Reviewed by Richard Tutin
Oppression is rife in the world. It always has been and probably always will be. History indicates that there has never been a moment when oppression has been totally eradicated. If that is the case, then oppressive actions and desires need to be managed. However, oppression has an equally insidious companion called power. The two go together so well that it is hard to break them apart. In fact, both fight hard to remain in a dominant position as much as possible.
Dr Jack Davy in this book has highlighted the close relationship between oppression and power along with warnings that their presence affects current situations in different parts of the world. He shows how easily oppression can begin when people seize power and seek to impose their will on others. He examines both the cruelty that occurs and the damage to communities and the local environment when oppressors impose their will and ideas while punishing anyone who stands in their way or offers a different point of view. This introduces a third element, that of fear, into the equation of oppression and power.
Davy, throughout the book, reminds the reader that oppression is not confined to a particular set of beliefs or personality. All of us are capable of being oppressors or condoning oppression hence the title of the book. The examples he has chosen to examine show how often ordinary people have been caught up different situations where oppression has dominated and destroyed people’s lives and cultures that have existed for hundreds of years. He covers the effects of slavery, the rise of communism, oppression of women and oppression of people of different races and cultures. He also looks at ecological oppression, oppression by police and the way in which education can be used to oppress people thus creating within society a ruling elite.
For Davy, oppression and power affects the workings of democratic societies often exposing their weaknesses and fragility. For some it is easier to sink into an oppressive mode to impose their will than trying to navigate the paths that allow the voices of different views to be heard.
Though the subject matter is not new in many ways the warnings Davy gives show how current world events such as the rise of populist leaders and suppression of hard-fought rights such as the right of women to an abortion and the ability of black communities to determine their own future have put pressure on the ability of democratic nations to maintain the peace and freedoms that their peoples enjoy.
It would have been good to have included some examples that emanate from Asia and the Pacific. It is more northern hemisphere centric than world centric though Davy’s warnings and conclusions should concern the whole world rather than part of it.
Dr Jack Davy has worked in the heritage of marginalised peoples for over a decade, focusing in particular on the cultural oppression of Native Americans. He has a PhD in anthropology, and has worked for the British Museum, Horniman Museum and the University of East Anglia. He is currently Head Curator at Morley College in London.
We, The Oppressors
by Dr Jack Davy
ISBN 978 152941 393 9