Widgets Magazine


Oppression is hilarious until you bring it up

“I’m hungry right now.”

“Excuse you, check your privilege.”

The above exchange doesn’t usually happen in real life, but it represents the disdain and sometimes even fear many Stanford students harbor towards activism, social justice and political correctness. It seems like these days, talking in any context about race, class, gender, sexuality or pretty much any kind of identity feels like stumbling through a minefield (though sandwiches are a safer rallying cry). One false step – one wrong word or allegation or association – and it feels like the social justice police comes swooping in with an entire marginalized community behind them.

Oppression!” they shout.“Privilege!” That article of clothing is forbidden, that phrase, that action, that word — at first glance, the outrage seems over the top. We resist the urge to tell our friends to “get a sense of humor.”

But humorous or not, fun or not, our actions have a wider cultural context that we often don’t understand. Our own ignorance of non-European cultures doesn’t excuse our actions. Indigenous clothing is not “trendy”; AAVE isn’t “cool” or “ghetto”; Asian skin and customs aren’t “exotic.” And this extends far, far beyond race — using oppressive language can be classist, ableist or sexist, for example, and often good intent and a desire to have fun are complicit in this oppression.

To the people who disagree with the above sentiments: You don’t get to decide what behavior constitutes disrespect. You don’t get to decide which of your behaviors hurts other people.

Let’s get one thing crystal clear: The playing field that everyone stumbles through is not level. The accumulation of identities people carry around do not all weigh the same.

We all have privilege. All of us. We need to realize that just because we’ve never questioned our gender, it doesn’t mean no one else has either; that just because we’ve never experienced discriminatory treatment based on our race that other people may not be the same; that just because our age, our weight, our sexuality, our parents’ income, our physical health, our religious beliefs or our nationality has never negatively affected our life outcomes, that our circumstances are unique, not the norm. Finally, to those who think I’m only speaking to the affluent, cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied white men, marginalized groups are no strangers to oppressing each other, either.

So how exactly are we privileged?

If I asked you right now in what ways you are not privileged, you would be able to come up with a list easily. People are really good at recalling times in which they were treated badly. But the list of ways in which we are privileged is harder to identify, because those ways have always been invisible. Acknowledging our privilege requires us to move away from our egos and question aspects of ourselves that we may have taken for granted all our lives.

So what is anyone supposed to actually do about privilege or about intersecting oppressions? There are two parallel, yet simultaneous changes we need to make to the way we talk about these things.

1) Treat understanding of privilege, oppression, and social justice as just that: understanding. Knowledge.

When we meet people who do not see their male privilege, class privilege or cisgender privilege, we should engage them with new information. If a friend claimed that California was a country, we wouldn’t shout “UNEDUCATED” at their face and walk off smugly — we’d ask them why they believed that and share with them the information that makes us think otherwise.

2) Be more calm when calling out and being called out.

When people say things that hurt us, we feel their words in a visceral way—it’s my culture, my gender, my family’s background or my identity that’s being offended. Anger is natural, valid and worth experiencing, but when we call people out while angry, people don’t react to our words — they react to our anger. Similarly, when people accuse us of being offensive or oppressive, it’s natural to lash back out defensively. But we need to respond to their words. We need to be receptive to new ideas and new knowledge. It is never the responsibility of just the marginalized groups to educate us; it is all our responsibilities to become more educated.

As Stanford students, we have a commitment to understanding more about the world, and a responsibility to learn about all of it, not just about the parts we’re already comfortable with. Whether we are already activists, prefer to stay on the sidelines, or believe things are fine the way they are, we are all students, we are all learning and there is always more to be taught.


Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8@stanford.edu.

About Lily Zheng

Lily Zheng '17, is a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily, a Social Psychology major and co-president of the student group Kardinal Kink. Her weekly column revolves around consent culture, queer and trans identity, social justice and activism. In her spare time, she enjoys wearing too much black clothing, accidentally sleeping in her makeup and spending quality time with her partners. Contact her at lilyz8 'at' stanford.edu – she loves messages!
  • tongzi


  • Lily Zheng

    It’s not an issue of who is “misguided,” your basic worldview is drastically different from mine, and so of course the way you interact with privilege, equality, and oppression is bound to be different.

