Some Thoughts on Unity and Identity

I have been in RC for about twenty years. I am particularly grateful for the relationships, the discharge process, and the Community. I also appreciate the work we are doing to make possible a connected, rational, and sustainable world.

We all continue to face huge amounts of oppression in the world, and we each need to keep discharging and ridding ourselves of our oppressor material [distress] and internalised oppression. However, I think our focus on identities, particularly in relation to our roles as oppressor or oppressed, can occasionally be a barrier to unity and to noticing our growing re-emergence and our deepening connections.

Like everyone, I have many identities, some of which put me in an oppressor role and some in the oppressed role. In RC we understand that all identities are essentially constructed (artificial) and imposed on us. They are not the essence of who we are—humans who want to be deeply connected to each other. Organising around our identities has been helpful in many ways, but ultimately we need to clean them up and move on so as not to limit our connections with each other. Of course the oppressive society wants us divided and powerless, so it exploits, maintains, and reinforces identities. We can see this in the rise of nationalism.

The RC Community has been strongly focused on identity work—as men and women, white people and People of the Global Majority, heterosexual and LGBQT people, disabled and non-disabled people, Jews and non-Jews, young and old people, people from different classes, and so on.  We should never stop this work. However, we may need a “quarter-circle turn” (a shift in emphasis) toward focusing more on unity (whilst at the same time continuing to focus strongly on internalised oppression).

I think we RCers model some of the deepest relationships anywhere, and we can be profound allies for each other, but focusing too much on our identities and the roles we occupy can mean that we don’t always notice that. Instead our attention can be drawn to restimulations of the many times we have been hurt by oppression—which can keep us separate. We can believe that we are primarily oppressive or oppressed and that what matters is our oppressor material in relation to each other. I think that is a mistake.

For example, as a disabled person, other people typically have negative feelings about my body and, at times, about me. I wish this weren’t true, and I need to discharge about it, and my allies need to discharge their oppressor material. However, this aspect of our human interaction is small compared to the love, commitment, understanding, and contradiction [to distress] that my allies offer—which are critical in helping me discharge and re-emerge. Whilst we should certainly not ignore oppressor material, it is a tiny aspect of my relationships and it makes little sense to make that the main focus—especially since we all feel bad about ourselves to some extent (and consequently about each other). It can (mistakenly) seem that no matter how much work we do on our identities, we will always be oppressive or oppressed. This is discouraging and I think incorrect. Also, for me at least, it is not the case that I can only work on internalised oppression with people of my same identity.

Finally, if we only focus on identity-based hurts we may avoid or ignore other hurts. For example, it is possible to have “perpetrator” material that is not related to an identity. We are the result of many complex human experiences and interactions.

I think all the following are consistent with building unity: working on internalised oppression, early isolation, and other common hurts; going back for our young selves; facing the “unfaceable” (including the threat of climate change). I would love for us to keep developing this work.  I would be interested in anyone’s thoughts.

David Ruebain

London, England

Reprinted from the e-mail discussion
listfor RC Community members

Last modified: 2019-05-13 15:12:23+00