The Oppression of Unity and All Lives Matter

The Oppression of Unity and All Lives Matter

In one of our first blog posts, I commented on unity. It’s a subject I haven’t written much about. With the rise of #BlackLivesMatter and the responding #AllLivesMatter, these thoughts have crept back into my mind.  

When we just started the blog, I reflected: “Unite, unity, unified. Aren't they nice words? I used to think so. Until I moved here and understood a bit more. And it is not such a nice word. Unity in the body. Unity in the city. What it really means is one side (the stronger one) asserting its dominance over the weaker one. Of one side (the weaker one) losing its voice to the other one. Of women losing their voice to male leaders or to satisfy the patriarchal system in our societies and religious communities. So unity is not a nice word for me.”  

In the same post I continued and wrote about my preference for the word together -- but that seems insufficient to express the current dynamics I am experiencing and seeing. Sometimes, the best thing to do is to bear witness, and if you are part of a privileged system, as I am, we need to start by standing, observing silently, and hearing. Even if you personally happen to be disadvantaged in some other way -- if you are a white Christian in America, or if you are a Jew in Israel -- you are radically privileged by society.  

I recently read a blog post that challenged a sentiment I often feel. I don’t always know what to say, and I feel I’ll say it wrong, so I don’t say or do anything. This blogger argues, “Say something. Anything. You’ll do it wrong, but you’ll get better.”  

Unity, All Lives Matter -- these are similar sentiments that maintain the status quo and continue to suppress and oppress the minority whose lived experience is completely different from that of the majority. In Israel this looks like “no preconditions,” or responding to Palestinian suffering with retorts of our own fear and suffering. In the United States this looks like calls for national unity and a focus on all lives instead of the minority lives that are regularly devalued by a discriminatory systematic injustice. American philosopher and activist Cornel West writes, “We have to keep track at any social moment of who is bearing most of the social cost. This is what it means to look at the world from the vantage point of those below. I believe, in fact, that the condition of truth is to allow the suffering to speak. It doesn’t mean that those who suffer have a monopoly on truth, but it means that the condition of truth to emerge must be in tune with those who are undergoing social misery--socially induced forms of suffering.” [1]

Oppression is not always obvious. We often wield privilege unknowingly, participate in it happily, and resist self-reflection when confronted. My plea to all of us, myself included, is to consider the sources of our privilege, how we benefit from and contribute to another’s suffering, and how we can actively come alongside those bearing the the brunt of the social cost to listen to the truth to which they bear witness, and then subvert the system by acting in sympathetic resonance with the voices of this truth.  [2]


[1] Cornel West, “Beyond Multiculturalism and Eurocentrism,” in Postmodernism: Critical Concepts, Volume III.

[2] For another reflection on similar issues, see Y.’s post on True Generosity or False Charity: 3 Challenges.

 
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