Tweetpost: Power and discrimination

1. This is about how power operates in societies & systems across the hierarchies of caste, gender, sexuality, ableness and class. This is a distillation of the wisdom and insights of several brilliant women whose work I have read recently.
2. The specific works are:
@Isabelwilkerson's 'Caste',
@kate_manne's 'Down Girl' & Entitled,
@IjeomaOluo’s 'So You want to Talk about Race’,
Angela Saini's 'Inferior' and 'Superior'.
Any errors of fact or interpretation are my own.
3. I would highly recommend all of the above and also @AnandWrites 'Winners Take All' and @JYSexton's 'American Rule', both excellent books that have been tremendously helpful in shaping my thinking about this.
4. To people who actually work in this field, apologies for my lack of precision and almost certain misuse of the terms. I’ve tried to explain what I mean with examples wherever possible and in general I am going to use illustrative examples rather than explanations.
5. I’ll first outline a framework of power in terms of what power determines. Next I’ll briefly discuss the hierarchies. Then I’ll go into the framework in more detail and how challenges and violations work. So here's the framework:
6. Power determines
1) Who is entitled to respect & deference
2) Who is entitled to labour,bodies & space
3) Whose bodies & feelings are important
4) Who has the right to self-determination & individuality
5) Whose intentionality matters
6) Who has priority of access to resources
7. Contd.

7) Who has epistemological & moral authority
8) Who is entitled to hold & wield power
9) Who has immunity from consequence
10) Who determines the frames of reference
11) Who can determine their own rights & the rights of others
12)Who has the ability to punish others
8. Next, the hierarchies considered in this thread in terms of their broad levels. There are several fine-grained distinctions within the levels (determined by their proximity to and/or relative favouring by/protection from the highest level.) This is not an exhaustive list.
9. IMPORTANT: I present the hierarchies here in the way that they exist in most of the world i.e. in terms of highest to lowest power. This is by no means suggesting that these ‘levels’ have any bases or that they are right in anyway (they are not).
10. CASTE: In the Western world this is operationalised in the construct of race and goes: white-brown-Black. With and without colourism, there can be multiple subcategories within each, all artificial, all related to power. (check out @isabelwilkerson’s Caste)
11. America has the most extreme version of this caste system and it is deeply ingrained in its history, culture and sociopolitical systems. However race based discrimination is longstanding and many other countries are no slouches.
12. In the Indian sub-continent, the ancient Indian caste system remains powerful in India and other nations that have shared the same system historically. The system continues to operate in the diaspora and intersects with other hierarchies.
13. GENDER: Male-female-non-binary/transgender. The gender hierarchy is a particularly universal illustration of the fact that from the point of view of those in power, it does not matter which category you actually belong to, only the category you are perceived to belong to.
14. Your self-identified gender can align completely align with how those in power perceive your gender, and you can clearly state your gender, but bigots generally don’t care about how you think about yourself.
15. I apologise for the broad category of non-binary/transgender. Unfortunately I do not know enough about how power and discrimination work across the various identities that fall under this broad category.
16. SEXUALITY: Again here because of my ignorance I am going to go with heterosexual-homo-/bi-/a-/pan-sexual. All the systems I am referring to are overwhelmingly heteronormative but see tweet above about non-binary/transgender.
17. ABLENESS: Most societies are deeply ableist and people with disabilities are discriminated against in multiple ways by societies and systems that have not considered them at all. Ableism operates in different and complex interacting ways with different types of disabilities.
18. CLASS: this is basically wealthy/wealth owning-middle class-working class-poor. Hereditary wealth and forms of aristocracy are deeply linked to the upper levels of this hierarchy and it is strongly aligned with the caste system of the society.
19. Don’t forget, CAPITALISM adds a whole additional layer of crap to all the above by determining people’s value from its perspective but not getting into that here.
20.Finally, in different hierarchies, the power framework may operate in different degrees with respect to the middle and lowest levels of the hierarchy e.g. brown people are generally not treated as badly as Black people.
21. Similarly, power may exercised to a much lesser extent between the middle and lowest levels but types of discrimination exist across all levels e.g. anti-blackness in Asians.
22. Kimberly Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality is vital here. These hierarchies are not stand alone. The group that holds power and the systems they operate represent particular intersections e.g. cis-heterosexual white men in power.
23. Similarly with discrimination e.g. Black transgender women are disproportionately subject to violence.

