Oppression is Not a Competition

Screenshot, 12th Aug 2015. I have blurred the child's face because I think it was very irresponsible of the parent not to do so in such a post; the boy is a minor who may not wish to be associated with these views as an adult and is too young to give consent here.
Screenshot, 12th Aug 2015. I have blurred the child’s face because I think it was very irresponsible of the parent not to do so in the first place; the boy is a minor who cannot give consent to be featured in a public post of a controversial nature.

This post was written by the father of a double amputee child. While I support the child, it’s unfortunate his father feels the need to begin this post by knocking down “Bruce Jenner”.

It’s a simple concept, people: there is no single definition of courage, because there is no single definition of a struggle. And there doesn’t need to be. I can acknowledge that this child and Jenner are both courageous, as are the children that manage to grow and even thrive in the conflict zones this man’s country bombs; the countless trans children and adults all around the world who don’t have access to a fraction of the resources Jenner does and still persist in living authentic lives, knowing they may very well die in the process at the hands of transphobes.

Courage is also what the abused children everywhere have, what the families in Kasur have in facing this system and trying to get justice for their children. Courage is what every honest worker has, going to work every day in a system that he knows is biased against him, knowing he has no support base to fall back upon and no advantage to leverage. Courage looks like a woman stepping on to a bus, heading off to work or to school, not letting the fear of groping hands and worse stop her. Sometimes courage is getting out of bed when you are in the deepest pit of depression. And courage can also be as simple as living life, not knowing what the next moment will be like, but silently vowing to yourself you would rather leave the world a more peaceful, happier place than you found it. These are all examples of courage.

We all know a “real” Arthur Ashe award winner–they are our friends, our family, our neighbors, and so on. Does that mean the one in my house is or should be the only one? Is my friend’s mother who beat cancer and manages a primary school for middle-to-lower income kids less deserving? Deserving of what?

Awards are just awards. If we believed awards could fully describe the extent of human achievement (and struggle), we might also have to believe that most of the people who have done anything worthy or have struggled in any way are cis, white Western men. Perhaps that is one reason why I already understand the superficiality of public acknowledgement: if it happens sincerely, it happens too late. So I don’t sit down and squabble over the merit of these awards, just like I don’t go to a school’s sports day and claim rigging/media bias/political correctness if every child is handed a prize for participation. Because these are all ultimately meaningless.

What is real is real, award or no award. Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t need an award from ESPN to validate her life has been a personal struggle, any more than Malala needed a Nobel to realize she had risked her life to stand up against the Taliban. Meanwhile, Iqbal Masih was murdered at the age of 12 and he helped over 3000 children escape from the bonded child labor that still powers a sizable chunk of Pakistan’s capitalist economy–and he got no award. It would be an afterthought even if he did.

But you know what ISN’T courageous? A grown, cis man using his child’s struggle to punch down and attack a trans woman and her struggle as somehow less worthy of attention. Do not turn your child’s pain into an excuse to invalidate someone else’s. Oppression is NOT a competition.

Objects in the Mirror

Cultural relativism goes both ways. For every person arguing “It’s their culture, we can’t speak up about it,” there’s a person from said culture who supposedly espouses certain values but insists, “It’s our culture, we can’t speak up about it…right now.” When will be a good time to speak up about oppression? When you no longer risk suffering any repercussions for it? Oh yeah, can’t fault that logic.

Not to name names but you’re all included in this–doctors who pride themselves on their professionalism while in the UK but think “informed consent” is too difficult a concept for the natives back home; gay rights activists who march in pride parades in New York but think it’s overkill to call out homophobic insults in Pakistani communities on the Internet; communists who publish pamphlet upon pamphlet about workers’ rights but refuse to pay promised salaries to the people who work for their own companies; feminists who travel all over Pakistan to work for the emancipation of women but also rape women and silence them with threats of stigma and legal action; you are all included in this.

Take a look in the mirror sometime. Integrity: you’re doing it wrong.

Robin Williams: 1951-2014

I remember reading an interview (article?) several years ago, in which it was revealed Robin Williams had had a quiet, withdrawn and rather unhappy childhood. This surprised me, because he always seemed so happy. Yes, I know he struggled with addiction and depression; I also know some think he was also bipolar.

“Well, he’s okay now,” I used to think. It also gave me hope for myself.

But he wasn’t okay, not all the time at least.

Now a lot of people are saying, “He made others happy but he couldn’t make himself happy.” The whole “tragic clown” story. I don’t think so. He did make himself happy: laughter gave him joy. Happiness is a fickle emotion, more so for some than others, but even its unreliability doesn’t render each moment of it any less real. He lived, he grew both as a person and as a successful actor, he spent his life doing what he loved. And in his own way, he helped make things a lot more bearable for so many people.

The next time somebody tells you “Depression is not a life-threatening disease!” remind them of the many who have lost their lives to it. But remember, even they didn’t lose ALL their lives to it.

It was Robin Williams’ life and he lived it.

Robin Williams: "No matter what anybody tells ou, words and ideas can change the world."
Robin Williams: “No matter what anybody tells ou, words and ideas can change the world.” (Movie: Dead Poets Society)