I recently learned of a term called the “Oppression Olympics.” This is a real thing, that real people really use in the real arena of race, minorities, and perceived oppression. In essence, it is a term for arguments in which oppression or inequalities faced by a certain group or population are dismissed as being less important than those faced by another population.
Let’s look at one of the nation’s most vulnerable and underserved communities: those living with mental illness. In this country— no matter the race, gender, or age— someone living with mental illness is 16 times more likely to be killed by police.
If the idea that the simple fact of having a certain illness makes you more likely to be killed by the police isn’t disturbing enough, let’s consider the fact that the number of people with serious mental illness in prisons and jails outnumber those in state hospitals 10 to one.
The societal hurdles facing those living with mental illness are staggering, unjust, and— most simply put— they are heartbreaking. Yet a few months ago, when a mentally ill black man was shot and killed in my hometown of San Diego, the headlines and streets were flooded with rally cries of “Black Lives Matter.”
The man was having a ‘breakdown’ consistent with his mental illness. His sister called in the emergency, providing information of his turbulent history of mental health issues. Instead of sending a Psychiatric Emergency Response Team (PERT), they sent city police and the man ended up dead.
This man was killed because of the circumstances of a medical condition. So, where is the outrage? Where is the call for proper funding for PERT response? There have been many a call for funding for police department cultural sensitivity training, but not more mental health training?
It was as if the only thing that threatened this man’s survival was the color of his skin. It was as if this was — strictly and simply — a racially motivated event. Nothing but race mattered to the media or to the many protesters. It was maddening.
When I expressed this opinion, by citing the lack of racial importance when it comes to mental illness-related police killings, and asking why people weren’t shouting “Mental Health Matters,” all I got was accusations of cultural insensitivity, bastardizing the Black Lives Matter movement, and playing into the “Oppression Olympics.”
I was mildly repulsed by the response and remain deeply troubled by the blindfold of race that is being forced upon our public discourse. I was more than mildly repulsed by the fact that this notion of “Oppression Olympics” even exists, and remain deeply troubled by the societal gag-order being placed on any issue that might upset any racial sensitivities or self-proclaimed racial equality advocacies.
Guess what, people- Race Doesn’t Rule Supreme. It strikes me as so fundamentally backward to reduce our societal woes to the color of our skin. It strikes me as unflinchingly ignorant to blame an entire population’s struggles on overt racism. And it strikes me as undeniably unjust that this rhetoric is legitimized through its impact on our public policies and political discourse.
Yesterday, four teenagers tied, gagged, beat, and abused a young man while streaming it live on Facebook. This young man was white and mentally disabled. The attackers were black and yelled “Fuck Trump. Fuck White People” while beating and carving into the young man’s forehead with a knife, and periodically turning the camera around on their smiling faces.
Now, I ask: what is most disturbing here, the fact that the attackers were black and the victim was white? Or was it the fact that four people ganged up on someone who has a mental disability and couldn’t fully defend himself, was it the fact that any human could do something so vile to another living soul while further denigrating them by sharing it with the world?
I urge our readers to consider the fact that every headline I’ve heard on this topic leads with “a mentally disabled man” was attacked. Had he been black and the attackers white, would the headlines have lead with “a black man” was attacked? That was certainly the case when that aforementioned mentally-ill black man was shot a killed by San Diego police in October, “unarmed black man” to be specific.
Consider what the dialogue would have been if this had been a group of white people attacking a black man while shouting “Fuck Obama. Fuck Black People.”
For one, there would have been absolutely no hesitation on the charge of a hate crime.
In fact, here is what Chicago Area North Detectives Commander Kevin Duffin had to say: “Although they are adults, they’re 18. Kids make stupid decisions — I shouldn’t call them kids, they’re legally adults, but they’re young adults and they make stupid decisions. That certainly will be part of whether or not… we seek a hate crime, to determine whether or not this is sincere or just stupid ranting and raving.”
Now, if the roles were reversed, there would not have been a 24-hour long debate on the charging of a hate crime, there would be widespread outrage, there would be an inundation of media coverage with a mostly racial narrative, and there would be riots in the streets. All because some people believe that the color of someone’s skin affords us more public outrage when they are subjected to injustices.
Again I ask— where are the cries for mental health matters? Where are the riots by mental disability advocacy groups? Where are the congressional rallies on the steps of Capitol Hill? Does this young man’s life matter less because it isn’t subject to the outcries of a racially-obsessed society? Or have the outcries of a racially-obsessed society created a fundamental flaw in our collective discourse.
Assigning more or less outrage to atrocities based on the victim’s race is the very definition of racism. Playing into the notion of “Oppression Olympics” is the very definition of preposterous. And applying the law through the lens of protection from racially-charged political correctness is the very definition of unjust.
As a conscionable society, we cannot continue down the path of racially charging all of our problems. Not only is it counterproductive to the justified advocates of equality for all, but it cripples our power of to actually achieve it.
This notion of the “Oppression Olympics” needs to die a quick and painless death.
Race Does Not Reign Supreme.
Author: Cielo Villaseñor
Cielo has an eclectic background which includes politics, media relations, academia, and lots of writing.
From Capitol Hill to the university halls, she has kept constant her penchant for the art of authorship and engaging communication.
In her spare time, she likes to paint with acrylic, watch sci-fi series, and is currently struggling through the first stages of mastering the cello.