Anti Oppression as a Tool

In order to go against oppression and advocate for equity and equality, the first thing to do is to understand what oppression is. Oppression by definition is the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner. Oppression stems from groups and systems that hold the majority of the power in a society; everyone holds a different power and everyone gets to decide what they do with it. The question is how can we reclaim that power and use it to our advantage to address the complicated web of issues that stems from oppression.

Addressing oppression means addressing the root problems of this issue. There are no “band aid” solutions; since the problems that we face are not overnight problems, there are no overnight solutions. In order to come up with sustainable solutions, we must examine the systems of oppression that affects our society. These systems include racism, sexism, islamophobia, transphobia, anti-Semitism, classism, ableism and many more. Basically words that end in –ism or –phobia, and if we think about it, there are a lot of those. The first thing that we must come to understand is that because the majority hold the power and authority regarding these systems of oppression, reverse racism or reverse sexism, for example, is not a thing. Sure, there will always be people who are faced with discrimination even if part of them identify as the majority, but the reversal of power and privilege in society as a whole is impossible.

Privilege is a by-product of these systems of oppression. Because certain groups are oppressed, other groups get to enjoy privilege. Privilege by definition is a special right, immunity or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most. There are many types of privileges. Privilege can be expressed in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, financial status, class, physical capabilities and much more. Since there are so many types of privileges, it is necessary to understand how you fit within this context of oppression. It is also important to recognize that one can be privileged and oppressed at the same time. This is the idea of intersectionality. A quote by Audre Lorde explains it best; “There is no such thing as a single issue struggle because we do not live single issue lives”. Due to intersectionality in our society, we have to look at the impacts of oppression on different parts of our identities and ask the question: who gets hurt, and who gets to heal?

Some preliminary steps to use anti-oppression as a tool to overcome the convoluted web of problems that stem from oppression are:

  1. Acknowledge the roots of oppression.

  2. Allocate resources (or redistribute resources) to the correct communities.

  3. Creating and fostering spaces for marginalized communities to enable them to identify and address their needs.

  4. Establish and commit to the implementation of equitable and anti-oppression initiatives.

  5. Unpack myths and culture norms (ex; the myth of meritocracy, grades = everything, “work hard, play hard” etc.)

  6. Practice active, ongoing, and intentional allyship on an individual and collective level.