Meg Barker and Jamie Heckert reflect upon different strategies for dealing with conflict, and what can be learnt from a dialogue between naming oppression and compassionate listening.
The political project of learning to recognise and name patterns of oppression has been, and continues to be, an important one. It has helped us to recognise that our own experiences of pain are not just personal; they are also political. And so we have become involved in social movements responding to these patterns and creating new ones. In this way, learning to name oppression can help to create a sense of connection among those who experience it.
At the same time, we notice that an idea (or ideology) of connection can substitute for the more complex experience of direct connection, of listening to another’s stories and of empathising with another’s pain. Political identity based on oppression can assume that experiences are identical: that all LGBT folk, all workers, all women, or all people of colour will have experienced the same oppression and should have the same politics. Of course, this all falls apart when we notice that everyone is characterised in different ways at different times in different contexts. No one is simply LGBT or a worker, or only a woman or a person of colour. Assumed, rather than directly experienced, connections rapidly fall apart when those who are assumed to be identical point out that they are not. Queer, working-class women and transfolk of colour experience all four of these patterns of oppression in particular ways (and, quite possibly others around ability, age, appearance, education and more). No politics of identity can incorporate so many differences.