    What I want to ask you is that with your point of view, do you view all negative things that happen to you as natural and inevitable? If you were discriminated against or denied a voice in politics or access to good health care or education, would you interpret it as “humans competing in groups for supremacy?” Are you okay with that? If something you did landed you in jail while other people got off with a slap in the wrist, would you shrug and say “that’s how it works?”

    It’s a pretty sure bet that you could benefit in some way from social justice.

    And by the way–whatever your specific worldview, the particular cultural beliefs America were founded on and still hold include “equality of opportunity.” I don’t think it’s within your power to contest that–though I suppose with your worldview, all you have to do is get more power so you can start rewriting reality as you like, right?

  • tongzi

    This is just specious.

    Most oppression is an extension of group self-interest, which is indeed a natural consequence of competition. I’ve made no statement as to taking it lying down.

    The response to attack is to counter-attack, not degenerate into unrealistic fantasies of equality. There are essentially two human responses to oppression by a superior group. The first is to complain about unfairness. The second is to acquire the same success for yourselves so you can be on even footing. One of these responses leads to human achievement, the other leads to endless, self-perpetuating cycles of underachievement and whining.

    Think of the Chinese minority in Malaysia. Persecuted, hated, but still comes out on top by being largely upper class and controlling most of the country’s economy. This is the vision for Asians in America, not equality. There is already more than enough social justice in the Western world to accomplish what we want.

    Equality in its modern, leftist form extends far beyond reasonable needs for equal opportunity or rights, it demands equal treatment outside of the law, equal results, and even assumes people are inherently equal. This is a tremendous problem for anyone who is superior or outstanding, i.e. the people who drive civilization forward. This is the problem that Asians need to deal with, not add to.

  • Malena

    This is the most xenophobe, racist post I’ve seen on the Daily. You’re saying that we should only adopt EUROPEAN styles and fashion, and stop from including aborigin, african-american or other ethnicities into our culture. No wonder the western world is so homogeneously caucasic/european, with people like you, Lily, who don’t accept that other races/ethnicities/cultures can enrich ours. This post is intolerant. Since when is this racist and xenophobe activism a thing?

  • Malena

    So if being white/asian male is so awesome and privileged, why would you become a female?
    Besides identifying as a female, you truly believe you had privilege by looking like a guy?
    That means when you were a guy you were:
    – not pressured by society to study, get a job, and provide for others
    – allowed to express your sexuality openly to people of the opposite gender without risk of being considered a criminal / harasser.
    – offered unfair advantages in college admissions (at same score and ability and effort level, you were selected over women who were more capable or motivated, purely due to your gender)
    – spoiled by parents
    – spoiled by society, school, etc
    – not subject to bullying or physical encounters
    – never considered the “guilty party”, always considered victim on any issue with the opposite gender, independent of the facts.
    – allowed to specifically make male-only groups, male-only events, male-only activism against females.
    – always receiving privileged attention and help from the opposite gender.
    – always paid for your food when going out in dates.

    All these asian male privileges are so awesome!

    No wonder you chose the “victim” gender.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    “This is a tremendous problem for anyone who is superior or outstanding, ie the people who drive civilization forward..”
    — Yeah, what will people like Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himler, and other supremecists and elitists do ? …you know those people who have an over-inflated sense of their own worth.. people who love to play god with the lives of others..
    — You mean Fascists ? …yeah, but sounds like you’d fit in quite well with any of those ilk.

  • Malena

    “you know those people who have an over-inflated sense of their own worth.. people who love to play god with the lives of others..”

