Another dimension?

I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about oppression. I am taking a feminist philosophy seminar and am part of a transforming oppression workshop series. It’s frustrating, tedious, often painful, and very important work. I can’t shake the sense, though, that we might be looking at all of this in a way that isn’t all that helpful to dismantle the oppressive structures. There is a lot of slicing and dicing. I get that our identities are multidimensional and very important to our sense of self. They define who we are. And these dimensions are often the very same dimensions along which oppression occurs. Is that a problem?

The top ten billionaires are mostly white men. The lone woman on the list inherited her wealth. There are two men of color even though the vast majority of people on Earth are people of color. Does this reflect racism and sexism? Probably. And yet it also reflects something else: Somehow people are able to amass wealth and pass it on down their family. Is their wealth a result of oppression or (unfair) advantage? Are these just two parts of the same coin?

Then i read María Lugones’ essay on world-traveling (a PDF is here). She describes agonistic playfulness as the play as it exists in the Western world, that is, the play of “a conqueror, an imperialist.” And she explains that loving playfulness is spontaneous play without rules. She seems to assign this type of play to non-whites, though i am not clear on that. Aside from some concerns around the stereotypical assignments of play, there is another way of looking at the break-out of these play definitions. Children play lovingly before they learn that play is supposed to have rules. So, the agnostic playfulness is the play of adults who aren’t allowed to have unstructured fun. Agonistic playfulness is life-alienating. Loving playfulness is life-affirming.

I suppose we could tie these different playfulnesses to the dominant cultures. Agonistic playfulness is white. Loving playfulness is colored. What if we step back a little, though, if we step outside of the divisions that the dominant(ing) culture imposes? What if we stop thinking of the dominant(ing) culture as something white, married, wealthy, and male? Or to put it positively, what if we simply start playing lovingly no matter who we are? In other words, is it the attitude that underlies all the slicing and dicing (divide & conquer?) – that divides us along gender, racial, class, sex, and all the other dimensions of oppression – that is the problem? Is there something that the desire to create these dimensions can tell us that would allow us to counteract “all of the above” instead of trying to transform every one of these “isms”? Maybe by stepping back, we can see the leverage point that would bring down the current dominant(ing) system?

I don’t have the answers. With this post, i am starting to articulate my questions. I am aware that oppression is very real and i am not trying to deny any of the painful experiences we have had because we happen to be outside of the white-married-male norm. I also know that there is a danger of raising these questions: They might be perceived as attempts to move toward colorblingness, implicitly racist, stemming from my privilege as a white woman. However, i am not suggesting that we get rid of the dimensions of our identities. I am simply wondering if there is another dimension underneath that can help us more effectively topple the system, just like there might be a way of stepping out of 3-D to explain some of the quantum mechanics puzzles.

I am trying to raise these questions with a lot of compassion and with a desire to figure out how we can change the system. And, frankly, this desire is also fed by frustration around how little has changed despite all the work that has been done to fight racism, sexism, classism, and all the other oppressive isms.

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