**Trigger Warning** Mention of abuse and sexual assault, gird thou loins**
Two days ago, I had a conversation with a new friend about oppression and privilege. A lot of issues came out of it, some of which I’m still chewing over and plan on discussing once I get my head around the issues properly, but in the middle of our conversation my friend stated very clearly: “I am entitled to my opinion, and I have a right to express it.”
That sentence has been nagging at me ever since but, this morning I woke up with that statement echoing in my head and the realisation that within certain contexts, due to a lack of privilege, I don’t have the right to my own opinion, I’m not given the right to express myself. And I realised that for the most part I have spent my life being repeatedly SILENCED.
People don’t often see that silence is a weapon used against oppressed groups and individuals. People often assume that because they’re free to verbalise their opinions, that everyone has this privilege. That if someone isn’t feeling listened to, all they have to do is speak their thing (because everyone’s free to have an opinion, right?). But that’s not actually the case with people lacking in societal privilege and people experiencing oppression.
Let me give you an example. I’m fat, I’ve been fat my entire adult life, and as a consequence I avoid food courts, because if I dare to sit down and eat something that isn’t salad in a public place as a fat person, at least one skinny stranger will come along with their “opinion” about my meal and how disgusting I am. That skinny person has the privilege, they are given the right by society to express their unsolicited opinion on my body and my diet. And as the disgusting fat person, I’m expected to take their unsolicited, abusive opinion with grace and SILENCE. If I fight back I’m abused further, not only by the initial skinny person who will often express how they have the right to their opinion (which is one reason why I flinched when my friend said the above statement), but I’m also SILENCED by passerbys who insist that by responding “aggressively” to the abusive skinny person, that I am the abusing party because the skinny person “was just helping”.
Now, in that situation I have a choice, I can either be SILENT and get their abuse over and done with quickly, or I can fight and basically be verbally and sometimes physically abused by the privileged until I comply and be SILENT.
And this applies across the board in all areas where I’m oppressed to one degree or another. For example, a sexist man once assaulted me and threatened to rape me to put me in my “place”, just for daring to own a vagina and voicing an opinion that was contrary to his. All I did was tell him that he was ignorant of a particular situation and that he might gain something by learning more about the topic, and suddenly the “punishment” for daring to disagree with him, for suggesting that I might know more than him about a particular subject, and daring to also own a vagina, was to be raped.
The translation of that situation is that he deemed me to be less than him and in his effort to establish his perceived superiority, he used the threat of something horrible to SILENCE me.
I’ve been without privilege my whole life. I’ve been bullied, abused, assaulted, threatened with rape, and actually raped, all in an effort for other people to ensure my SILENCE and to establish their perceived superiority over me. This process is a big part of oppression.
And now, given this life long experience with oppression, you should understand why I state with a very firm resolve that privilege means the right to speak and express opinion, and a lacking in privilege means enforced SILENCE and then a resulting violence if one defies that enforcement.
So the reality of my life is that in many contexts, I’m not entitled to an opinion, nor do I have the right to express any opinion in these contexts, solely due to my lack of privilege and my experience of oppression.
The only ones allowed to speak are those with the privilege. And if you look at every situation of oppression, you’ll see that continual SILENCING, and for the most part, that’s what the violence is actually about. When someone murders a trans woman of colour, that’s the intersection of three areas of oppression: being a woman, being trans, and not being white. That murder isn’t only a form of terrorism to try and SILENCE the communities she belongs to, that murder is also how the privileged person establishes their “superiority” and their power, by committing the ultimate act of SILENCING.
What this means is that for those of us who experience oppression, we have a very tough decision to make every single day, and in every single interaction with privileged folks: do we remain SILENT and become complicit in our own abuse, or do we stand up against that oppression, and ultimately risk violence and death at the hands of the privileged?
For most of my life, due to severe PTSD and the other effects of having been a victim of repeated and ongoing abuse of various kinds, I’ve had to choose to be safe, choose to be SILENT. I’ve had forty years of abuse and I have come to the end of my “taking it with grace and decorum”. Forty years of abuse and I have become utterly livid at my treatment by society. And while I do not wish to retaliate with violence or harm to other people, I cannot let this abuse happen any longer.
And I suspect a vast majority of those of us in the world who experience oppression are feeling a similar sort of livid rage. We deserve the right to be people, we deserve the right to speak and to express ourselves without abuse and murder.
And while I still and likely will always have severe PTSD, so that my anxiety is crippling my ability to physically speak for myself, I refuse to be SILENT any longer in those contexts where I can speak.
I will not be silent any more.