A hierarchy of oppression is a ranking or hierarchy of oppressions according to arbitrariness and cruelty or according to the negative effects on oppressed communities and individuals. Hierarchies of oppression are generally discredited, though widespread and often unstated.
Common sense may indicate that, for example, a black lesbian woman is more oppressed than a straight white woman. However, political and social activists and theorists find hierarchies of oppression counterproductive because they prevent coalitions from being formed between groups and individuals who, according the hierarchy, or more or less oppressed. Thus, not only does a hierarchy of oppression actually constitute a hierarchy of victimization but also a hierarchy of guiltiness. Thus, to continue the above example, under a hierarchy of oppression a black lesbian group would not form a coalition with a predominately straight white feminist group, because the straight white women do not need as much help as, and because the members of the straight white group are also (more so) oppressors than the members of the black lesbian group. Others would argue that hierarchies of oppression create a competition between oppressed groups, with the most oppressed as the winners.
Many would also argue that hierarchies of oppression are highly inaccurate, obscuring the oppression that even members of dominant or "less oppressed" groups, such as straight or white men, are negatively affected by oppressions such as racism, homophobia and sexism, that, according to a hierarchy of oppression, only affect the non-white, non-straight and non-male. Warren J. Blumenfeld argues in Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price, that anti-gay sentiment hurts straight people, as well as gay, lesbian, bisexual and queer people (see external link).
Audre Lorde explains that "within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian. Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gay men is a Black issue because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black. There is no hierarchy of oppression...I know I cannot afford the luxury of fighting one form of oppression only. I cannot afford to believe that, freedom from intolerance is the right of only one particular group. And I cannot afford to choose between the fronts upon which I must battle these forces of discrimination, wherever they appear to destroy me, it will not be long before they appear to destroy you."
Eleanor Roosevelt says it this way: "No one can make you feel inferior without your consent."
Last updated: 08-25-2005 23:39:30