Prejudice, Privilege, & Oppression

Response to:
Elliot Aronson: “Causes Of Prejudice”

“…Prejudice pays off for some people” (116).
“…Competition and conflict breed prejudice” (117).

My take on all this is that the “ingroup”–the powers-that-be–deliberately create prejudice in order to maintain hierarchy. This can occur for a number of reasons, a big one being the maintenance of the power that a hierarchal system breeds for said powers-that-be. It keeps people “in their place”–including those on top.

Another reason is that, often, with limited resources (has Mercantilism really gone away?), economic systems run into problems. And so, by creating (and/or perpetuating) prejudice, affected outgroups get mad at the wrong people (other outgroups), thereby deferring an uprise against the powers-that-be; not only that, the best part about this one is that the rich stay rich–since they’re not to blame for the economic problems, they don’t have to give up any of their wealth to sustain everyone else’s life. (And why should they, since they worked hard for it anyway, right?)

“Competition and conflict breed prejudice” because when people suffer, they need someone else to take responsibility for it; it’s just easier that way. So the dominating class gives them what they need–a literal scapegoat (scapeoutgroup?). That’s what Hitler and the Nazis did. If the German people get mad enough at the Jews, maybe they’ll forget that their stomachs are empty.

“…The form the aggression takes depends on what is allowed or approved by the ingroup in question” (120).
“…A society can create prejudiced beliefs by its very institutions” (123).

As far as I’m concerned, two statements completely support my theory. The prosecution rests.

Response to:
James M. Croteau, Donna M. Talbot, Teresa S. Lance, Nancy J. Evans: “A Qualitative Study Of The Interplay Between Privilege And Oppression”

In general I really enjoyed this article–I feel that it dealt with a issue that is experienced by most people and yet very rarely discussed. As a person of very mixed and very salient privileged and oppressed statuses, I gained insight into my own perspective as well as those of others.

The discussion of “visible” versus “invisible” statuses–particularly that of “the invisibility of sexual orientation and the assumption of heterosexuality” (247)–made me think of a discussion I had a few months ago with a friend. Both rabid “Law & Order” fans, we started out talking about the episode of “SVU” about the pre-op M-to-F transsexual whose boyfriend’s brother discovered her secret. He was about to leave the room and, fearing her exposure to a full party of drunken twentysomethings, she accidentally killed him. The defense in the trial was that it was self-defense: not of imminent danger, but rather perceived–victimized throughout her life, she knew the danger of exposure all too well. My friend mentioned an episode of “L&O” involving a similar case, in which a black man kills a white man out of racial fear–again, there was no imminent danger, the man simply did not feel safe.

Perhaps as a result of our own interplayed statuses–I am a queer white woman, he is a straight black man–we sided with the respective cases in terms of the legitimacy of the defense. I will not speak for him, but instead where I stood.

Transsexuality is something that so many people–heterosexual and sometimes otherwise–simply cannot deal with. I think this is largely because it is still just starting to be discussed amongst different groups in society (namely the queer community), but also because of its invisibility to most. Because of this, exposure to the “outside” world by a transsexual is marked by the inability to predict reactions, making it extremely dangerous. (I say this as a woman who is not transsexual or transgendered; however, I generally pass for straight, and have experienced many different reactions when people find out I’m queer–reactions that give me a bit of insight into this.)

Race, however, is a much more visible thing. And in our highly racialized society, and with our long, intense history of race relations, it is not something that is under-discussed. Therefore, I feel that the perceived danger a black person feels in the company of whites is generally predictable. (I reiterate the fact that I am white, and am therefore not speaking from personal experience.) As a result, in the case of the two “Law & Order” episodes, I tend to put more stock in the credibility of the former defense.

This is not to say that I think being transsexual is more dangerous or more oppressive than being black; I do not get into the nasty (and ultimately useless) business of comparing oppressions. Rather, in some cases, the visibility of one’s oppressed status can provide a sort of safety net (if for nothing but being able to know where one stands in a given situation).


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