Let’s look at the framework in more detail and then at the various ways it can be violated.
24. The violations are key to understanding the framework because it is usually so ingrained and entrenched that it rarely needs to be articulated. It is the lens that everything is seen through but most people don’t even realise it exists.
25. When people outside the level that holds power try to get those in power to see their experiences, they face the constant challenge of a system that cannot see how they are affected and disadvantaged by it.

Let’s look at the framework closer & this may become clearer.
ENTITLEMENT TO RESPECT AND DEFERENCE: it is expected that those lower in the hierarchy will show respect (in all its social forms) and defer at all times to those at the top. This should not be merely performative but the performance is essential.
27. This essentially determines who enters first, who rises from the table first, who speaks first, who eats first, who is allowed to interrupt whom, who is allowed to silence whom, who is allowed to joke and talk back/disagree.
28. ENTITLEMENT TO LABOUR & BODIES: Those in power believe and act as if they are entitled to the bodies, physical and emotional labour of those below them, (horrifying) exhibit A: slavery.
29. The less stark but widely pervasive examples of this are: the expectation of emotional, domestic and reproductive labour from women, the expectation that brown, black and lower caste people will do the menial jobs.
30. ENTITLEMENT TO SPACE: this is related to the above. Some spaces are only available to those in power. E.g white only spaces, wealthy only spaces, male only golf clubs.
31.However there is also the matter of the sanctity of and the entitlement to one’s personal space (including one’s home and privacy). This is only really guaranteed to those in power.
32. E.g. men repeatedly encroach upon and invade the personal space of women, white police officers and civilians invade Black homes. Women and trans-people are expected to accept and answer very intrusive and inappropriate questions about their lives and bodies.
33. IMPORTANCE OF BODIES AND FEELINGS: The is starkly evident in health inequities across race, gender, sexuality, class and disability (see @tressiemcphd ).
34. I must particularly mention the lack of accommodation for women’s health needs (e.g. menstruation and menopause related implications on work and study) and the underfunding of research and treatment into conditions that affect them e.g. endometriosis
35. The matter of whose feelings are important is best exemplified by the centering of the hurt feelings of men and white people when their misogyny and racism are pointed out to them.
36. This can be such that their hurt at having their aggressions pointed out can exclude any further consideration of the pain of those they have aggressed against.
37. RIGHT TO SELF-DETERMINATION: In the mindset of colonialism (incl20th and 21st century variants) the right to (and the ability for) self-determination i.e. to govern oneself, was/is thought to be possessed only by white people i.e. only those in power.
38. However I would like to suggest a wider form of the self-determination, namely the right to choose who I am & how I define & identify myself. This was not historically permitted to those not in power and still denied to many. Exhibit A: transgender individuals & transphobia.
39. RIGHT TO INDIVIDUALITY: best explained in these terms: ‘white people are and can be individuals. Everyone else is a representative of the group(s) they (are seen to) belong to’.
40. This nicely sums up the way in which those in power are able to maintain their individuality and be relatively immune to the stereotyping that affects people in the lower levels of the hierarchy.
41. THE PRIVILEGE OF INTENTIONALITY: i.e. to have one’s intentions considered when one’s actions are examined and even used to excuse one’s actions. Wrongful actions can be excused on the grounds that wrongfulness was unintended.
