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July 4, 2011 / Katie

Class-Based Oppression: “Are Scottish People Oppressed?”

Update 7/8/11:

Two things of note. Sociological images has some great videos helping to explain what’s really going on with the Britain, and how Scotland is situated within it. What The Bleep is the United Kingdom?

I also want to highlight a great comment I got to this post by Johnny from Edinburgh, who shares his perspective as a 53-year-old Scottish man who has lived in both Scotland and America. Here’s a portion of his comment, but I encourage you to read the whole thing. Thanks Johnny for your perspective!

From my perspective and experience, there’s a small amount of oppression directed against Scots *as* Scots in Europe, chiefly the UK. It seems to me to be largely the remnant of old stereotypes, and during my lifetime (I’m 53) I’ve seen it fade and become much less than it once was.

I didn’t encounter significant anti-Scots prejudice in the States, living there from 1980-2005. Mainly I encountered “cheap” jokes (by which I mean not poor quality jokes, but rather jokes about Scots being cheap), which again are a wee small annoyance rather than a major life issue.

 

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I recently took some heat for questioning the idea that Scottish people, as a class, are oppressed. Someone had made a prejudiced comment about Scottish people and fried food. Another person was deeply incensed by this, claiming that it was oppression.  I am not convinced.

Now, fat oppression does exist. Fat people, as a class, experience demonstrable harms in a fatphobic society.

But prejudice is not the same thing as oppression. Not every prejudice is oppressive. If I am prejudiced against someone, it means I “pre-judge” them. I’ve got a confession: I am prejudiced against corporate CEO’s who make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in companies that have terrible track records on fair wages, employee health benefits, etc. If I were to meet such a person, say a CEO of Wal-Mart, I would be immediately prejudiced against him.*  I will make judgments about his character—and not very nice ones—because I don’t think good people tolerate working in a place where they earn more money than they need off the backs of the poor.

I’m not “oppressing” mr. Wal-Mart CEO because I pre-judge him; because I am prejudiced against him. I have no social power with which to oppress him. The reason I have no social power to oppress him is that I don’t belong to a class which has social privilege over the class he belongs to.

This is why only people of color can be said to experience race-based class oppression. It doesn’t mean that people of color can’t be prejudiced against whites, but it does mean that even if they are prejudiced against whites, they are not oppressing whites.

image of "Fat Bastard" from the Austin Powers films

He's hated and ridiculed because he's fat, not because he's Scottish

So back to Scotland. Yes, it’s insulting and prejudiced to say hateful things about Scottish people as if they’re all grease-eating fat people ala Fat Bastard.*** But to do so is prejudiced—not oppressive—of the class of Scottish people. It’s oppressive, sure, but not oppressive of the class of Scottish people. Oppressive of the class of fat people. 

In fact, let’s think for a second about thin Scottish people. They may be offended by the stereotype that they and their people are all fat. But to jump to their defense as if a terrible insult has been leveled at them is in fact to say that it is a terrible insult to call a thin person fat. Thus the defense of Scottish people is then, itself, fatphobic!

I have seen no demonstrable evidence that Scottish people, as a class, are oppressed.** They may be subject to some pretty rotten discrimination, and that in itself sucks and is terrible. And fat Scottish people experience fat oppression because they are part of the class of fat people, not because they are part of the class of Scottish people.

It’s important to make the distinction between class-based prejudice and class-based oppression. Prejudice is arguably useful in some cases (see my Wal-Mart CEO example), and in other cases it is not loving or pro-community. In some cases it is harmful. But it is not materially the same thing as oppression.

Actually, I think this distinction is more than important, but rather it is crucial. Because if we don’t make this distinction, and we don’t give oppression the proper import, then we will never be able to move forward in the work of liberation. If prejudice against thin people is elevated to the same level of “problematicness” as oppression of fat people, then the conversation is over. If prejudice against people of color is elevated to the same level as racism, then the conversation is over. If any prejudice is elevated to the same level of import as any other oppression, then why bother?

In fact, seems like that would be a pretty useful tool of those who are privileged to divert energy away from liberating conversations, eh?

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* I say “him” NOT because I have sexist connotations of all CEO’s as men, but because Wal-Mart has demonstrated itself to be an incredibly hostile work environment to women and the heads of the company are almost all, if not ALL, men.

** as always, I am open to new information to change my perspective

*** I had a terrible time finding an image of Fat Bastard online in which he was fully clothed and his whole body was shown. Most images of him were near-naked, many highlighting his breasts. Yet more evidence of the dehumanization and ridicule fat people experience.

