The Nature of Oppression
Updated: Jul 2
There is a speech in season two of The Crown when Queen Elizabeth speaks to workers at a Jaguar automobile factory. She is there to thank and encourage them, and as part of her speech she tells them they shouldn’t be discouraged by their “uneventful, lonely lives” doing “dull and repetitive work.” She says the fate of their nation has often rested on the efforts of “average" men and women like them.
She goes on to speak of the factory workers in such terms, and it is broadcasted throughout London. As she is speaking, we see people listening to her speech in dismay. Before the speech ends, someone turns it to another station with modern music.
The episode goes on to explore the backlash that Queen Elizabeth received for that speech. One of the central reasons was the people and their view of life had changed – but the monarchy’s approach and language had not.
What may have been an appropriate way to address people in the past, now seemed incredibly tone deaf, belittling and disconnected.
I found this moment incredibly powerful.
Queen Elizabeth and those within the system of monarchy had little idea that they were pursuing a path that would alienate the people from their message. Those on her team who were attuned to the atmosphere outside the palace had tried to warn the queen and her private secretary, but they didn't listen.
Instead, the people of the UK made their voices known. In response, the monarchy changed their approach and began to open its doors to welcome the general public into more events and connect in new ways.
To have not done so, would have risked further alienation and potentially the end of the monarchy itself.
People change – it's a fact of life. Even if people insist on being entrenched within their own thinking, our bodies change and age in defiance. The status quo simply cannot remain.
Nature itself cries out against stagnancy with the changing of the seasons, the growth of the trees and the ever-changing landscape around us.
And yet, people often seem the slowest to change, especially those within institutions or in places of power. The pillars that have kept those in power can be built on ideas that provide opportunities to some at the cost of oppression for others.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Those at the height of powerful institutions often fear that making any changes to ideas that fuel injustice may mean the institution itself will crumble, when the opposite is true. To not change, to stay entrenched in ideas that were formulated to serve a select few during a different time and place simply will not stand.
Ideology is nothing without having the shoulders of men and women to hold them up, and the more women and men realize that they’ve been holding onto something that is holding them back – and their brothers and sisters back – they will stop. They will speak out, compromising the very foundations of those systems and ideas.
And, they will crumble.
The documentary13th is about the ripple effects of the abolition of slavery in America and how the oppression of Black people didn’t disappear, but instead reshaped itself over time in the language of the American landscape.
In the absence of Black people being enslaved, they were often criminalized. Language was used to consider them as “other” and early movies like Birth of a Nation depicted people of color as a threat to white people and glorified groups of terror like the Ku Klux Klan.
In fact, it was movies like Birth of a Nation that reinvigorated hate groups like the KKK. and gave them the idea to start burning crosses, as depicted in the film. They had never done that practice before then – and life started to imitate art.
Fast forward a few decades and Richard Nixon used the language of “law and order” to crack down on the protests happening in the 70s, including anti-war and civil rights movements.
It seems that our government has a pattern of using fear to criminalize those with ideas that challenge the status quo – and to use language like “law” and “order” that should be used to protect all of us as weapons to oppress select groups.
The documentary was eye-opening, and I know it’s just the tip of the iceberg for the Black experience in America.
Ideas that breed racism or any sort of oppression that marks another group as “other” or "different" are never as straightforward as we think. They masquerade and they adapt like a virus that takes on new hosts to survive.
The same language that was used in the Nixon era to criminalize those who sought to speak truth to power is still being used today by our government. The idea of “dominating the streets” and the tactics being used looks eerily similar to those that were done in the past.
You see, speaking the truth threatens power because it threatens the very pillars that have allowed our highest elected officials to gain power by breeding fear of each other instead of hope for the future.
There is a better way.
I believe we have a choice to see the outcry right now as those who are part of our nation pointing out that the pillar of racism can no longer stand.
That pillar must crumble – and it must be replaced with justice for all and equality.
Our institutions can continue to be tone deaf or they can listen to the voice of the people. The tactics and language of those in power may have stayed the same – but people have changed. It’s in our nature as humans to grow.
And, it’s time for our ideas to grow with us.