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.
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".
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. White males, especially those that identify as heterosexual and cisgender, are generally considered to be at the very bottom of the hierarchy, correspondingly having most societal privilege.
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 victims, and blindness to the plights and disadvantages of other groups.
- 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.
- "Considerations on mainstream intersectionality", Dhamoon, Rita Kaur, Political Research Quarterly, 64(1), March 2011, pages 230-243.
- Staff, B. T. L. "Oppression Olympics: The Dark Side of the Rainbow".
- "Coalition Building Among People of Color". Inscriptions. Archived from the original on 2017-08-04. Retrieved 2017-08-04.
- "Oppression Olympics: The Games We Shouldn't Be Playing". Everyday Feminism. 2012-11-04. Archived from the original on 2016-04-23. Retrieved 2016-04-14.
- "Oppression olympics: the privilege paradox? - The F-Word". www.thefword.org.uk. 2010-08-23. Archived from the original on 2016-05-31. 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.