Oppression typically operates as a system. This means that there are multiple forces taking away someone’s power based on a part of their identity (their sex, sexual orientation, skin color, etc). All of these forces work together to marginalize, subordinate, dehumanize, or otherwise devalue groups of people.
Nas & Damian Marley – Patience Lyrics
Here we are
Here we are
This one right here is for the people
Sabali, sabali, sabali yonkote
Sabali, sabali, sabali kiye
Ni kêra môgô
[Verse 1: Damian Marley]
Some of the smartest dummies
Can’t read the language of Egyptian mummies
An’ a flag on a moon
And can’t find food for the starving tummies
Pay no mind to the youths
Cause it’s not like the future depends on it
But save the animals in the zoo
Cause the chimpanzee dem a make big money
This is how the media pillages
On the TV the picture is
Savages in villages
And the scientist still can’t explain the pyramids, huh
Evangelists making a living on the videos of ribs of the little kids
Stereotyping the image of the images
And this is what the image is
You buy a khaki pants
And all of a sudden you say a Indiana Jones
An’ a thief out gold and thief out the scrolls and even the buried bones
Some of the worst paparazzis I’ve ever seen and I ever known
Put the worst on display so the world can see
And that’s all they will ever show
So the ones in the West
Will never move East
And feel like they could be at home
Dem get tricked by the beast
But a where dem ago flee when the monster is fully grown?
Solomonic linage whe dem still can’t defeat and them coulda never clone
My spiritual DNA that print in my soul and I will forever Own Lord
Major forces that make up a system of oppression are:
*Diminished legal rights/status of the oppressed group
*Negative attitudes and heightened violence toward the group
*Decreased social investment (money, resources) in the group
*Employment, educational, institutional discrimination/exclusion
*Oppressed group’s identity reduced to stereotypes
*Loss of power and freedom within the group
*Oppressed groups adopting destructive beliefs about their own group (internalized oppression)
*Perpetuation of the oppressor’s power
*Privileges afforded to the oppressor
Throughout most of the world, the most privileged groups are: light skin, male, heterosexual, transgender, conventionally attractive, Christian/Gentile, healthy/able bodied, wealthy/financially comfortable. These various groups have historically been, and currently are, some of the major groups that contribute to oppression. But, that doesn’t mean they have to be!
WHAT IS INTERNALIZED OPPRESSION?
When people are targeted, discriminated against, or oppressed over a period of time, they often internalize (believe and make part of their self-image – their internal view of themselves) the myths and misinformation that society communicates to them about their group. Exploited peasants might internalize the ideas that they can’t do any other kind of work, that their lives were meant to be as they are, and that they’re worth less than people with wealth or education. Women might internalize the stereotype that they are not good at math and science, or people of color might internalize the myth that they are not good workers,
When people from targeted groups internalize myths and misinformation, it can cause them to feel (often unconsciously) that in some way they are inherently not as worthy, capable, intelligent, beautiful, good, etc. as people outside their group. They turn the experience of oppression or discrimination inward. They begin to feel that the stereotypes and misinformation that society communicates are true and they act as if they were true. This is called internalized oppression.
Internalized oppression affects many groups of people: women, people of color, poor and working class people, people with disabilities, young people, elders, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gays, and many other groups.
Not all members of groups that are discriminated against or oppressed necessarily turn stereotypes inward. Many remain proud of their heritage, or are able to take prominent places in the larger society through their exercise of effort, intelligence, talent, interpersonal skill, and self-respect. Many members of oppressed groups try to escape their situations by emigration or other means, and many succeed. Some rise up and overthrow their oppressors, although this can cause nearly as many problems as it solves.
Don’t assume that just because someone is a member of a group that has experienced bias, he is suffering from the results of internal oppression. Individuals are different, and have different experiences and backgrounds. If you assume internal oppression in all cases without getting to know the individual at least a little, you may, in trying to be helpful and empathetic, find that instead you’re being condescending or insulting.
It is important to note that internalized oppression is not the fault of people whom it affects. No one should be blamed or blame themselves for having been affected by discrimination. Nevertheless, as community members, we have to face these barriers in order to achieve our goals.
While the stereotypes that people internalize are imposed by society, we all, whether we are members of the favored majority or the oppressed or unfairly treated minority, have a personal responsibility to confront those stereotypes. As members of the majority, we need to help and support those in the minority to see that their personal worth has nothing to do with society’s current or past prejudice. And as members of the minority, we have a responsibility to listen to those among us who challenge the majority view, and to analyze and challenge it ourselves. We may need support and guidance in doing so – that’s what Paulo Freire provided to those he worked with, and what he wrote about.
There are two ways that internalized oppression functions:
Internalized oppression operates on an individual basis. A person believes that the stereotypes and misinformation that she hears are true about herself. She holds herself back from living life to her full potential or she acts in ways that reinforce the stereotypes and are ultimately self-defeating.
Internalized oppression occurs among members of the same cultural group. People in the same group believe (often unconsciously) the misinformation and stereotypes that society communicates about other members of their group. People turn the oppression on one another, instead of addressing larger problems in society. The results are that people treat one another in ways that are less than fully respectful. Often people from the same cultural group hurt, undermine, criticize, mistrust, fight with, or isolate themselves from one another.
Understanding internalized oppression is invaluable for community builders. People simply can’t fight effectively for themselves when they believe the problem is their own fault or that something is inherently wrong with them. To empower communities to become more effective at fighting the battles for better health care, good education, a safe environment, and adequate jobs, community members have to learn how to overcome the discouragement, confusion, and divisions that are a result of internalized oppression.