stating that accessibility is essential do exist, but they are worth little more than the inaccessible PDF they’re written on since they are not upheld. Alt text isn’t used on images, captions aren’t provided on videos, sign language interpretation is extremely rare, and there are still more buildings that I can’t get into than buildings I can. When the aesthetics of a building have more rights than you, a literal person, have, you know you’re oppressed.
In addition, employers are told they must give disabled employees the resources they need to be able to do the job provided the request is reasonable, but do not define what is meant by unreasonable, allowing employers to claim that a request is unreasonable for the most trivial of reasons. Financial aid to help cover the increased costs of living with a disability is available but difficult to obtain, and despite still leaving most disabled people below the poverty line, common perception as inflamed by news outlets is that disabled people are lazy free-loaders.
Once again, concessions as to our equality are portrayed as favourable treatment, and even concrete evidence of oppression is ignored.
The problem of oppression being ignored is by no means limited to the protected characteristics described above, but is a near universal experience for all marginalised communities; I’m simply more familiar with the factors that affect my day-to-day existence and am better placed to describe them. Despite laws existing to the contrary, women are often paid less than men, Black people are more likely to end up convicted of a crime or facing a more severe sentence, and positions of power are still overwhelmingly held by the privileged few who do not have one or more protected characteristics.
So often arguments as to the legitimacy of claims of oppression take efforts away from actually fighting the oppression, in a prime example of divide and conquer. We are led to believe that oppression is violence, not the silent workings of a society built on prejudice and xenophobia, but the uncomfortable truth remains; you don’t have to suffer broken bones to feel the weight of oppression.