|Image Courtesy of the American Psychological Association|
Sexism, racism, homophobia, and transphobia are all something that most of us have learned about or are currently in the process of learning. While it is important to learn about these different forms of oppression, we must also take into account from what perspective we are taught about oppression and how it is rather incomplete. Rarely, if ever, do we discuss oppression in a personal manner, from how it affects us on an individual level to how we perpetuate systems of oppression through our thoughts and actions.
In general society, from school to the news to the home, we learn about oppression through a macro lens, how society at large has oppressed groups of people. Just some examples of this are the women's rights movement, the genocide of Native Americans, slavery, and the internment of Japanese Americans, among other instances. In today's world there are problems of institutionalized racism and police brutality that affect people on a regular basis. However, this is from a societal perspective and examines how society as a whole, through its political, economic, and social institutions work to keep in place a status quo in which certain groups of people are more privileged than others. Yet, society and its institutions are made up of people who aid in their perpetuation, this it is only logical to understand oppression from the individual level as well.
Oppression can affect individuals in a variety of ways. One only need to look at the cat calls that many women receive on a regular basis from men or the stereotypes that people hold about certain races and ethnic groups and then act upon them. Such actions and thoughts contribute to creating an unsafe environment for the individuals in question and limit the spaces in which they can safely occupy.
However, oppression doesn’t have to be in these large group acts as in catcalling or in thoughts, as is with stereotyping, we can oppress people and create unsafe spaces for them through small actions as well. I’ve personally been in situations in which I was applying for jobs and upon meeting the interviewer, I could hear in the inflection of their voice and their eyes that they had not been expecting me to be black. This surprise on their part triggered a nervous reaction on my part and created a feeling in me that maybe I wasn’t wanted for the position; maybe I wasn’t supposed to work here.
Yet, while this was problematic on my part, the actions of the interviewer, whether they realized it or not, did the actions consciously or not, played a role in perpetuating oppression by making me feel uncomfortable and unwanted due to my race. Now, this is not bought up out of feelings of self pity, but rather to show that the actions of an individual can go to continue oppression.
We can begin to aid in the deconstruction of oppression by taking serious time to reflect on our thoughts and actions, what influenced them, and mentally combating them. If we realize that our thoughts are due to ignorance, we can actively engaged with the people who we are having problems with concerning our prejudiced thoughts or actions. We must fight oppression on the micro level because even if we do away with societal oppression, the situation will remain the same as people will be acting upon their prejudiced thoughts. Only then will we truly be able to have an equal society.