42. This is not a privilege extended to those at the lower levels. E.g. a man can be excused for actions that made a woman uncomfortable on the grounds that it was not his intention to make her uncomfortable.
43. A white man has behaved in extremely racist ways to a Black man but successfully argues that he did not intend to be racist. The privilege of intentionality is particularly dangerous and difficult.
44. Because the ways in which power operates are so entrenched in the system and the culture, unfair, hurtful and discriminatory modes of behaviour are part of the norm. The norm does not consider the fact that is in fact hurtful or discriminatory to those not in power.
45. The thinking and actions of those in power are ‘the norm’ and all actions are believed to be intentional and individual i.e. not shaped by the system. A system norm behaviour that has been pointed out to be hurtful must therefore be an unintended hurt.
46. E.g. a woman complaining to HR about the discomfiting behaviour of a male colleague is presented with the ‘it was not his intention’ response and then asked to consider things from her aggressor’s viewpoint.
47. It is also a major barrier to the reform of systems as it centres individual intention and attitudes as the problem to be addressed (thus unconscious bias and equality and diversity training) rather than the patriarchal, misogynistic and ableist nature of the system.
48. Thus many individuals (and systems) feel they have dealt with matter of racism because they no longer have racist intentions and have banned the use of racist slurs and other overt indicators of racism. As @kate_manne points out, intention over impact.
49. PRIORITY OF ACCESS TO RESOURCES: well this was essentially what colonialism was but the same principles continue to operate today- who is entitled to natural resources, government bailouts, academic grants.
50. EPISTEMOLOGICAL AND MORAL AUTHORITY: who has the true/greatest knowledge (e.g. men frequently assume greater knowledge over women), who is by default in the moral right or is the arbiter of what is morally right, who can engage in epistemic trespassing.
51. Almost a corollary, those at the lower levels of the hierarchy are innately morally flawed- the weakness of character of Black people, the immorality of gay men, that some groups are ‘abominations in the eyes of God’
52. ENTITLEMENT TO HOLD AND WIELD POWER: i.e. those who are already in power and those like them.
IMMUNITY FROM CONSEQUENCE: those in power are relatively immune to the consequences of their action and are able to act with varying degrees of impunity.
53. DETERMINING THE FRAME OF REFERENCE: this is arguably one of the most important aspects of power i.e. the ability to determine the frame of reference for all considerations. This allows the control of all discussion, negotiation and scrutiny.
54. This can include determining the legal and social framework for the society, the frame within which matters will be considered i.e. who, when and what will be included and excluded. E.g. determining which falsely dichotomous straw man positions will be discussed.
55. E.g. in a complaint about misogyny or sexual harassment, to focus on one incident and refuse to consider patterns of behaviour and repeat offending.
56. An important way in which this is implemented is in the ahistoric framing of discussions i.e. we are where we are now, we don’t need to consider how and why we got here and who got us here.
57. A particularly annoying aspect of this is the ‘apolitical’ stance. One can be ‘apolitical’ if one is not going to be affected by the real world consequences and ramifications of a particular subject or line of enquiry.
58. E.g. discussions of race science. This is something you can only consider discussing as intellectual exercise if you are able to define a frame of reference in which it can be treated as in intellectual exercise. It also links strongly to the immunity from consequence.
59. DETERMINATION OF OWN RIGHTS AND THE RIGHTS OF OTHERS: essentially determining who is to be considered to be human and have the rights thereof.

