The last few months have seen South Africans from different political, racial and social backgrounds looking at the possible effect the ruling party’s long run will have on the future of the country. Some have asserted that the cementing of a dominant political culture in SA is contributing to the marginalisation of minority groups and will subsequently lead to an environment where dissent is discouraged and oppression (even of people who belong to the dominant group or party) will be normalised. Others have disputed these accusations by claiming that the minority groups are not worried about tyranny, but are fighting against not being the focal point of the national conversation.
This article is not about the state of politics in SA. It is about the legitimising of certain kinds of oppression towards certain groups because they do not reflect our particular group’s aims. It is about the erasure of groups and individuals who refuse to dilute or trim off attributes to make us comfortable in our biases.
A few weeks ago, David Fourie wrote an article about tolerance and the art of navigating our own lived experiences and aspirations in a world that is not just inhabited by only us or people that look, believe or act like us. The article dealt with issues of the idea of community and the individual’s safety and well-being in that unit. David’s piece was particularly relevant considering that we were still dealing with ideological debates around elections and questions surrounding dominant culture.
In most societies and cultures, people tend to believe that their ancestors chose certain practices and ideals because those were the best or more moral ways to live. In other cases, people believe their cultures were divinely passed on to them. This then causes us to believe that deviating from the codes set by those who came before us is reproachable or punishable, as it is considered as disrespect or disregard for the group and the deity that commanded our ancestors to steer us in those directions. Ironically, this perceived disrespect or selfishness only applies to people who want to determine their own identities and destinies, and not those who want to project and force their experiences, lifestyles and beliefs on others.
Dominant groups tend to think they are oppressed when they lose control over people’s identities and life choices. We often hear buzz words around social justice and a lot of people claim to be tired of this supposed new trend of political correctness and assumed censorship. “Everyone is looking to be oppressed nowadays.” Oh, and “you cannot speak against [insert group] because…liberal media…conspiracy theory…they are promoted by the state”. More often than not, people who use this reasoning tend to be people whose cultures, languages, physical attributes, religions, gender, sexuality, lifestyles and voices have been historically set as the desired norm. Thus, when people who had been forced to fall in line, or aspire to be like them, deviate from these practices and ideals, or when another group/ideology comes into dominance and the culture takes another direction, then the people who do not want to be subordinate to the old order are “looking to be oppressed.” If you complain that you do not want to be forced to be something you do not identify with, you are looking for something to moan about because “why won’t you let us control you, huh? In fact, you saying that we should not be allowed to dominate you is reverse oppression to us, because we can no longer control decisions that affect you.”
As shown in David’s story, the sad part is that it becomes nothing for us to lie and erase people and their humanity in order for us to dominate. We have often heard exaggerations and lies about deviant groups from pulpits, social media pages and dinner tables about the “false oppression” certain groups face. We have often heard that Obama and “the world” are promoting deviance and a culture of political correctness. People even complain that not being allowed to say abusive things about groups they don’t like is reverse oppression. This rhetoric is extremely dangerous, as it legitimises marginalisation and violence against these groups who continue to be brutalized daily as our street harassment article showed. The Muslims, Palestinians, immigrants, refugees, darker-skinned people, feminists, LGBTQIA+ community, socialists and whoever we demonise, continue to be violated and murdered because we sanction their erasure so that we can have followers and subjects.
The truth is that human beings are inherently self-serving. We look for ways to negate others’ narratives and identities if they are contrary to what we want see in our corners of the world. Even when we think we are being noble in our convictions, we can easily abuse others because we are limited and faulty beings. Our views are informed by our lived experiences, environments and our personal identifications, whether it be political, racial or social. Our ideas of justice and fairness may be “fair and just” to us, but not to the next person, because they are informed by our own limited experiences and knowledge.