Discharging Colonial Oppressor Distresses

Before a middle-class workshop here in Bristol (England), I led a couple of gatherings on discharging anti-Irish oppressor material.1 I decided to do it from the point of view of seeing that material as part of colonial oppression. I assumed that all the people who live in Britain, even if they are also in oppressed roles, have probably taken on2 English colonial material.

I talked a bit about the intertwining of Irish and English history. By the time the Normans invaded England in 1066, England had already integrated Viking invaders and Anglo Saxons (various Germanic tribes). Roughly a century later, the Norman rulers of England invaded Ireland. To be a successful colonial power, England had to secure its own back door. That was the beginning of centuries of successive invasions of Ireland, based on the greed of the owning class and its drive to increase its political power. (Many poor people in England wouldn’t even have known the invasions were happening. And perhaps those who did colluded with the rulers out of internalised oppression—having been so recently conquered themselves.) The histories of England and Ireland are mixed up together. There can be no English liberation without Irish liberation. Being indifferent to Irish oppression is not an option.

Because the group I was leading was a mixed group of people from different backgrounds, before working on our relationship to Ireland we each worked on our relationship to England. One woman couldn’t stand3 the idea of being English. She was honest about it and discharged hard. That material had forced her out of the country. I think oppressor material often does that, and when it does, it can become invisible (to us, at least).

I talked about how English (in the guise of British) colonialism has given us a sense of entitlement. Most people who live in England, including working-class people, feel entitled to the country’s infrastructure: the roads, railways, public buildings, public services, and so on. However, this infrastructure represents wealth that is the legacy of colonial rule—wealth that our owning class took from other countries and from slavery. I suggested that we were all in the oppressor role and that

1) we were perfectly willing and eager to be allies to oppressed groups, such as Irish people, as long as they didn’t blame or attack us;

2) we were perfectly willing and eager to be allies to oppressed groups, such as Irish people, as long as they fit in and behaved well.

This is the horrible nonsense I find in my own mind, but it did seem to apply to others as well.

We worked on what Irish people might blame us for, and what that would be like, and got to feelings of blaming ourselves for what had gone wrong in our early lives. Then we worked on ways in which we might feel Irish people were not behaving well and what sort of “bad behaviour” in particular might restimulate us.

I think this approach has three strengths:

1) It is suitable for groups in which some people have oppressed identities (Welsh, Jewish, targeted by racism, and so on) that could distract them from discharging the oppressor material, especially when they are side by side with members of the groups that have oppressed them.

2) The wider focus on colonialism makes it clear that oppressor material is everywhere, is everywhere similar, and has to do with4 capitalism, not just particular identities. It becomes clear that oppressor groups are themselves tools of an inhuman, unintelligent system.

3) It shows how we must discharge the way any oppressor material is rooted in our early experiences. Particular recordings5 have attached to particular groups of people, and these do need to be discharged, but I don’t think they are as chronic and deeply rooted as our blame, fear of blame, anger, guilt, and defensiveness.

Caroline New
Bristol, England
Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
list for RC Community members

1 “Material” means distress.
2 “Taken on” means adopted.
3 “Stand” means tolerate.
4 “Has to do with” means is about.
5 Distress recordings


Last modified: 2022-12-25 10:17:04+00