THE RIGHT AND ABILITY TO PUNISH and even KILL particularly the right to punish if the above are violated.
60. E.g. if I the person in power am not granted the respect/access that I am entitled to, I can punish the ‘offender’, in a manner that is completely out of proportion to the perceived violation.
61. Horrifying exhibits A &B: the killing of Black people In America, the killing of transpeople, especially Black transwomen. Much of the misogynistic abuse directed at women, esp online, stems from an entitlement to punish them for violating role expectations (see @kate_manne)
62. Finally, all of the above rarely need to be articulated as they are codified in the structure of systems & societies, their legal frameworks & unwritten social etiquettes, and the roles and expectations of people's assigned roles (e.g. @katemanne’s ‘feminine coded goods’).
63. Remember, these aspects of power are not discrete but highly interrelated. E.g. ‘tone policing’ and demands for civility in the face of rightful anger and obvious injury relate to the entitlement to respect, whose feelings are important and the immunity to consequence.
64. So if this what power determines, what are the ways in which one can violate these terms?
1) Failure to grant what is entitled
2) Challenges to entitlement, authority & control
3)Attempts to assume any aspects of power by one not from the group in power


65. ‘HOW DARE THEY _____?’ is a very helpful way to think about the violations of the terms and expectations of power. It is the usually unspoken and unrealised basis of responses to violations. Let’s see how with some examples related to each of the 12 points.
66. RESPECT & DEFERENCE: Women and lower caste people being seen as not being deferential or respectful enough i.e. they spoke ‘as if they were equal to me’. How dare she interrupt me? How dare they challenge my assertions/truth?
67. LABOUR, BODIES & SPACES: Women denying men their emotional labour, their bodies and intrusion into their personal space. How dare she deny me what I am entitled to?
68. BODIES & FEELINGS: How dare they not consider my hurt feelings? How dare they expect me to recognise/consider/face their hurt feelings? How dare they insist on equal consideration for their bodies (e.g. funding to improve socioeconomic and health disparities).
69. SELF-DETERMINATION AND INDIVIDUALITY: How dare trans people determine their own identity? Stereotypes exist for a reason, you know? How dare he refer to me as a white man? I am an individual, I do not represent all white men and object to being called a white man.
70. INTENTIONALITY: How dare they not consider that I did not intend my action to have the impact they say it did? How dare this lower caste person plead that their not showing me the expected deference/respect was not intentional?
71. ACCESS TO RESOURCES: Challenging the priority of access to resources as the colonies repeatedly did, as deprived neighbourhoods and counties repeatedly do, disabled people requesting reasonably adjustments and accommodations. How dare they demand what is ours?
72. How dare they demand we give back what we are entitled to?
Reparations were made to the former slave owners but to date not to the former slaves. How TF?

EPISTEMOLOGICAL AND MORAL AUTHORITY: How dare she question me? How dare he claim the moral high ground?
73. HOLDING AND WIELDING POWER: people like them should not be in government or on the board, how dare they even try and worse, how dare they enter our space?
74. Any concession of power is exaggerated, disproportionate gratitude is expected (we in power have deigned to give you this) and ranks are closed tighter.

IMMUNITY FROM CONSEQUENCE: How dare they make me liable for the consequences of my actions?
75. FRAMES OF REFERENCE: How dare they bring in these new laws? How dare they bring my past behaviour into this? How dare they say we need to consider a wider context?
76.RIGHTS OF SELF AND OTHERS: How dare they say I can’t use the n-word? (and other ‘free speech violations’). How dare they not allow me to decree women’s reproductive rights? How dare they try and demand equal status or recognition?
77.ABILITY TO PUNISH: How dare they not allow me to punish those who have wronged me? How dare they try and punish me?
78. To those in power, these violations can be thought of as activating the ‘how dare they?!’ response, which only makes sense in the context of these various aspects of power. There is no reason for a woman to be deferential to a man just because of their respective genders.
79. Similarly, there is no reason for a Black man to be respectful or deferential to a white man just because of the colour of their respective skins. The perceived lack of respect/deference is entirely due to the expectation of respect/deference.
80. When the outcome of the ‘how dare they?’ response is pointed out, then the intentionality defence comes out and this may well be true but your intentions are irrelevant.
81. To paraphrase @IjeomaOluo if you are in a racist/misogynist/ableist system and you benefit it from it, you are racist/misogynist/ableist. It is not a matter of intention and certainly not intention alone.
82. In these models, power is a zero sum game, any ‘giving away’ or ‘giving up’ is intolerable. However for any serious change or reform, the group in power will lose some of theirs & this is necessary for a more equitable and different form of power that is not a zero sum game.
83. However as it difficult to make any attempts to reform systems, people are often forced to choose approaches that are non-threatening to power or even placatory, which often limits the efficacy of these approaches.
84. Though this framework is deeply entrenched in systems they do require shoring up and enforcing. The key ways of doing this are:
JUSTIFICATORY NARRATIVES: usually manufactured based around ideas of innate superiority and upheld by tradition.
i.e. things are the way are because they have always been this way and are therefore right to be this way.

