Monday, December 7, 2015

The Web of Interlocking Oppressions

GUEST: Barbara Smith, author, long time civil rights activist, and subject of the new book Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around, talks about the Combahee River Collective and the interlocking oppressions of race, class, sexuality and gender in today's society.

Barbara Smith is very careful about words. The interview started with a discussion of the correct pronunciation of Combahee, not such an important matter in the long run. At some point, she asked to start the "official" interview recording, and we did. Why waste a few minutes on how to pronounce a word, especially since there is no consensus on the correct way? We started the interview again.

I used the above picture, not to represent the whole of Barbara Smith's emphasis, but because LGBTQ rights often get lost in discussions of women's and African American liberation. Barbara Smith explains that the fight for equality involves all groups that are debased by the majority culture, and that we can't achieve true freedom from discrimination unless we achieve freedom for all.

For Muslims too? For Palestinians? That is where Barbara Smith's radicalism comes out. She is soft spoken and articulate, but what she is saying challenges the establishment thinking about freedom. Is the US a land of opportunity for immigrant once they assimilate to American culture, or has our country always been a web of interlocking oppressions beginning with the genocide of indigenous peoples and continuing with the enslavement of millions of Blacks?

We live in an era that wants to separate antiSemitism from discrimination against Muslim Americans. Our country supports a brutal 65 year oppression of Palestinians by the apartheid state of Israel, yet our role in the Middle East is supposedly about bringing human rights to the people. The US also supports most of the brutal dictatorships in the region. Is this another example of interlocking oppressions? Can Blacks, women, and gays ever be free if they support the crushing of human rights abroad by the American Empire? Perhaps we have to rethink what racism is to include the interlocking exclusions upon which our society is built. The white males of Wall Street dictate the endless war against "terrorism" as a way to increase their obscene profits. Are they part of the interlocking oppression? Visionaries like Barbara Smith can show us the way.


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