    Oh you mean feminists! …yeah, but sounds like you’d fit in quite well with any of those ilk.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    @Malena… Actually, I don’t mean feminists at all.. The reality is women tend to be the ones who are persecuted, ie paid less than men for the same job, less frequently considered for top management positions, relegated to house servant type jobs, weren’t allowed to vote until 100 years ago well after men succeeded in getting universal suffrage for their gender, and so on and so forth…
    So no, women and feminist advocates are generally NOT considered to be supremicists and elitists.. More often their contributions to society are de-valued or under-valued.

  • Lily Zheng
  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    @ Lily – We can heartily agree we would all “benefit in some way from social justice”..
    However I disagree that the “cultural beliefs America (was) founded on and still hold” are all about “equality of opportunity”…
    On the contrary, this country, nation, current and de facto empire, was more materially founded on genocide and slavery, and it continues to thrive, economically, on dominance and imperial control.
    The hundreds of thousands of human beings who lived here, in relative peace, for thousands and thousands of years BEFORE the arrival of european invaders/enslavers, were basically wiped off the face of the map in a scant 100 years, after the revolution of “the founders” in the late 1770s. Many of “the founders”, if not most, were wealthy slave owners and merchants… All were caucasian. Washington, the wealthiest of all, was a primary producer of the scourges of whiskey and tobacco. But back to the original first peoples of this continent : those who were not massacred, poisoned, hanged or infested, were rounded up, herded onto “reservations”, while “legal” abuse and oppression continued like rain…
    Who knows what benefits to humanity were lost with the knowledge and traditions from thousands of years of living in balance and peace with the plants, animals, and other humans, while sustaining the health of the land and the lush, rich, life-giving ecosystems of this continent… ?

  • Malena

    So, since the Jewish people have been persecuted for years, and are currently discriminated against in many middle-eastern countries, it is totally fine for some of them to have an over inflated sense of their own worth and play god with the lives of others. Is that what you’re saying? History is all that matters. Fuck ethics

  • Malena

    You’re right. You should make up for the errors of your great-great-great-great ancestors. It’s your duty. I don’t care what you do, you’re guilty because of your race, gender, ethnicity and heritage. Check your privilege.

  • Malena

    Wow. Just wow. Something I would expect to read from a website called “everydayfeminism”. Isn’t it convenient for Americans to claim incorporating Mexican or Indian food into their daily lives is “bastardizing”, “appropriating”, etc? That way, we can force our American customs into others and take nothing from them.
    Just like socialists used complaints against capitalism to make an even worse system in practice, why can’t everyday feminists, racists or others use the same speech?

    Capitalism is evil. Incorporating Mexican food is evil. We should be eating NOTHING since every popular food consumed in America has come from cultural “appropriation”. Hamburgers, Donuts, Frankfurters, Tacos, Burritos, Chao-Fan, etc.

    EVIL. You’re evil if you want to accept other cultures. Do NOT mix ethnicities. Purity should be respected over all. Amen. Another lesson learnt from every day feminism racism. Stay pure, stay politically correct to your own race and ethnicity. Stop appropriating and including african american, asian, latino and other minorities. Don’t let them become the majority. Divide and conquer, my friends.

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Haha.. whatevah yu say dah’lin diva of non-sequiturs… but no, that’s not what i’m sayin’.. gnome sane ?

  • maddogsfavsnpiks

    Correcting the errors of the past, so that they cease to plague the present, is easier said than done.

  • Malena

    Making up for errors, in this case does not mean “correcting” errors. There is a big difference.
    Systematic discrimination, many times, is not correcting for errors. It’s revenge. There is a big difference between revenge and justice. Extremists don’t see the difference 😉

  • Malena

    You just went full retard. The parody makes total sense and you’re just not even trying to understand. Check your bias. If you’re willing to justify female supremacy because “women used to be persecuted” and you’re not willing to justify Zionist supremacy because Jews were persecuted, there is some strong bias and double standard in your ideology.

  • Stop being a fat feminist

    I feel so sorry for you Lilly–you’re so oppressed. You go to Stanford. You live in America. You have food and running water. Tough life.

    Keep blowing your $200K education on telling us all how you are oppressed. You’re making such a better use of your education than the other millions of people in the world who would kill to take your place.