The idea of (but not real) meritocracy is an important & insufficiently recognised such narrative i.e. people are where they are because they are the best or the job.
85. SYSTEMS OF ENFORCEMENT: misogyny, racism, other forms of discrimination, often through enforcement of roles and role expectations.
PUNISHMENT: of those who challenge or violate the norms of the system.
86. MASTER’S TOOLS, MASTER’S HOUSE: The deliberate removal and blocking of any means that might allow any fundamental change of the system.
WHATABOUTERY: That classic technique of distraction and dissembling, based on the assumptions of the zero sum game and moral superiority.
87. Critics can also be attacked according to the same framework and I’ll illustrate this with respect to me and this thread:
-You are being rude and ungrateful as a brown man in the UK.
-The needs, views and feelings of the ‘real’ people of this country have to come first.
-How dare you demand equality for everyone?
-You’re **** brown person! You’re a psychiatrist! Think of all the power imbalances in your own field! You’re one to talk! (i.e. you carry all characteristics of the groups you belong to & this overrides individual identity)
89. My (rarely articulated) response to this, how can you as a white man be entitled to say anything, given the history of your group? (see the right to individuality)
90. Criticism contd.
-We are entitled to punish you for what you have said.
-How dare you say we are privileged? I am not in any way!

(Response: ok, tell me what a world in which you are privileged as a white man would look like? Do you feel you can describe it out loud?)
91. So what do we do? I think we have to keep fighting for systemic change and resist individual educational and intention based approaches. E.g. change HR and legal systems to take into account what it is like for a person not from the group in power navigating the system.
92. What is it like for a woman reporting sexual assault in a patriarchal system that cannot even see what things are like for her in the system? What is it like for a Black person trying to explain the racism they encounter everyday?
93. How does one have systems recognise how exhausting it is for all these groups to have to constantly try and have their pain heard, let alone validated?
94. What is it like for transpeople navigating systems that erase and deny their existence and personhood? What is it like for disabled people in a world that has been designed without them in mind?
95. As you can see, I have mainly focussed on the hierarchies of caste and gender in this thread and have not done enough to cover the others I have listed and not included others at all e.g. religion. This does not in any way mean that the others are unimportant.
96. Just bear in mind that every additional degree of intersectionality confers further disadvantages and discrimination.
97. But by the very nature of intersectionality, one can be on a higher level in one hierarchy and benefit from the privileges of that while experiencing the discriminations of the others e.g. white women.
98. It may strike you that my own pain is rather absent from this account. This is because:
I have been very privileged as a tall, confident man in a medicine (lots of brown people)
I don't get out of my own head enough to realise the people are being racist to me.
99. Given the we are going through the horror of COVID-19, I would like to make 3 points related to this thread and the pandemic.

The first pertains to the BLM protests that began earlier this year and for this I will direct you to an earlier thread.
100. The second is the multiple instances of epistemic trespassing and the adoption of ‘apolitical’ stances by mainly white and male scientists. This has included people making confident pronouncements on areas that are not their expertise or beyond the limits of their expertise.
101. This is dangerous and has had real impacts on pandemic responses and policies, especially in countries like the UK and US that have been getting their responses badly wrong. We are in the extremely dangerous situation where a pandemic virus has somehow become policitised.
102. Even if you normally think science is apolitical, because for you it is, it isn’t now. This is not a time when some specific aspect as it were an isolated hypothetical scenario or rely on your usual immunity to the consequences of your actions
103. Third, in contrast to the above, women leaders and women scientists have led the way with leadership, following and presenting the science, and advocating for proper pandemic responses to protect people, especially the most vulnerable.
104. And they are being attacked in the vilest manner from misogynistic abuse to death threats, especially WOC (see Jacinda Ardern, @trishgreenhalgh @dgurdasani1 @devisridhar @Dr2NisreenAlwan)

See also:
105. The pandemic has shone a stark light on the glaring socioeconomic inequalities in our societies. It has also done the same for the ways in which power is concentrated and exercised in our societies.
106. I hope the above is useful in some way. It should make a lot of you reading it feel uncomfortable at some point because contemplating issues of discrimination and power imbalances is not comfortable. However it is easier than living with them.
107. I have mentioned several important writers and thinkers in this thread. This is for two reasons:
http://1.So  that you will consider following them.
2.That they will call out points where I am just talking crap.
108. I would be very grateful if you could point out any errors or recommend any other writers and thinkers to me and other readers of this thread. Please point out those who have already said what I have prattled on about in this thread, far better than I have.
You can follow @HZiauddeen.
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