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How Demagogues Spawn Systems of Oppression & Violence

PREJUDICE + POWER = OPPRESSION
(Prejudiced Beliefs + Discriminatory Acts + Power Structure Dominance = Societal Systems of Oppression)
A Formula to Help Unravel the Dynamics & Intersectionality of
Prejudice |  Privilege |  Supremacism |  Bigotry |  Denigration |  Discrimination |  Power |  Oppression
Dualism |  Scapegoating |  Demonization |  Conspiracism |  Dehumanization |  Demagoguery
Aggression |  Apocalyptic Aggression |  Segregation |  Ethnoviolence |  Slavery |  Expulsion |  Genocide

Understanding systems of oppression

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When writing about the social evils of prejudice and oppression, the devil is in the details. Many older studies of prejudice had a "tendency to collapse distinctions between types of prejudice..." observes Young-Bruehl. They assumed "that a nationalism and racism, an ethnocentric prejudice and an ideology of desire, can be dynamically the same..." Furthermore, she writes "there is a tendency to approach prejudice either psychologically or sociologically without consideration for the interplay of psychological and sociological factors" (Young-Bruehl, 1996: 23, 460).

In a complementary fashion, Buechler notes that issues of class, race, and gender are "omnipresent in the background of all forms of collective action" and reflect "institutional embeddedness within the social fabric at all levels." But he adds that these are distinct yet overlapping structures of power that need to be assessed both independently and jointly. To do this it is important "to theorize the different, specific, underlying dynamics that distinguish one structure from another." (Buechler, 2000: 105-107)

Ultimately, the successful assertion of "collective human rights" or "group rights" depends on the "linking of ethnicity/race, class, gender, and sexuality," argues Felice, because this linkage "mutes supremacist tendencies by denying the right of any one group to assert supremacy over a different group"(Felice, 1996: 1-4).

For brevity, this constellation of identities sometimes is referred to as the race, gender, and class relationships. To unravel systems of oppression involving race, gender, and class we need a more complex formula that is better at mapping out the dynamics of societal oppressions in ways that resonate with the everyday experiences of our colleagues, students, neighbors, and families. This is especially important in an era of open hostility to discussions of supremacy, domination, and oppression.

Developing a concept of "racial formation," Omi and Winant argue that "racial projects" that are "racist" entail a linkage between "essentialist representations of race and social structures of domination" (Omi and Winant, 1994: 72). They point out that some racial projects are racial supremacist but not all--for example "an association…of black accountants," (Omi and Winant, 1994:71).They further argue that "racial ideology and social structure" act in an interconnected and dialectical manner to shape racist projects (Omi and Winant, 1994: 74-75).

Feagin points out that it does not matter if racism is conscious or unconscious, verbal or violent; "oppression is not less serious because it is more subtle" (Feagin, 2001: 139-140. See also: Feagin & Vera, 1995). This holds true for sexism, heterosexism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and all forms of oppression. Even if an organized hate group is small in number, or an act of ethnoviolence is carried out by a handful of unaffiliated vandals, the direct victims feel the same pain, and the whole community in which the attack took place suffers. The negative outcome of a public act or utterance that spreads prejudiced or hateful ideas is the same, no matter what the motivation or intent. This is why there is a need for visible and forceful public displays of disapproval and attempts at healing by leaders in political, religious, ethnic, business, and labor sectors.

Scholars, activists, and government officials, however, need to maintain their own perspectives, even if at times it is appropriate to work in concert. A high level of analytical nuance may not seem necessary to many activists and policymakers constructing a public frame. Sometimes activists or government officials make political decisions about language and categorization that may not be appropriate for use by scholars. Oversimplification might help create catchy poster slogans, but it encourages faulty scholarship. Furthermore, in the long run, activists can use complex analytical research to develop more effective strategies to challenge oppression as it appears in a variety of forms.

