Oppression in America goes both ways for most of us
This is a poem that’s timely for what’s going on in the world right now with the Occupy movement. I’m really proud of how the video came out since I am learning more about editing videos and changing around the camera angle so the video is more interesting.
Although Americans are only 4% of the worlds population, we use 25% of the world’s resources. Someone on disability in the US like many people I work with in the mental health civil rights movement is still in the top 15% of the world’s income. Yet many of us face discrimination and prejudice. Many undocumented, people are practically slave labor, 1/6 of all Americans struggle with hunger, and many of us go without health care. So most Americans are both the oppressed and the oppressor. Oppression in America is alive and well. Yet if you buy banannas at $.69 a pound when Hondurans might have been sprayed while working the orchards, if you buy coffee at $2 a cup when Argentinian farmers barely make enough to send their kids to school, if you drive a car that uses petroleum, you are also the oppressor. Almost all American are both the oppressed and the oppressor.
Oppression in America is particularly strong for people of color and people with disabilities.
I wanted to originally collaborate on this poem with Robert Brown, one of the best poets in Kansas City until he went away to Chicago for college last fall. This is good for me so I have at least a better chance at winning the open mics. I wanted to him to talk about how his African American community has higher rates of murder, imprisonment, poverty, and unemployment. Even though we now have an African American president, more African American males go to jail than to college. We imprison the highest percentage of our population than any other country in the world, including 10 times as many of our citizens as China. Recently the Pew research center pointed out that the wealth gap in America widened immensely as a result of the last recession, so that the average white household in America has $113,000 of assets but the average African American household owns $5,600 of assests and the average Latino household only owning $6,300 in assets.
Yet, these are communities that are least likely to embrace bicycle commuting, green lifestyles, gardening, buying from local merchants, forming local coops, and sharing resources. Minority communities are most likely to be the site of heavily polluting factories that engdanger their local residents. In a way the people most affected by the oppression in America are least able to fight back against it. This blog on environmental racism addresses this idea.
The disability community is also handling much oppression in America. We have the highest unemployment rates even though 60% of people with disabilities are actively seeking work. Disability is not a permanent ban from the workforce, simply a barrier to be overcome. Disability is not always permanent, but once people are receiving a disability check, there are few pathways back to independence. Disability from psychiatric labels has increased three fold since 1987 which is greatly driving our unsustainable Medicaid funding situation. Worse is on the horizon, as young people disabled by psychiatric diagnoses has increased 35 fold in that same time period. This is huge oppression in America, as many of the people getting these kind of labels are our most original, creative, passionate people. Yet even people with disabilities are oppressors because on a worldwide scale, we still consume a huge amount of resources.
I created this poem about Oppression in America partly as a response to my former employer for firing me for having a disability. It became so urgent to write that I ended up not collaborating with Robert, and the poem came out much different than I expected. It’s funny how can can visualize one thing but our writing process itself steers in a different direction.
But I am both oppressed and the oppessor: Though I am a person once labeled with a disability, I eat meat even though going vegetarian might increase my carbon footprint by 30%. I still drive a car once a month or so. I still heat my house with natural gas and run my lights with carbon fueled power. Even though my income is well under the US median, my three bedroom house for (soon-to-be) four residents is still a mansion by world standards.
Oppression in America: I am the Oppressed and the Oppressor