Seen as I’ve been thinking about this for a while, I feel like I need to make my views on this known. Hell, hopefully, I might even get some attention on this. Here goes:
One thing that’s so often frustrated me about online social justice politics is how incredibly Americocentric it nearly always is. Even Non-American SJ people in other Anglophone countries are often guilty of
this. The existence and widespread usage of the term “people of colour”
(a term I absolutely hate with a pashion BTW) in itself is a testament
to this. This wouldn’t be problematic if they would just acknowledge the
fact that some of their sociological issues are only really applicable
to America’s sociological situation, but a lot of time, this really
isn’t taken into consideration at all. And whilst as a general rule of
thumb, I reckon the privilege-oppression sociological view works alright
(if you remove the conflict theory and group agency aspects, that is).
It works in the sense that there are power imbalances in all societies
that favour some groups over others in various ways. However, it should
always be applied with a lot of nuance in mind, and even with
intersectionality in mind, merely viewing one group as unambiguously
privileged is in itself too overly simplistic. So, let me give an
example of my own country, the United Kingdom.
The United Kingdom
is a nation-state further made up of three smaller entities that could
also be called nations in the cultural sense (England, Scotland, and
Wales), and part of another one (Northern Ireland). I’d say that to a
small extent, within the British system, a power dynamic does exist
between English people and Non-English people, but not even close to the
same extent that exists in the UK between, for example, men and women
or white people and racial minorities. The main privileges afforded to
English people that stand out in my mind are these.
commonly used (often by English people, but even more so by foreigners)
synonymously with “the United Kingdom” or “Britain”, and vice versa.
Using “Scotland” or “Wales” in this way would be rightfully seen as
completely absurd, but because English people make up approximately 85%
of the British population, the two are often conflated wrongly. This
understandably and justifiably pisses off Non-English Brits.
Another privilege afforded to English people (although certainly not all
English people equally) is that Standard British English (or Received
Pronunciation) is based on England English (specifically London and the
Home Counties), which can potentially lead to discrimination based on
accent (this largely ties in with classism obviously), which whilst it
will certainly affect plenty of English people with more regionally
distinct accents negatively as well, it will pretty much by default
affect non-English people negatively. This is less common nowadays as
people have become more accepting of regional accents and less
puritanical about language, course, but this still happens.
There could be other ones that I’ve failed to consider, but I believe I’ve made my point clear thus far.
However, this is where things get more complicated and where I feel one
of the main shortcomings of simply viewing as in a simplistic manner.
There’s one way in the British system in which most English people
(meaning anyone who lives in England in this case) are disadvantaged.
It’s more of a political and geographic disadvantage than cultural, but
it’s still important, I reckon.
Up until 1998, barring local
councils, the entire British state was centralised and the vast majority
of decisions were made by the government. They weren’t all always
applied to all of the UK’s 3 legal jurisdictions (England and Wales,
Northern Ireland, and Scotland), but they were all made in Westminster-
although since Northern Ireland had a regional parliament up until 1974,
this was only true for them from that point on when it was dissolved
because of The Troubles. Considering England has more people (and
therefore MP’s in the House of Commons) in it than the rest of the UK
combined 3 times, English issues tended to get more attention than
others, and this was rightfully seen as problematic. There were failed
referendums in both Wales and Scotland in 1979 to introduce devolution,
but in 1997, they tried again and this time they passed - Wales got an
assembly and Scotland got a parliament. There was also a referendum on
the Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland that included the
creation of a regional assembly. The creation of these elected bodies
meant the people of these areas would have more direct power over
certain domestic issues (not all of these regional bodies had the same
amount of power, though). However, this was problematic for anyone in
England outside the Greater London area (they also had a referendum and
got a regional assembly).
If you live in an aforementioned area,
the closest thing you’ve got to regional representation is a local
council, and they’ve power over very little. Westminster acts almost as
England’s de facto regional parliament - for example, because of
devolution, the British education secretary really only has power over
England’s education system. However, this is problematic, because
Non-English MP’s are still allowed to vote on England-only laws and
potentially become cabinet ministers. From 2003 to 2005, John Reid -
then MP for Airdrie and Shotts in North Lanarkshire - was the health
secretary, and considering the Scottish parliament controls Scotland’s
NHS, this meant he was making decisions about England’s NHS that didn’t
affect his own constituents. The combination of having no regional
assembly and MP’s from outside England voting on England-only issues is
highly problematic, and is one way in which English are disadvantaged by
the British system (albeit mostly incidentally).
And on top of this, there’s another problem with this overly simplistic view of social dynamics.
Within this larger sociological entity known as the United Kingdom,
there are also smaller ones that have their own power dynamics. For the
sake of simplicity, these are England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern
Ireland. Within each of these areas, anyone from any of the others will
be at risk of discrimination and bigotry if they visit (or even more so,
move) there. An English or Welsh person in Scotland. An Irish or
Scottish person in England. Even though they’re still part of the same
nation-state, and it’ll hardly be on even close to the same level as
what official foreign nationals and immigrants in the UK deal with,
there’s still a sense of foreign-ness that will motivate some ‘natives’
of that place to mistreat them in various ways (ranging from mostly
benign to blatantly xenophobic). A Scottish person in Scotland won’t be
mistreated or discriminated againgst for their cultural identity, but in
England or Wales, it’s likely they will at some point have to deal with
this depending on how long they’re there. This is a wider issue of
identity politics in the UK, and the kind of vitriol that occurred from
both people in Scotland and in the rest of the UK during the Scottish
independence referendum was by far best example of this hostility in its
worst and clearest form. Whilst it doesn’t affect the average person
that much generally, these smaller dynamics still exist within the wider
social dynamics mentioned a few paragraphs ago.
What’s my point
here with this massive essay I’ve written? The point is that social
power dynamics are very complicated things, and shouldn’t be reduced to
simply a black and white view of privileged vs oppressed. It’s also a
good example of how it’s not okay to simply assume there will
necessarily be equivalents of America’s social problems in other