8 Comments

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  1. T / Jul 5 2011 4:32 am

    I would be curious to know the background of the person who claimed the comment was oppression of Scottish people. There is plenty of demonstrable evidence that Scottish (and Welsh and Irish) people were oppressed in the past, and a good potion of Scottish history since has involved finding ways to work around or end British colonial domination (and the oppression that came with it). That said, I would tend to agree with you that Scottish people as a category aren’t oppressed today, but given what I know of the history of Scotland, Wales, and Ireland and given that I’m not exactly up on current events in Scotland, I would at least be curious to hear that person’s argument for why that person is jumping from comments about fried food to Scottish people being oppressed.

    • Katie / Jul 5 2011 11:43 am

      T, thanks for your comment! I actually was thinking about that after posting this, too. There is definitely a history of oppression in the UK, with the English colonizing/oppressing Scotland, Wales, and Ireland. Whether or not a demonstrable oppression of Scottish people still exists within the UK is not for me to decide, though, as an American who only briefly lived in England several years ago. I would be really surprised if someone could demonstrate a kind of class-based Scottish oppression outside the context of the UK; a kind of “non-Scottish privilege,” if you will. I have seen no evidence that such a thing exists.

      I did not provide context because the context, unfortunately, includes some srs dramaz that I did not want to fuel by linking to. But, nothing in the original arguments (or spin-off arguments that happened on other blogs) had anything to do with England colonizing Scotland. It was all centered around the stereotype of Scottish people eating greasy foods and being fat. Which the more I think about it actually sounds fatphobic to me, because it sounds like, “Scottish people are called fat! That’s oppression!”

      No, insulting someone by calling them fat is not oppressing them, it’s oppressing fat people. Which brings us back to the crux of the OP: fat Scottish people are oppressed as part of a class of fat people, not because they are Scottish.

  2. Heidi / Jul 5 2011 10:42 am

    I have to say, all good points in this post aside, it made me think of our long discussion on whether or not Germans are oppressed in Seattle!

    Ja!

    • Katie / Jul 5 2011 11:38 am

      yeah me too! I actually almost said something about it, but I decided it would make the post too long! Ja!

  3. fatfairy / Jul 6 2011 2:58 am

    I am not qualified to talk about oppression or divisions between Europeans in Europe. In the US,
    discrimination against Northern Europeans, “Irish need not apply” et c., seems to be largely a thing of the past. Personally, I would say that having a Scottish name or being from Scotland would not lead to being discriminated against or cause someone to be oppressed in the US.

    • Katie / Jul 6 2011 12:04 pm

      Yes, that is my understanding as well. I am an American, and the person that was disagreeing with me was from Finland, so she may have more information than me about these dynamics within Europe, however even she did not discuss it from that angle at all. The only reason she gave for why Scottish people are oppressed was because they were assumed to eat a lot of fried food and be fat.

  4. Johnny from Edinburgh / Jul 7 2011 9:03 am

    I’m a Scottish-born, Scottish-raised man with a characteristically Scottish name and accent, and I lived much of my adult life in the United States before moving back to Scotland a few years ago. I can testify to my own personal experience, but how far that would generalize out I can’t say; I certainly can’t speak for all Scots.

    From my perspective and experience, there’s a small amount of oppression directed against Scots *as* Scots in Europe, chiefly the UK. It seems to me to be largely the remnant of old stereotypes, and during my lifetime (I’m 53) I’ve seen it fade and become much less than it once was.

    I didn’t encounter significant anti-Scots prejudice in the States, living there from 1980-2005. Mainly I encountered “cheap” jokes (by which I mean not poor quality jokes, but rather jokes about Scots being cheap), which again are a wee small annoyance rather than a major life issue.

    Although it can cause quite genuine pain, I would have to say that in the spectrum of oppressions, I feel that the kind of Scots-bashing I’ve seen in the UK falls fairly low down. I mean, yes I’ve been treated badly in London because I’m a Scot, but I still get lashings of male privilege, white privilege, and thin privilege in spite of it. Nobody’s going to deny me a job, or tell me my health problems are delusional, or tell me I’m going to fall dead RIGHT NOW, because I’m from Edinburgh, but they might if I was black, or a woman, or fat, or some combination thereof.

    I feel you’re quite right that Fat Bastard is discriminated against because he’s fat and an arse, not because he’s a Scot. The (expletive deleted) that gets flung at him is different to what I’ve seen flung at Scottish folk as Scots, even in the UK and even now that the obesity epidemic nonsense consumes so much of the media and everyone’s in a flurry over how fat the Scots are. That may change, but what might happen in future doesn’t much affect the reality of the past and present.

    There’s my tuppence, for whatever it’s worth.

    • Katie / Jul 8 2011 12:39 pm

      Thanks for this valuable comment! I appreciate hearing from someone who is directly affected by the question of whether Scottish oppression exists.

      What you have said jibes with what I’ve observed myself, having lived most of my life in America but living for a short time in England.

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