Picture a bucket full of crabs, the crustaceans crawling around, snapping their claws. One crab attempts to escape this bucket prison, scrambling toward its lip. As this happens, the crabs on the bottom reach up and pull the near-liberated crab back down to be trapped with the rest of them.
Lateral violence, also known as “crabs in the bucket,” is the act of lashing out against your peers or people from your community rather than the institutions that are oppressing you.
This kind of oppression happens when someone is doing something well and succeeding — they are getting out of that bucket. In many instances when this happens, the person gets torn down by friends, sometimes family and general community. The person is ostracized for attempting to escape their prison.
Recently, Dior came under fire for a baffling ad campaign promoting the relaunch of its cologne “Sauvage.” The ad featured a fancy feather dancer well- known in Indigenous circles around the U.S. and Canada. In the ad, the dancer danced on a cliff as the sun set in the background. The screen then goes black, announcing, “The New SAUVAGE.”
When the promo found its way to Native social media communities, the comment boards exploded with accusations of ignorance, cultural appropriation and outright racism. Later, as the initial shock of the video eased, criticism turned from Dior to the dancer himself.
People began to comment not on the ad and the company’s actions but rather the dancer’s personal life, dancing ability and overall character. This is where the issue of lateral violence arises.
While I don’t support the dancer’s involvement in the ad, it does not justify attacking him as a person. It does piss me off that he accepted this job, yet I can’t help but give him the benefit of the doubt that this was something he carefully considered and weighed in his mind.
Though it does feel like a betrayal to Indigenous people all over the world that he chose to support this, he likely had no part in the ad’s conception and early formation. Further, if he had declined to take part in the promo, chances are very high that someone else would have accepted the job — or worse: Dior might have thrown a non-Native person into a generic “Indian” outfit and run with it.
Shifting our focus to the dancer absolves Dior, a multi-million dollar company, of responsibility for its racist actions. It’s situations like these that continue to allow these large corporations, mass media and society as a whole to stomp all over Indigenous rights and voices. While we are too busy bickering amongst ourselves, tearing one another down, these companies continue to screw us over.
The Dior controversy is a very large-scale example of lateral oppression. However, these things happen on a much smaller level in smaller communities. It occurs when someone who might be very talented at something or have high goals for themselves is met with criticism that keeps that person down.
As Indigenous people, we live in a society that hasn’t made room for us. We need to learn to let go of personal jealousies and prejudices in order to move forward. We need to make sure we focus on these institutions keeping us all down, rather than taking our anger and frustration out on one another, especially when our people weren’t the origins of that oppressive behavior. Nothing will change for us if we keep this up.