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​BROWN: The new U.Va.: building a change coalition across race, class, gender and sexuality

Different forms of oppression are interconnected

I am writing as a concerned and committed alumnus. Recent incidents on Grounds have shocked and disturbed the community. Moreover, they have signaled the need for collective contemplation, direct action and a commitment to socio-cultural, political and ideological change. In other words, the changes the University must undergo are totalizing. Age-old traditions, attitudes and practices must be forgone and they must be replaced with new customs, values and traditions that speak to our evolving ideals.

To be exact, recent incidents — ranging from the federal investigation of sexual assault mishandling, ongoing living wage disputes and police misconduct that resulted in the hospitalization of an unarmed black student — point to the fact that oppression is at the core of University life and culture.

At face value, these separate incidents may seem unrelated. Drawing the conclusion that oppression exists at the center of University life and culture may seem exaggerated. In other words, it may be difficult for some to relate the ways in which different expressions of oppression and exploitation, such as rape, labor abuse and racial brutality, are in fact interrelated.

To make these interconnections clearer, it may be useful to briefly examine a few of the theories that have emerged from black feminist discourse. I’ll mention one. In “Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness and the Politics of Empowerment,” Patricia Hill Collins introduces the matrix of oppression. By definition, the matrix of oppression explains how race, class and gender, though recognized as different social classifications, are all interconnected. The interconnectedness of these forms of oppression is made obvious by the very existence of, for example, working class women of color who experience the oppressive realities of racial subjugation, class exploitation and gendered subordination simultaneously. On a micro-level, black feminist thought demonstrates the ways in which the exploitation of workers on Grounds, many of whom are women and/or people of color, is related to the assault of Martese Johnson, the sexual abuse of women of all races and the not-so-distant attack on a gay student near the Corner in 2012.

To avoid being long-winded, I’ll conclude by stating the following: U.Va. is at a socio-cultural, ideological and political crossroads. At this very moment, we as workers, rape survivors and friends of rape survivors, humanists, students, survivors of racial assault and friends of people who have been racially assaulted, alumni, Charlottesville residents, educators and administrators must determine the course of our collective destiny. It is my hope that we can organize a coalition of oppressed and exploited persons and our allies that is committed to eradicating all forms of oppression, fostering a safe space and building a strong intellectual community. It is my hope that we can understand the interconnectedness of our plights and the utility of a unified assault on dehumanization, exploitation and bigotry. The whole world is watching. And to borrow the words of Assata Shakur, “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

Jared Brown is a 2013 graduate of the College.

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