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Oppression is the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner. It can also be defined as an act or instance of oppressing, the state of being oppressed, and the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, and anxiety.
Social oppression has in recent times been an epiphenomenon of various types of social dysfunction, whereby discrimination against an identified group is stimulated, encouraged and reinforced by way of promoting antagonism towards the Other. The term itself is derived, in a direct experiential sense, from the sensation of being pushed or lifted up by a greatly superior force.
Anarchists and other forms of libertarian, at either end of the political spectrum, argue that police and law themselves are oppression. The term oppression is primarily used in such instances to refer to the subordination of a given group or social category by unjust use of force, authority, or societal norms in order to achieve the effects noted above. When institutionalized, formally or informally, it may achieve the dimension of systematic oppression. Oppression is customarily experienced as a consequence of, and expressed in, the form of a prevailing, if unconscious, assumption that the given target is in some way inferior. Oppression is rarely limited solely to formal government action: an individual may be the particular focus of oppression or persecution and in such circumstances have no group membership in which to share, and thus maybe mitigate, the burden of ostracism.
In psychology, racism, sexism and other prejudices are often studied as individual beliefs which, although not necessarily oppressive in themselves, can lead to oppression if they are codified in law or become parts of a culture. By comparison, in sociology, these prejudices are often studied as being institutionalized systems of oppression in some societies. In sociology, the tools of oppression include a progression of denigration, dehumanization, and demonization; which often generate scapegoating, which is used to justify aggression against targeted groups and individuals.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the concept of Human Rights in general were designed to limit oppression by giving a clear articulation of what fundamental freedoms any system should allow to all of the people over whom it has power.
When oppression is systematized through coercion, threats of violence, or violence by government agencies or non-government paramilitiaries with a political motive, it is often called Political repression. More subtle forms of political oppression/repression can be produced by blacklisting or individualized investigations such as happened during McCarthyism in the United States.
In sociology and psychology, internalized oppression is the manner in which an oppressed group comes to use against itself the methods of the oppressor. For example, sometimes members of marginalized groups hold an oppressive view toward their own group, or start to believe in negative stereotypes of themselves.
For example, internalized racism is when members of Group A believe that the stereotypes of Group A are true and may believe that they are less intelligent or academically inferior to other groups of people.
Any social group can internalize prejudice.
References & Bibliography
- Guillaumin, Colette. 1995. Racism, Sexism, Power and Ideology. London: Routledge.
- Hobgood, Mary Elizabeth. 2000. Dismantling Privilege: An Ethics of Accountability. Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press.
- Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. 1996. The Anatomy of Prejudices. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
- Noël, Lise. 1994. Intolerance, A General Survey. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.
- Felice, William F. 1996. Taking Suffering Seriously: The Importance of Collective Human Rights. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
- Smith, Morgan. 2008. Why I stick it to the man, and why you should too. New York: HarperCollins Publishers
- Omi, Michael and Howard Winant. 1994. Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1990s. New York: Routledge.
- Feagin, Joe R. and Hernan Vera. 1995. White Racism: The Basics. New York: Routledge.
- Pincus, Fred L. 1999 and Howard J. Ehrlich, eds. 1999. Race and Ethnic Conflict: Contending Views on Prejudice, Discrimination, and Ethnoviolence. Boulder, Colo.: Westview.
- Beck, Aaron, M.D. 1999 Prisoners Of Hate. New York: HarperCollins Publishers
- Kiernan, Ben, "The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge, 1975-79," Yale University Press, 1996
- Cudd, Ann E. 2006. Analyzing Oppression. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
- Deutsch, Morton. 2006. A Framework for Thinking about Oppression and Its Change. "Social Justice Research", Vol. 19, No.1, March 2006, pp. 7-41.
- Prilleltensky, I. (2003). Understanding and overcoming oppression: Towards psychopolitical validity. American Journal of Community Psychology, 31, 195-202.
- Nelson, G., Prilleltensky, I., & McGillivary. (2001). Value-based partnerships: Toward solidarity with oppressed groups. American Journal of Community Psychology, 29, 778-794.
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