WHAT IS OPPRESSION?
Oppression is a form of injustice that occurs where one social group is subordinated while another is privileged, and oppression is maintained by a variety of different mechanisms including social norms, stereotyping and institutional rules. A key feature of oppression is that it is perpetuated by and affects social groups.
[Oppression] occurs when a particular social group is unjustly subordinated, and where that subordination is not necessarily deliberate but instead results from a complex network of social restrictions, ranging from laws and institutions to implicit biases and stereotypes. In such cases, there may be no deliberate attempt to subordinate the relevant group, but the group is nonetheless unjustly subordinated by this network of social constraints. (Taylor; 2016; Groups & Oppression 520-536).
THE FOUR I's OF OPPRESSION
Any oppressive system has at its core the idea that one group (dominant group), is somehow better than another in some measure: More intelligent, harder working, stronger, more capable, more noble, more deserving, more advanced, chosen, normal or superior, therefore has the right to control other groups. The dominant group holds this idea about itself, and of course, the opposite qualities are attributed to the other group/s.
Belief that dominant groups have the right to control others becomes embedded in the institutions and structures of the society- the laws, the legal system & police practices, the education system & schools, job hiring policies, housing, media dialogue and images and political power. Institutional oppression is reinforced when policies and practices maintain inequalities between privileged and less privileged groups. Social institutions replicate the ideological beliefs & make injustice normal, every day and expected.
Gives permission & reinforcement for individual and group members of dominant social groups to personally disrespect, mistreat, harass and exhibit microaggressions towards members of oppressed groups. For example interpersonal abuses from one person to another due to racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, Islamophobia. This is the level that most people identify 'acts of' racism, sexism, homophobia etc. by reducing individual acts as identifying and demonstrating whether person X is 'a racist', or 'a sexist'. In reality individual or group acts of interpersonal oppression express the institutional and ideological frameworks which underpin these individual/group interpersonal acts.
The oppressed group does not have the social power to enforce its prejudices unlike the dominant group. To stress again, interpersonal oppression is built on the ideological & institutional oppressions which legitimate interpersonal abuses. Because interpersonal oppression arises from ideological and institutional oppression, it is inaccurate to talk of say, 'reverse racism': because racism is based on an ideology and institutional practices supporting white supremacy. In the example given of racism, a black person may have and express prejudice to a white person but the black person does not live in a society promoting black ideological supremacy with black based institutional policies and practices created to support black supremacy over white people.
PSYCHOTHERAPY, COUNSELLING, PSYCHOLOGY & PSYCHIATRY TRAINING & PRACTICE AT BEST ONLY CONSIDERS THE INTERPERSONAL LEVEL OF OPPRESSION (between client/patient and abuser/s) AND DOES NOT LOCATE INTERPERSONAL OPPRESSION WITHIN BROADER INSTITUTIONAL AND IDEOLOGICAL SYSTEMS OF INJUSTICE.
Internalised oppression can be either internalised privilege and entitlement. For example a male believing he has the right to dominate women. Most people in the dominant group are not conscious of their internalised privilege, they have internalised societies belief that they operate within on a daily basis. In contrast to internalised privilege is internalised criticism, judgement and hatred encountered by those groups judged by the dominant group as inferior. For example women believing they must be slim, or a Chinese person wanting double eyelid surgery, or a black person using skin lightening cream: to look and feel closer to the social ideal. Those members in less ideologically privileged groups are taught by society that they are inherently defective or flawed. Believing the ideological truths underlying self privilege or self hate can create ideologically based mental illness which informs and harms self image.
Working at the ideological through to the internalised/individual level of oppression as appropriate for the presenting issues offers a more holistic therapeutic alliance and relationship.