In my exploration of alternative ways to understand, approach and hopefully help solve the many complex issues and predicaments I see in my own life and that of those around me (family, friends, community groups members, my own clients…), I have encountered interesting definitions or even avoidance to define, acknowledge or address terms that seem to rise a sort of emotional response (usually defensive, sometimes openly reactive/rejecting having anything to do with it)
The areas I’m exploring are related to:
To clarify, I will post some “formal” definitions of mechanisms that are obvious to me but seem to get different reactions from the followers from the above approaches:
“Privilege is the invisible advantage and resultant unearned benefits afforded to dominant groups of people because of a variety of sociodemographic traits. Privilege provides economic and social boosts to dominant groups while supporting the structural barriers to other groups imposed by prejudice. Social work education and practice seldom challenges us to evaluate the effects of privilege on our professional relationships and the concomitant systems of oppression that marginalize many of the groups we work with. Privilege nurtures dependence, distances us from others, and creates a barrier to reflective social work practice. Acknowledging the effects of privilege increases our capacity to affirm our humanity and that of the communities we serve.” ~ Cheryl L. Franks and Marion Riedel
Does privilege really exists or is this a “victim mentality” that keep people in places and relationships and states because they don’t see their way out?
If privilege does exist, who, what and why is behind the thought that privilege doesn’t exist and “victims” are just lazy or clueless people who don’t want to get out of their comfort zone?
Are those privileged “bad people” and should be apologizing for what they are, have, etc.?
Are all “under-privileged” victims who can’t help their situations they are in?
Who or what is responsible for privilege to exist and who/what should free those who are un-privileged?
Are both privileged and unprivileged actually oppressed by similar structures, just that the outcomes for either are radically different (i.e. access to “choices”, stuff, alternatives, support, etc.?)
The above are real questions everyone trying to “do” something in this world may need to ask themselves and explore, because the way you answer the above questions will shape what you do with your life, how you see those around you and how you see you real connection to the world, your place in it and your responsibility to you and others.
“Social oppression is a concept that describes a relationship between groups or categories of between groups or categories of people in which a dominant group benefits from the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed toward a subordinate group.” ~ Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology
“For every social category that is privileged, one or more other categories are oppressed in relation to it. The concept of oppression points to social forces that tend to press upon people and hold them down, to hem them in and block their pursuits of a good life. Just as privilege tends to open doors of opportunity, oppression tends to slam them shut.” (Johnson, 2000a)
But most interestingly:
“Oppression (Deutsch 2006: 10): “Oppression is the experience of repeated, widespread, systemic injustice. It need not be extreme and involve the legal system (as in slavery, apartheid, or the lack of a right to vote) nor violent (as in tyrannical societies). Harvey (1999) has used the term “civilized oppression” to characterize the everyday processes of oppression in normal life. Civilized oppression “is embedded in unquestioned norms, habits, and symbols, in the assumptions underlying institutions and rules, and the collective consequences of following those rules. It refers to the vast and deep injustices some groups suffer as a consequence of often unconscious assumptions and reactions of well-meaning people in ordinary interactions that are supported by the media and cultural stereotypes as well as by the structural features of bureaucratic hierarchies and market mechanisms” (Young, 1990, p. 41). We cannot eliminate this structural oppression by getting rid of the rulers or by making some new laws, because oppressions are systematically reproduced in the major economic, political, and cultural institutions. While specific privileged groups are the beneficiaries of the oppression of other groups, and thus have an interest in the continuation of the status quo, they do not typically understand themselves to be agents of oppression.” (Deutsch, 2006)” (the bold is mine)
I couldn’t find a definition of privilege or oppression that involved the natural world, but it is for me evident that when we mindlessly and carelessly buy food, clothes or anything else without asking where that comes from, what animals, plants or ecosystems were hurt or completely disrupted by getting this food, piece of cloth, etc. we are actually acting in a “civilized oppression” fashion: the animals, plants, insects and elements whose life or relationships were interrupted are obviously in a position of un-privilege and we are privilege just for being humans and follow a story of separation.
It is obvious to me that only when we acknowledge the stories we have created, shared, accepted and followed have all created a world where there are some who are more or less privileged than others. The level of privilege may be subtle and the individual may not have even asked for it or not being aware of her privileges, but this does not make them go away, nor makes the less privileged stand in a better position just by ignoring this.
My last questions are then:
What do either oppressors or oppressed, privileged orunprivileged gain by confrontation, hatred and anger from either side?
What does changing a system’s structure, name, hierarchy or leaders actually do for changing the stories underlying the oppression?
When a system doesn’t work, when a relationship is stuck, when choices can’t be made, are “revolution”, leaving all behind and/or trashing it all the only solutions?
Does it have to be a “way out”? what if what we need is a “way in and between” that tries to understand and liberate us all instead of just a group?