In Racism, Sexism, Power and Ideology, Guillaumin argues that the great irony of the rise of modern egalitarianism and democracy was the ascendance of the idea that "human groups were no longer formed by divine decree or royal pleasure, but an irreversible diktat of nature." This "served to justify the system of oppression which was being built at the same time. By proposing a scheme of immanent physical causality (by race, colour, sex, nature), that system provides an irrefutable justification for the crushing of resourceless classes and peoples, and the legitimacy of the elite." (Guillaumin, 1995: 56-57).

In analyzing the oppression of women, she calls for consideration of the material fact of the power relation between men and women; as well as the ideological effect of the idea that nature "is supposed to account for what women are supposed to be." ( Guillaumin, 1995: 179). It is in the teasing apart of the ideological and material practice that Guillaumin finds the most revealing critique of the essentialist naturalism that is the bulwark of many oppressive ideologies:

===[I]t is very necessary to do this, for naturalism is the only mode of thought that allows the binding together in an intangible way of characteristics which if analysed--that is, forcefully dissociated--would as a matter of fact cause their relationship to become obvious. In other words, the fact would become obvious that they have a history, that they are born of specific relationships, of the links which exist between mental activities and material activities; between slavery (a material practice) and skin colour (a mental practice), between domestic exploitation (a material practice) and sex (a mental practice). From the moment that the mechanisms which create the one (mental practices) from the other are made visible, these revealed links make obvious the syncretism which merges the relationships into the deeds and shatters the affirmation that the deed and the discourse on it are one and the same thing.

According to Guillaumin "introducing the wedge of doubt into this tight block of 'law immemorial' is no small matter." She says we must "shatter the notion of instinct" that creates the syncretism of "body/slave/property" named "black" and the syncretism of "body/domestic work/property" named "women" ( Guillaumin, 1995: 272.)

When we look at the densely interwoven forms of oppression, subordination, and exploitation in the United States our task is to explore the links between the ideological and the material practice, not merely as an intellectual exercise that increases the subtlety of our analysis, but as a way to rip away the curtain to reveal the unfair power and privilege hiding backstage.

When analyzing the Political Right we must move to a more detailed and sophisticated level of work, where the establishment of boundaries, categories, and terminology that map differences of degree allows us to increase the nuance in our analysis.

Blee makes a similar argument about studying the racist movement: "We need to go further, to lay aside untested assumptions" about beliefs and attitudes of activists and ideologies of groups "and begin to systematically catalog the ideological frictions" so that "we can discern - and exploit - its weaknesses." ( Blee, 2001: 179).

This challenge awaits us, whether we are studying the race hate groups of the Extreme Right; the anti-elite anti-government conspiracism of the Patriot Movement; or the gender-driven campaigns of the Christian Right.

In doing so, we must always recognize that theories, acts, and systems of oppression based on gender, race, sexuality, class, ethnicity, (and much more) exist throughout our society, not just in dissident or insurgent movements of the Political Right.

Applying these concepts to racism, sexism, and heterosexism, I think it is useful to define societal oppression as the result of a dynamic process involving ideas, acts, and a hierarchical position of dominance that is structural. The dominance enshrined in "social structures of domination" involves both unequal power and privilege.

Adapted from: Chip Berlet. 2004. “Mapping the Political Right: Gender and Race Oppression in Right-Wing Movements.” In Abby Ferber, ed, Home-Grown Hate: Gender and Organized Racism. New York: Routledge.

The section was prompted by Chip Berlet and Surina Khan, 2001, "A Response to 'Digging Out of the White Trap' by Marian (Meck) Groot and Paul Marcus; both in Chester Hartman (Ed.), Challenges to Equality: Poverty and Race in America. Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe.




Feedback resulting from these texts resulted in the refined and shortened version of the formula:

"Prejudice + Power = Oppression"

This is itself shorthand for a more detailed set of ideas that take into account social science research on the inter-related aspects of societal oppression, whether conscious or unconscious, and in one or more of these sectors of society: personal, institutional, structural.

Prejudiced Beliefs + Supremacist Ideologies + Discriminatory Acts + Power Structure Dominance = Societal Systems of Oppression

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