One day at school, a friend of mine hesitantly brought up a topic to me in class. She told me about a video she had watched in which a white female on an airplane to South Africa made comments about black men that some would interpret as stereotypical, offensive and sexual objectifying while others would interpret as bad comedy albeit still stereotypical. My friend who happens to be Asian, then asked the question, ‘Is this offensive to you or do you see it as a joke’?
As I struggled to come up with an eloquent way of portraying my thoughts, the whole conversation got me thinking. As we continued to talk, she innocently asked me if I interpreted the comments as a compliment as it was supposed to indicate that this woman, and society in general, find black people attractive and went on to state that Asian men were not objectified in this way as society does not see their bodies as inherently sexual objects.
I explained to her that the history of why society so freely objectifies black bodies is in strong connection to past ownership of these bodies and that this objectification literally comes from being seen as objects which maybe could explain this societal difference in how they view the two types of people. As I tried to get the message across, I could sense the discussion taking a different turn as it often does when discussing the oppression of one marginalized group with another.
The conversation starts to resemble a discussion on who has been oppressed the worst and it is a difficult conversation to have without offending one or both parties involved.
Yes, I personally found the questionable remarks offensive as her ‘joke’ just wasn’t funny, however, I do not speak for black people as a whole and no it is not a compliment when society portrays and sees black bodies, male or female, as exotic and subhuman. To address the overall problem of the ‘Oppression Olympics’ I think that it is important that oppressed people understand that just because someone’s past or present struggle is different doesn’t mean it is less important and that these conversations need to be had. I think there is this general perception that it is only the privileged that are capable of ignorance but education about subjugation needs to come from all people.
Some may believe that the oppression Olympics is a thing to be won but I believe the aim is to be able to listen and help each other so we don’t need to participate.