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