Monday, April 9, 2012

Atheism: The Privileged Oppression

Attention: There is no such thing as a hierarchy of oppression. Oppressed identities differ so greatly on a person to person basis, and to quantify which identities have it worse is trivial to the work that must be done to ensure that no identity is oppressed. That being said, I have some stuff I need to work through, and I hope that the hierarchical structure I do present here does not offend or take away from anyone's oppressed experience.

This weekend, I went home to celebrate Easter. I love major Christian holidays, as it always means getting together with family, throwing around a football with my siblings and cousins, and usually really good food. I enjoy spending time with loved ones that I don't get to see often, and these holidays make up for a great excuse to do so. The only bad part about these times of the year is that it also means going to church, and there is usually prayer before we eat, and there are also great opportunities to talk about our spirituality. Funny how I didn't even think to write "our spirituality" any differently. One might think I had made a grammatical error, and that I should've written "our individual spiritualities," but in these particular get-togethers, when it comes to my family, you're Christian whether you like it or not. This is our collective spirituality. This is really nice for those of us in the Riou family who identify as Christian. This world is so inclusive of our many differing personalities and backgrounds, as we all share the same religion. Unless we don't.

I identify as Atheist, the anti-religion, and my family will most likely never know. It's funny how just recently I have begun to feel so annoyed and hurt with my family's Christianity and lack of religious inclusiveness, as I have considered myself Atheist for well over a year now. I feel weird even whining about it. This is an interesting post for me, as I focus more on my privileges more than anything. As a white, straight, temporarily able-bodied, cisgendered male, it's easy to see why I do this. Ever since I opened my eyes to social justice and knew that social equality was what I wanted to fight for in my life, I have known that my positions of privilege would play a vital role in taking those privileges away so that I may be on an even keel with everyone else. In order to fight privilege and oppression, you must have a team of people who understand both. No one understands oppression better than the oppressed, and no one understands privilege better than the privileged (who choose to acknowledge these privileges). 

So as I began my journey as an ally, I set my only two truly oppressed identities to the wayside, not paying nearly as much attention to them as my privileged identities. And even then, I spoke out more and researched more on my oppressed age group than I did my oppressed way of knowing. Until recently, I have not felt the need to do anything about my identity as an Atheist, since this identity is so easy to hide in certain situations. I have always felt that my spirituality is rather versatile given the company I'm in, as I have grown up Christian and can easily pull off a belief in a higher power, and yet, I am able to have existential conversations on Atheism with my friends in college. I often find myself comparing my atheism with queerness, and how much harder it must be to be queer than just have a different religion. Even when I talk about my oppressed identities with friends, they will often explain to me that my oppressed identities are hardly oppressed, since I will attain privilege in age one day, and I can always act like a Christian. I then go completely against the social justice handbook, and internalize these explanations people give me, to the point that I no longer consider myself oppressed. In fact, I have almost come to the conclusion that I am lucky to have the set of oppressions handed to me, as they seem so minuscule compared to others. I mean damn, I thought I was lucky before. Along with the privileges that were randomly bestowed upon me, came the only two "privileged oppressions" I know of.

Any time someone is not allowed to be there complete self by dominant society, they are oppressed. Those oppressions that keep people from getting to know all of me are what helps me do what I do for the queer community. As of now, I work for this community because of my internalized hierarchy of oppression, and my belief that this movement needs to happen now. I hope that one day, when I have done all the work I can for the queer community, that society can accept my anti-religion as truly oppressed and just as deserving of equality as any other subordinate group, and that I too am able to accept this reality.


  1. I don't like it when people say that you can hide your atheism. Sure you can keep your mouth shut and not say anything about it. Plus of course you have all these other privileges that may make the fact you are atheist minuscule. But if you see it as an important part of your life, then why hide it? When people want to make you hide it just so you wont get into trouble, why do you hide it? Is there a need? It's a given we don't live in a country where being atheist is a crime but there are times when people make you feel like it is. People are scared to be wrong and being an atheist is a challenge to what they see as right. People need to think outside what they are given just as I do as an atheist. I don't understand the universe but to me the existence of a moral god is impossible. I listen to theists to understand them, not to tolerate them.

  2. This is a very personal blog and I appreciate it.

  3. I know we talked about this earlier, but I wanted to say again that you're awesome.