What Oppression Feels Like

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You sneak a glance at your cell phone. It says it’s 85 degrees out and only 3 minutes have passed since the last time you checked. You made the mistake of resting your arm on your notes and now they are slightly smudged and the paper itself is soft with sweat. You fan yourself with the notes you’re no longer taking as the professor continues to write on the board, undaunted by the humidity, though you can see that she, too, is sweating. You start to wonder if she doesn’t notice the heat or if she’s just so into math or maybe it’s more comfortable to be standing and walking around. Maybe it’s more comfortable by the board, away from all the other students. Or maybe she just doesn’t have time to contemplate it because she already knows this Oh my goodness you’ve lost track of what you’re supposed to be learning, now you have to frantically scribble what you can because it looks like she’s about to erase everything. There’s really no point in continuing, but you swear to do better tomorrow.

But tomorrow it will still be 85 degrees, and there will still be no air conditioning in your classroom, and the open windows will still provide no meaningful breeze, even while they let in plenty of noise distractions. Tomorrow it will still be humid. You’ll still be overly aware of exactly how your clothes fit you when you sweat. Tomorrow you’ll still be uncomfortable and groggy. Tomorrow your professor still won’t be able to hear you when you try to participate but aren’t willing to really stick yourself out there and raise your hand and stand by your response.

Outside of lectures, you are whatever kind of student you are. Outside of lectures you put in however much effort you normally do. But what you have taken from the lecture, that important learning exercise that is seemingly the basis of the course, will be lessened by the distracting way discomfort makes itself known.

You have a friend who is taking the same course by the same professor in an air-conditioned room. Your friend definitely seems to be having a better time with the material, but you can’t say for sure why. It’s not like you’ve never daydreamed in comfort before. You can’t prove the effects the uncomfortable classroom has on you (and few would care if you could), but you can’t ignore this nagging feeling that you’d be less confused right at this moment if you had been more alert in class or if the professor had actually heard the wrong answer you tried to give her. And at any rate, you’re thinking about this instead of thinking about math.

Sometimes oppression feels like every class you take is in a hot classroom and every class your friend takes is in an air-conditioned one. Sometimes it feels like your friend insisting to you that air conditioning can’t possible give them an unfair advantage in the course, and then getting mad that you would insinuate that their success wasn’t purely a reflection of their own awesomeness. Sometimes it feels like not knowing who you could have been if you’d just been allowed to be comfortable. It means you understand all the difficulties your privileged friends have, but they can’t see why your extra difficulties matter or are even worth talking about. After all, sometimes they are also uncomfortable!!

Oppression, like a hot classroom, is fundamentally unfair and the effects go well beyond the immediate. Oppression feels… wrong.

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