What is oppression?
I think back to reading chapter 2 of Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege by Bob Mullaly and all of the buzz words and phrases I highlighted as I read through it. Needless to say, the article is now half saturated in neon yellow highlighter and yet this question is not easily answered. Oppression, and defining it in all of its perspectives and contexts, is a plethora of social meaning and experiences. Oppression is “difference”, a social product, the “identity formation” of the “other” group(s), and the list goes on from there (Mullaly, 2010). So while I feel well introduced to oppression given the information in this chapter, I am far from being competent in the full wealth of the knowledge concerning it.
An emerging theme from the chapter that has been a resounding concept for me, one I have been reflecting on since finishing the reading, is conscious oppression vs. unconscious oppression, and one’s personal experiences with these forms. Being aware of the oppression one both experiences and exhibits, as well as the instilled, social oppression one experiences and exhibits but is not cognizant of. How one’s social practices, cultural ideations, and everyday practices are influenced by oppression on all levels (personal, cultural, and institutional). How one can get so use to how society functions and the tiers of norms, values, and expectations that are established, that you can become blind to the functions behind them. How, in initial, personal reflection, I never considered myself an oppressed individual but with further reflection and better understanding of the topic, realize that just a few weeks ago a male colleague with less experience than I, was chosen for a specific task at work because of their gender alone. It might not always be intentional, but at times it can be blatantly subtle (a “fun” oxymoron to wrap your head around as well). That while one thinks they may be making the best choice for any given situation, their decision making, and ultimate decision, is influenced on unconscious social norms and values, that are at times directly connected to oppression and the subsequent oppressive behaviors. This identification of awareness hones in on my personal feelings on the importance, and for the need, of mindfulness in all thoughts and actions.
I also found myself reflecting on equality vs. equity while reading this chapter. How historical rebellions and revolutions are focused around this concept of equality, yet the importance of equity within it all is lost in the mix. How fairness is at the forefront of these social movements and changes, but how treating everyone the same (equality) is positioned higher than having the resources to succeed (equity). A heavy topic in and of itself that just touches the tip of the iceberg of diversity, social justice, and oppression.
In full, this chapter was a refreshing eye opener and a wonderful introduction to oppression, leaving a sense of familiarity that as a social work student I can build on in my studies to come.
Mullaly, B. (2010). Oppression: An overview. In Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege: A Critical Social Work Approach (pp. 34-66). (2nd ed). Ontario, Canada: Oxford University Press.