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  • Writer's pictureMadeline Kim

Shaun King and the potential hazard of modern-day progressivism: nobody wins the Oppression Olympics

Social justice is important. Without the work of social justice advocates, progress in society would not be possible. Women and racial minorities would still be treated as property, and the nation would really be built to solely benefit the cisgender, heterosexual white male. Although it is vital for us to stay abreast of current issues and ensuring our society is as equitable as possible for all regardless of qualities such as age, gender, or sexuality, there comes a point in which being cognizant of different factors that can oppress individuals becomes almost a comparison to see who is more or less privileged than others.

Journalist and black rights activist Shaun King tweeted almost immediately after the shooter, Robert Bowers of the Tree of Life Synagogue tragedy, had been caught and identified, in response to the shooting.

"It's amazing just how capable American police are at peacefully arresting heavily armed white men who just murdered scores of people without shooting, tasering, or even scratching them. I'm not even playing - I commend them. We'd just like that expertise in our communities too."

Although I agree that police brutality and racial profiling are both important issues, this tweet came off as tone-deaf. Yes, anti-Semitism is not the only kind of discrimination that we grapple with in this country, but having a politicizing a tragedy to fit one's political agenda feels insensitive at best.

Before proceeding, I would like to make a correction to the tweet: shooter Robert Bowers was injured; when captured, he was reported to be in "critical condition with multiple gunshot wounds." However, one could argue that the fact that Bowers was able to be captured alive despite being heavily armed, while countless innocent and unarmed black men were not is still worth bringing up.

Of course, trying to keep things in perspective is important. While we tackle issues such as reproductive rights and voter suppression, we can and must remain vigilant of other topics such as freedom of speech and education. However, what King had tweeted came across less so of a "put things in perspective" narrative but more so a "this tragedy happened, but how can I fit it to continue my political narrative?"

This kind of divisive mentality leads to the concept of intersectionality dividing people into categories more than it brings people together. Intersectionality's purpose is to see how different factors can impact the human experience differently. However, it appears as though the attempt at categorizing people based on traits such as gender, sexuality, religion, and race reduces people into various labels.

King's tweet highlights what is sometimes referred to as the "Oppression Olympics." In 2017, a column from the Chicago Tribune titled "No one wins the oppression olympics" notes that trying to measure who has it better or worse is not fruitful in creating a more just and fair society. "Perhaps it's time to stop focusing on how our particular privileges help us and start thinking about how to use whatever privileges we may possess to make others' lives better — regardless of whether we agree with their politics," the author ends her column.

So if I were King, how would I have reminded people to come together to fight discrimination and prejudice? Firstly, I would have focused on the impact of the tweet on the Jewish community. At the end of the day, 11 innocent people lost their lives and several more were injured at the synagogue. That's 11 lives that are lost and countless more affected from that one act of violence alone. With a platform as large as King's, I would have expected him to call for unity to stand against hatred. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), anti-Semitic hate crimes have increased by 57 percent in the past year, the highest it's been since 1979. It's clear that Tree of Life is not an outlier or something that can be dismissed as an isolated incident, just as "yet another" case of racist policing should not be treated as though it is an isolated incident, and not part of a bigger problem.

Caring about one problem does not detract from caring about another. Just because the media attention is focused on one tragedy does not diminish the importance of another. Times like these, where our country is hurting, call for us to stand in solidarity with one another, not division. Although I doubt that King had malicious intention, I hope that he recognizes the importance of his platform and uses it to convey messages with more sensitivity.


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