Oppression Olympics is a term used to describe verbal banter between marginalized groups, who are trying to determine the weight of their overall oppression, often by comparing race, gender, socioeconomic status or disabilities, in order to determine who is the worst off, and the most oppressed. The term often arises within debates about the ideological values of identity politics, intersectionality and social privilege.
|“||"What I received this past conference was new and as surprising as loan forgiveness. I saw people who looked like me, spoke like me, who I shared oppression with, excluding me from shared space. I felt my sisters separating me as a "cis"-ter and naming me and the rest of our black and brown family as oppressors and conspirators. The Oppression Olympics had started". — Stoyan Francis, "Sexual assault, domestic assault and LGBT of color advocate".||”|
The Oppression Olympics have been described as a contest within a group, to "assert who is more authentic, more oppressed, and thus more correct". This may be on the basis of one's race, gender, sexuality, among other stated or ascribed identities.
A person's stated or ascribed identity "become[s] fetishised" within the group and judged in preconceived essentialist terms. There is a dynamic "of agreeing with the most marginalized in the room".
Stoyan Francis described "The gold medal of the Oppression Olympics is seen as the commanding spot for demanding change, for visibility and allocation of resources".
The exact origins of the phrase are unclear. Perhaps the earliest sustained use of the phrase is in the writings and activism of Chicana feminist Elizabeth "Betita" Martínez. In a 1993 interview, Martínez responded to a question about coalition building as follows: "There are various forms of working together. A coalition is one, a network is another, an alliance is yet another. [...] But the general idea is no competition of hierarchies should prevail. No Oppression Olympics!" Martínez would later write more extensively about the "Oppression Olympics" in her 1998 monograph De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-colored Century.
The phrase was the title of an Everyday Feminism article in 2012, was in an article by Holly Combe in UK Webzine The F Word in 2010, and was used in the title of a presentation to Rutgers University by Ange-Marie Hancock in 2009. Before these examples, however, the term saw use on social media.
The dynamics of the Oppression Olympics have been criticised as being "intellectually lazy, lacking political depth", and "leads towards tokenization". These dynamics surrounding identity politics have been criticised within anarchist thought for their social hierarchy building, with anarchists fundamentally being against notions of hierarchy.
Academic Ange-Marie Hancock has criticised the energy spent upon the Oppression Olympics within progressive circles as being an impediment to wider collective action in furthering social change. She opines that "Thanks to the Oppression Olympics and the political complexity facing the twenty-first century, standing in solidarity for wide social transformation is increasingly difficult to begin and challenging to pursue".
|“||"It had previously been generally agreed that the black and brown Muslim lesbians were the most unprivileged in society; now a group of Caucasian trans-women had challenged this. The Oppression Olympics were in full flow." — Stoyan Francis, "Sexual assault, domestic assault and LGBT of color advocate."||”|
Ange-Marie Hancock and other writers have suggested that the previously dominant class of Afro-Caribbean/Asian women are currently being replaced at the top of the hierarchy by Trans men and women and that their subsequent frustration results in the "Oppression Olympics" phenomenon.
In her work Dialogical Epistemology—An Intersectional Resistance To The "Oppression Olympics", Nira Yuval-Davis addresses the issue of Oppression Olympics and argues that categorical intersectionality provides a solution to this problem.
In her work Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics, Ange-Marie Hancock argues that the core causes for Oppression Olympics are the desire to one-up other professional victims, and blindness to the plights and disadvantages of other groups.
- "Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire", edited by C. B. Daring, J. Rogue, Deric Shannon, Abbey Volcano, Oakland, California, AK press, 2012, page 3.
- "Considerations on mainstream intersectionality", Dhamoon, Rita Kaur, Political Research Quarterly, 64(1), March 2011, pages 230-243.
- "Oppression Olympics: The Dark Side of the Rainbow", Stoyan Francis, Pride Source, 1/28/2016.
- "Coalition Building Among People of Color". Inscriptions. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
- "Oppression Olympics: The Games We Shouldn't Be Playing". Everyday Feminism. Retrieved 2016-04-14.
- "Oppression olympics: the privilege paradox? - The F-Word". www.thefword.org.uk. Retrieved 2016-04-14.
- Rutgers (2009-06-23), Dr. Ange-Marie Hancock - Beyond the oppression Olympics, retrieved 2017-01-30
- Ange-Marie Hancock, "Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics (The Politics of Intersectionality)", Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 82.
- Yuval-Davis, Nira (2012-02-01). "Dialogical Epistemology—An Intersectional Resistance to the "Oppression Olympics"". Gender & Society. 26 (1): 46–54. doi:10.1177/0891243211427701. ISSN 0891-2432.
- Hancock, A. (2011-08-29). Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics. Springer. ISBN 9780230120136.