The subaltern is defined as, “…someone with a low ranking in a social, political, or other hierarchy” (Vocabulary.com). Subaltern may identify a race, gender, or socio-economic class because of oppression and social subordination based on social beliefs, policy, or caste system. Throughout history, there have been many groups who were subordinately classified as inferior because of the color of skin, gender roles, class, sexual orientation, or even whether people are religious or not.
For every belief or practice, there will always be two sides that have to deal with it which makes all the difference in how people live or believe. If you are unfortunate enough to be on the receiving end of oppression, it can also be the very thing that destroys or makes you stronger.
Political and Class Subaltern:
Politicians use the fear of subaltern to get votes. It is an “us or them” message in that you hear politicians use fear of subaltern to get you to vote or support a particular party. If you feel you are already near the bottom of the class system, you buy into the message to blame another class or race, but usually, it is the political system itself that subjugates. As long as you are pointing to someone else, you never notice until the damage is done.
Racial and Gender Subaltern:
Race and gender are two of the oldest reasons that people were oppressed in history. Race enslaved tens of millions of people (officially), but there were undoubtedly many more that never made the history books. Religion and social beliefs created and fostered patriarchal societies which further established gender roles.
Business, Military, Or Social Subaltern
The subaltern exists in a business structure: CEOs are at the top. You then have middle management. The “workers” who do most of the work are on the bottom including pay and rank. In our military, it exists by ranking. In our school system, it is ingrained in us by grade structure. In every single societal order, it was created based on an order of subaltern of people, places, and structures.
When learning about subaltern, you need merely look around you in society. Subaltern exists in each class, socio-economic structure, belief systems, social order, and even among friends and family. You will never change it if you do not expose it and change it.