The Walls of Internalized Oppression

Internalized Oppression … so widespread yet an unknown to most, unidentified by even those who deal with it, preventing so much advancement as those that suffer are blamed for the suffering.

A story to explain …

In the small town I come from, a summer carnival was held each July 1st. The carnival included many events – canoe races, the “grease pole”, the dunk tank, all culminating in the dance. But to me, the only event that mattered was the crowning of the Queen of the Carnival.

The winner was based on number of tickets sold. It wasn’t a beauty contest, but some would argue it was a popularity contest as the more people you knew, the more tickets you could sell. And I wanted to win!

Contestants were normally 15-16 years old, so when I was “of age”, I was asked to consider becoming one of three contestants. I knew my answer, but parental approval was required so I raced home to ask my Mom.

The answer – a flat “No”.

I begged. I cried. I pouted. I gave in. Until the following year, when I again asked only to be denied yet again. The explanation – my parents didn’t want me to know the sting of disappointment when I lost (note, not “IF” I lost).

For the record, I would not have lost.

Fast forward 30 years and I get it. Mom couldn’t even IMAGINE an indigenous young woman being crowned queen of a town carnival. The disappointment she was sure was going to happen wasn’t because I wouldn’t sell enough tickets, it was because not enough would buy from an indigenous girl.

The sad reality, in that first year, my best friend ran. She is indigenous too. She won. But still, it wasn’t enough to break the chains of internalized oppression.

Because you see, internalized oppression has the oppressed anticipating the walls and the pain before they even occur. It is a survival mechanism of sorts, solidified deep inside with each generation of oppression. It is the grown elephant that doesn’t even try to break the chain it could so easily break, the one that easily restrained the baby elephant calf. It is the straight A indigenous student never even attempting a career or higher learning, choosing instead to stay safe in the role of motherhood.

It is a DIRECT result of oppression.

But each year, programs attempt to get indigenous to break the chains that Canada put on us, with no corresponding efforts to ensure our fears are wrong.

So, before the judgement, do a safety check, my non-indigenous followers. Look around your office. Is it free of racial slurs and judgement or are our people still being blamed for the results of Canadian actions? Would we find understanding there or would we be expected to put in the emotional labour of explanation on top of our job requirements, with no corresponding increase in pay?

I have said it before, and I say it again – Do your work. Do not sing the reconciliation dance if we are expected to dance in mine fields. Do not invite us in if you cannot guarantee our safety. Period.

The journey continues.

I love you!