Dynamics of Oppression Handout
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Dynamics of Oppression
A fixed idea about a group or person based on information gained from society (media, school, etc.). Can be positive or negative.
"Prejudging" a person or group—usually based on a stereotype—that leads to feelings of like/dislike, fear/comfort, etc.
Engaging in behavior towards a group or person that is influenced or guided by stereotypes and/or prejudice.
When stereotypes and prejudice are so woven into our way of life, discrimination is put into structures of society through policies, laws, etc. The system then grants advantages/disadvantages differently to different groups. Creates the agent group, who has privilege, and the target group who is disadvantaged. Examples: racism (crack vs. cocaine laws), classism (tracking in high schools), sexism, etc.
The unquestioned, unearned, most often unconscious advantages, entitlements, benefits, choices, assumptions, and expectations bestowed upon the agent group based solely on membership in the dominant group.
A member of the agent group who utilizes her/his privilege to eliminate oppression. This person may be motivated by self-interest in ending oppression, a sense of moral obligation, or a commitment to social justice, as opposed to a patronizing agenda of “wanting to help those poor people.” A person can be an ally to many different target groups. Horizontal oppression: The result of people of target groups believing, enforcing, and acting on the agent system of discrimination. This can occur between members of the same group (e.g., a Chicano telling another Chicano to stop speaking Spanish), or between members of different target groups (e.g., Asian Americans fearing Blacks as criminals, Latinos believing stereotypes that Native Americans are alcoholics).
The result of people of target groups believing, enforcing, and acting on the agent system of discrimination. This can occur between members of the same group (e.g., a Chicano telling another Chicano to stop speaking Spanish), or between members of different target groups (e.g., Asian Americans fearing Blacks as criminals, Latinos believing stereotypes that Native Americans are alcoholics).
The result of people of target groups believing, enforcing, and acting on the agent systems of belief about themselves and their own target group (e.g., Chicanos using creams to lighten their skin, Blacks believing that achieving academically is “selling out,” Native Americans believing that the most competent leaders are White.
Thinking and acting in ways that support the system of oppression through attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Both dominant and target groups can collude with the system by participating in or remaining silent about oppression.
Thinking and acting in ways that deconstruct the system of oppression through attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Both dominant and target groups can deconstruct the system by taking actions such as learning more about issues and groups, educating others, joining/supporting organizations that engage in anti-oppression work, adjusting their own attitudes/beliefs/actions, confronting others on their attitudes/beliefs/actions, etc.
Table 1: Dynamics of Oppression
|Policies, Procedures, Practices, Structures||Oppression/-isms|
Table 2: Forms of Oppression
|Forms of Oppression||Agent Groups (have privilege)||Target Groups (disadvantaged)|
|Classism||Upper & upper-middle classes||Lower-middle and working classes; poor|
|Racism||Whites||Blacks; Chicanos/Latinos; Asians/Asian Americans; Native Americans; people of mixed-race descent; etc.|
|Heterosexism||Heterosexuals||Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex people|
|Ageism||Young to middle-aged adults||Young people; old people|
|Religionism||Christians, Gentiles||Jews, Muslims, Islamics, etc.|
|Ableism||Non-disabled people||Disabled people|
What Role Do You Play?
|Actively Participating||Denying, Ignoring||Recognizing, No Action||Recognizing, Action||Educating Self||Educating Others||Supporting, Encouraging||Initiating, Preventing|
|Supporting Oppression <--------------------------------------------------------------------------------> Confronting Oppression|
Telling oppressive jokes, putting down people from target groups, intentionally avoiding target group members, discriminating against target group members, verbally or physically harassing target group members.
Enabling oppression by denying that target group members are oppressed. Does not actively oppress, but by denying that oppression exists, colludes with oppression.
Recognizing, No Action
Is aware of oppressive actions by self or others and their harmful effects, but takes no action to stop this behavior. This inaction is the result of fear, lack of information, confusion about what to do. Experiences discomfort at the contradiction between awareness and action.
Is aware of oppression, recognizes oppressive actions of self and others and takes action to stop it.
Taking actions to learn more about oppression and the experiences and heritage of target group members by reading, attending workshops, seminars, cultural events, participating in discussions, joining organizations or groups that oppose oppression, attending social action and change events.
Moving beyond only educating self to question and dialogue with others too. Rather than only stopping oppressive comments or behaviors, also engaging people in discussion to share why you object to a comment or action.
Supporting others who speak out against oppression or who are working to be more inclusive of target group members by backing up others who speak out, forming an allies group, joining a coalition group.
Working to change individual and institutional actions and policies that discriminate against target group members, planning educational programs or other events, working for passage of legislation that protects target group members from discrimination, being explicit about making sure target group members are full participants in organizations or groups.
Created by P. Griffin and B. Harro, 1982.