Oppression Olympics

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Oppression Olympics is a characterization of marginalization as a competition to determine the relative weight of the overall oppression of individuals or groups, often by comparing race, gender, socioeconomic status or disabilities, in order to determine who is the worst off, and the most oppressed. The characterization often arises within debates about the ideological values of identity politics, intersectionality, and social privilege.[1][2][3] The term became used among some feminist scholars in the 1990s. The first potential recorded use of the term as a way to theorize comparing oppression was by Chicana feminist Elizabeth "Betita" Martínez in a conversation with Angela Davis at University of California, San Diego in 1993. Martinez stated: "the general idea is no competition of hierarchies should prevail. No 'Oppression Olympics'!"[4]


The Oppression Olympics have been described as a contest within a group, to "assert who is more authentic, more oppressed, and thus more correct".[1][2] This may be on the basis of one's race, gender, sexuality, among other stated or ascribed identities.[1][2]

A person's stated or ascribed identity "become[s] fetishised" within the group and judged in preconceived essentialist terms.[1] There is a dynamic "of agreeing with the most marginalized in the room".[1]

According to Stoyan Francis, "the gold medal of the Oppression Olympics is seen as the commanding spot for demanding change, for visibility and allocation of resources".[3]


Elizabeth "Betita" Martínez, in a conversation with Angela Davis on May 12, 1993, 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!"[5] Davis supported Martinez's characterization and stated, "As Betita has pointed out, we need to be more flexible in our thinking about various ways of working together across differences."[4]

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. In a foreword for the book, Angela Davis writes that Martinez evoked "a term that will be recognized by many who have heard her speak" and states that Martinez "urges us not to engage in 'Oppression Olympics' [or create] a futile hierarchy of suffering, but, rather, to harness our rage at persisting injustices in order to strengthen our opposition to an increasingly complex system of domination, which weaves together racism, patriarchy, homophobia, and global capitalist exploitation."[6]


The dynamics of the Oppression Olympics have been criticised as being "intellectually lazy, lacking political depth", and "leads towards tokenization".[1] These dynamics surrounding identity politics have been criticised within anarchist thought for their social hierarchy building, with anarchists fundamentally being against notions of hierarchy.[1][further explanation needed]

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.[7] 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".[7]

Current hierarchy[edit]

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.[citation needed] Cisgender and heterosexual white males are generally considered to be at the very bottom of the hierarchy, correspondingly perceived as having the most societal privilege regardless of material wealth or class status.[citation needed]

Scholarly work[edit]

In her work Dialogical Epistemology—An Intersectional Resistance To The "Oppression Olympics",[8] Nira Yuval-Davis addresses the issue of Oppression Olympics and argues that categorical intersectionality provides an enhancement to this problem.[vague]

In her work Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics,[9] Ange-Marie Hancock argues that the core causes for Oppression Olympics are the desire to one-up other victims, and blindness to the plights and disadvantages of other groups.

Research in identity studies have termed this (inter-group) competitive victimhood.[10][11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Shannon, Deric; Rogue, J.; Daring, C. B.; Volcano, Abbey (January 11, 2013). Queering Anarchism: Addressing and Undressing Power and Desire. AK Press. ISBN 9781849351218 – via Google Books.
  2. ^ a b c "Considerations on mainstream intersectionality", Dhamoon, Rita Kaur, Political Research Quarterly, 64(1), March 2011, pages 230-243.
  3. ^ a b Staff, B. T. L. (28 January 2016). "Oppression Olympics: The Dark Side of the Rainbow".
  4. ^ a b Martinez, Elizabeth; Davis, Angela Y. (1993). "Angela Y. Davis & Elizabeth Martínez". Center for Cultural Studies.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  5. ^ "Coalition Building Among People of Color". Inscriptions. Archived from the original on 2017-08-04. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
  6. ^ Davis, Angela Y. (1998). De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-colored Century. South End Press. pp. x. ISBN 9780896085831.
  7. ^ a b Ange-Marie Hancock, "Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics (The Politics of Intersectionality)", Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, p. 82.
  8. ^ 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. S2CID 144091155.
  9. ^ Hancock, A. (2011-08-29). Solidarity Politics for Millennials: A Guide to Ending the Oppression Olympics. Springer. ISBN 9780230120136.
  10. ^ Young, I. "Competitive victimhood: a review of the theoretical and empirical literature" (PDF).
  11. ^ Recchia, Holly E.; Wainryb, Cecilia (2011). "Youths Making Sense of Political Conflict: Considering Protective and Maladaptive Possibilities". Human Development. 54: 49–59. doi:10.1159/000325371. S2CID 11194102.