When Humiliation Explodes

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http://www.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/photos/020903-o-9999b-098.jpg filedesc Tuskegee Airmen – Circa May 1942 to Aug 1943 Location unknown, likely Southern Italy or North Africa (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Oppression, under any name, is humiliating.

I recently watched the HBO version of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, a work which was much better, actually, than the film Red Tails. There were a lot of “ouch” moments in the film for me, but one particularly painful moment for me came in a scene where a white commanding officer told a black recruit that he was “nothing,” and after he was finished, the recruit was forced to salute.

It made my stomach turn.

Oppression comes in many forms: it may be racial or sexual; it may occur between a parent and child or a husband and wife or between partners. In all cases, oppression appears to be a form of sophisticated and sanctioned bullying, designed to keep the oppressed “in his or her place.”  And in assuring that “place,” someone is inevitably humiliated.

A woman, Marissa Alexander, was recently sentenced in Florida  to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot into the air as her husband threatened her with violence. Domestic violence is a form of oppression, and it is humiliating.  As is the case with so many cases of oppression, the oppressor in the case of Alexander escaped charges in the incident; he is free while this mother is in jail for trying to protect herself and maintain a sense of dignity.

Oppressors have power because their oppression is supported by society; their society-sanctioned bullying is carried out so that they can maintain power, and that power is used not to uplift society but to belittle other individuals, but what people do not seem to understand that individuals can only take so much humiliation before they explode. People have a need, a desire, to be honored and to be treated with dignity, and when that doesn’t happen, after a while, something inside one’s spirit gives out.

In the HBO movie, the recruit who was early on humiliated was punished later for being a show-boat; he was a licensed pilot when he entered the Tuskegee program but was never honored as such. He was treated as a nothing, and so when he had an opportunity to “show his stuff” in a plane, he did so, and was punished by being put out of the program.  It was too much. He begged for mercy, to be allowed to stay in the program. He said he’d do anything…but his begging was for naught. In despair, he snapped; he ran impulsively to a plane, got in, and took off on a suicide flight. If he was going to be out of the program, he would be “out” on his own terms. He would NOT go home humiliated, not again.

That humiliation builds and then explodes is no surprise. What is troubling, however, is that oppression continues as a force in life, causing far too much despair, far too much humiliation.

Rev. Jesse Jackson said that people only revolt when they are humiliated. Race riots, women finally fighting back against abusive spouses, children exploding because of overbearing parents …all seem to bear out Jackson’s statement. After a while, those who are oppressed say “enough,” and violence ensues.

That’s not a comforting thought…but what it is is a troubling reality.

A candid observation …

 

 

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Comments

  1. Caroline says:

    It’s a sad reality that this humiliation will probably always exist as long as there are people in power who have the attitude that the people below them are less than, and unworthy of respect. This was a case of humiliation and oppression based on race, but of course it comes in many forms. Those Tuskegee airmen had courage that I hope to possess if I ever come across that oppression firsthand.

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