Updated: Oct 18, 2021
Ever since the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement in June of this year, the usage of the term “oppressed” has skyrocketed. Currently, many people, especially liberals, utilize the word to describe any action done by a government that — in their view — is systematically unjust. However, its use sets a dangerous precedent of equating even the most minor issues to horrific and dictatorial behavior, therefore desensitizing all so-called oppressive actions, whether truly oppressive or not. Furthermore, overuse of the term leads to lessening of the cause of those utilizing the term for the opposite purpose — to raise awareness about specific issues.
Oxford dictionary defines oppression as “unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power;” in cases where this is the case, the word could and should be used when describing injustices. For example, authoritarian regimes accused of severe human rights violations such as those in North Korea, China, Saudi Arabia, and others should be referred to as oppressive because they have been exposed to treat their citizens (as well as those of foreign countries) in shockingly cruel and violent ways.
In the west, however, the word is being used liberally and often without context. On social media, many Americans — especially youngsters — preach that all non-Whites in the United States are oppressed because minorities have a history of discrimination. The term is also used to describe injustices towards individuals rather than collective groups of society.
For example, many say that discrimination based on race or sex in public is oppressive; yet, this is naturally illogical. To utilize the same term to describe both minor bias in the street and large-scale opposition to basic women’s rights in Saudi Arabia or the political prison camps in North Korea is simply inaccurate.
When one notices injustices called “oppressive” by society enough times, one becomes desensitized and loses sympathy for those receiving injustice, both those who are truly oppressed and those who face injustice in other ways. An example of such desensitization in a different context can be seen with the public’s view of the COVID-19 pandemic. In mid-March, when America had less than 1000 new cases of coronavirus per day, many behaved in an apocalyptic fashion, hoarding essential items and aggressively sanitizing products arriving from outside. Now, when almost 200,000 cases are being reported daily, Americans continue to socialize publicly in large crowds.
The possibility of a similar path for the public view of injustices in the United States and around the world should concern all. As liberals continue to flag every last aspect that they deem “oppressive,” the public continues to build an Another One? mentality that normalizes even the injustices that severely need public attention and action. This mountain of “oppression” therefore lessens the causes of the movements fighting to end racism and other biases and injustices in America by causing the public to become used to hearing about injustices, hence causing many to tune out.
There is a simple and foolproof means of stopping this dangerous public acquaintance with injustice: severe language should be reserved to reflect severe humanitarian and political crises, and activists should instead fight to end other injustice by using terminology that reflects the injustice’s nature. Otherwise, there shall come a time in which truly oppressive regimes and dictators, as well as more minor injustices, shall become the norm according to public view, causing the path towards justice to be far longer and challenging than what it is capable of being.