During times of economic distress, usually created by the very wealthy, the struggle for survival spills over to other forms of oppression. When wages stagnate and unemployment is high, racism and sexism proliferate as white men, who are used to getting more money for less hours, are finding themselves working more and getting less for their labor. Resentment of having to experience the life in the margins drives both white men and women to claim POC are unfairly getting a free ride, while white men push white women from the workplace in the name of “traditional values.” In the end, the real culprit gets away with the loot, and we are all left with racial tension and women giving up their rights believing it will give them more in the end.
But there is another dimension to a society in distress. While it is simple to push someone out of a job and into poverty, it is another thing to find a justification to annihilate those very same people. The 1950s witnessed a new era of civil rights, and it all began (as far as history books are concerned) with the murder of Emmet Till who allegedly had the audacity to flirt with a white woman. Black men were believed to be hyper-sexual and white women their natural prey, hence any evidence, whether true of imaginary, was a justification for lynching. The imaginary nature of this fear is portrayed in the book Five Smooth Stones. Ann Fairnbarn has one of the young black men working in a hotel wondering why black people were considered hyper-sexual considering the blatantly promiscuous behavior of white people. The question is valid when we contrast the assumption against the behavior of white slave-owners only a few decades earlier. But why would white people fabricate such a lie? For the same reason white women were believed to have intercourse with devils during the era of the witchcraze.
As society became more repressive, the charges against alleged witches became wilder: though some of the accused had had a reputation for lasciviousness, even women with a good name were now accused of having sex with the devil or keeping a demon lover. (Witchcraze, Anne Llewellyn Barstow, (Pandora, 1995) 5)
Controlling the bodies of the oppressed is crucial, because those who can be convinced they don’t own their bodies will not object when they are exploited; hence the objectification of women’s bodies by society as a whole, and the continuous terrorizing of black men’s bodies, either by individuals or institutions. Random violence is an effective tool in silencing those who seek to change society. If you can’t leave your house without fearing for your life, you will avoid drawing attention to yourself; the shadows are a safe place. And so people remain in the shadows and the margins of society – unless those who occupy the open space invite them to come out of the shadows.
The open space. It doesn’t belong to anyone specifically, yet some people continue to believe in the illusion that it belongs to them, and as a result they push others aside.
The 1950s saw that open space opened up to more people as the US economy thrived due to the great post WWII socialist experiment; cheap housing and education made it possible for more people to claim the space that belongs to all of us. Similarly, in the 1980s women left the pink ghetto in increasing numbers and created an economy that was thriving.
Everything was great until it wasn’t.
The Great Recession, stagnating wages, student loans, debt. And once again we have an increase of patriarchal groups, police violence, oppression and suppression of POC and women, while we are given the same old worn out answers to the question everyone’s asking. Victim blaming is found everywhere, but our ailing economy isn’t the immigrant's fault, or the welfare recipient's fault, for the economy wasn't destroyed by the unemployed, the elderly, or the disabled. The problem lies with the system that favors the wealthy, for you cannot have a functional economy if you give 99 % to 1%. It may equal 100%, but you need a special kind of math to come to that conclusion.
If injustice spills over, so does justice. When we work towards justice for others, we work towards justice for ourselves. There is no other solution.