I have trouble seeing internalized oppression in myself and others. Like an object just beyond my vision, I know it’s there, I can see the effects of its presence, but I can’t actually see it directly.
The most common sign I see that lets me know internalized oppression is nearby is learned helplessness. Most of my learned helplessness is related to my social anxiety. As soon as I find myself in a room full of people that are just talking I suddenly have no idea of what to do. So I end up standing off in the corner like a creep or latching onto one of the few friendly faces in the crowd like a life preserver. The only thing keeping me from diving into the various conversations around me are my own feelings of insufficiency and fear of rejection. Now those feelings and fears reflect the reality I faced in middle school, but now they don’t have any relevance beyond the memories in my own head.
This is something I can see and point at and say “Ah-ha! There be learned helplessness!”, but when I try and consider this as a result of internalized oppression things get murky. Is my internalized oppression the things kids would say to me in the lunchroom? Or is it from the only trans people on TV back then were sex workers on Jerry Springer? Or all the ways that the Christian church frowns on any discussion of sex? Or maybe it’s all the jokes that are not necessarily directed at me but go like this:
women and trans people = garbage
you = woman or trans person
you = garbage
That gets repeated in infinite, uncreative variety.
I have no way to know, but I suspect it’s all of these because thinking about them hurts. At the end of the day I am forced to simply accept that I don’t know what internalized oppression actually is as a thing. This is a hard thing for me to admit because I’ve been taught to always have an answer or know where to look it up, or where to start researching it, bit to say flat out “I don’t know and I don’t have any way yo set about answering that question.” That’s a form of sacrilege for a know-it-all like myself and is a bitter pill for me to swallow.
Therefore, I cannot conceive what life would look like if myself and the people around me didn’t suffer from internalized oppression. I can, however, speculate on ways the world might be different if we didn’t suffer from learned helplessness.
There would always be a 100% voter turnout. No one would accept excuses which amount to “because I said so!” Anytime there is a systemic miscarriage of some sort (justice, access, equality, etc) there would be no need for “organizing” around the issue, everyone would write their independent letter of complaint and if that didn’t solve it they would each independently come to complain in person and thus create and accidental protest.
The reason these things don’t happen is because people have been culturally conditioned to believe their voice does not matter.
I’m not sure of how we go from a world where people don’t speak up for fear of repercussions or because they don’t believe that doing so will make any difference to a world where speaking up is so normal that people are in the habit of “stopping by” somewhere to join a complaint session/protest in progress between dropping of the dry cleaning and picking up milk and eggs. What I do know is that if people don’t get into the habit of saying “hey that’s not ok” when they see something messed up happen then we’ll never get there. Learned helplessness is countered with spoken truths followed by virtuous actions.