TAL9000: The Oppression Olympics meme is oppressive.
This should be completely obvious to anyone with half a brain. The idea of “playing the oppression Olympics” is intimately tied to privilege - it assumes that no one can have worse oppression than someone else, and that no one’s oppression has greater need for immediate…
I’ve seen it used right and I’ve seen it used wrong.
Like I got accused of oppression Olympics once when I tried to explain to someone a nuance I’d noticed about psych meds. I was in a place where practically everyone who’d been in the psych system was compliant with their meds. They talked a lot about how it’s so much worse to be on meds than not to be on them because people are always telling you you’re weak and that you need to be able to beat your mental illness through willpower alone.
I wasn’t about to deny that happens because I’ve been compliant with meds too. But I was one of a number of people I knew who had been both compliant and noncompliant and could compare. And to a one we found that the shit we got for being compliant was not even comparable to what we got for being noncompliant. And people were not acknowledging this in this place.
Because yes. Being noncompliant means that some people, mostly outside the system, will think you are a really strong person. But for me alone, being noncompliant meant:
* Having to sit through forced meetings where family and/or professionals told me all sorts of horrible things that would happen to me, up to and including death, if I went off my meds.
* Being locked up against my will. (Yes they can do this. Really. It’s not that hard for them to invent a way you’re a danger to yourself and others or gravely disabled. Their word as esteemed professionals against a crazy person’s FFS.)
* Being tackled, beaten, tied down, and abused physically and emotionally. (See above.)
* Having medication forced on me. Including one method that resembled waterboarding. And also having it injected in my ass.
* Attempted murder (they decided I was too much trouble and didn’t save me during a med reaction — an outsider saw me lying on the floor and saved me)
* A deliberate use of the above med so my throat would constrict again, telling me they would not save my life until I agreed to take my meds. Then hiding me in a back room the rest of the day so nobody would see my swollen tongue.
* A professional convinced my parents to threaten to dump me out on the street and cease any support of me until I took my meds. (I was 16.)
* When in mental institutions, they often won’t give you “privileges” (what the outside world calls “rights”) until you take your meds. For me this eventually meant being confined to one room and not being able to see anyone other than the people who kept watch on me.
* Being forced to tolerate horrible side effects and not believed when reporting them.
* Being compared, in therapy groups, to all those good people who took their meds and did what they were told.
* Being isolated into a ward of our own with one other patient in a mental institution who was not taking her meds either. Because we were supposedly a bad influence on everyone else.
There are people who get things equivalent to all that for taking their meds. But not anywhere near the number who get that for not taking them. Same for accepting your psychiatric diagnosis and prognosis, or large parts of the premises of clinical psychiatry, versus rejecting them. Because psychiatry has the power to enforce its decisions about you in potentially horrible ways, whereas only some people who reject their decisions have the power to enforce their desire for you not to take your meds or something. So overall it’s far worse for you (in terms of oppression) to reject some or all of what psychiatry wants of you than to accept it.
So I voiced the experiences of me and the people I’d been talking to. And told them that they were not taking experiences like ours into account. And somewhere along the line someone brought up “oppression Olympics”. And it was just like no, this is not oppression Olympics, this is just trying to clarify that there are huge differences in degrees going on here.
However I really have seen instances where… I’m not sure how to describe it. It’s like there are people out there who want to play more oppressed than thou. And are absolutely not making thoughtful comparisons. They’re just trying to rack up more oppression points. And in some communities it isn’t just individuals, it is most everyone, and it becomes a game of who can more skillfully describe their oppression as worse even if it isn’t. It can get really ridiculous and damaging, especially because it often is, much as you describe, done by white people not personally facing as much major oppression as other people in the community. But since those other people aren’t playing games, they get made out to have less important oppression.
And I think it’s that second kind of thing that the phrase was invented for. I’m still not overly fond of that phrase, but there are places when it seems to apply.