Saturday, January 22, 2011

Understanding Oppression

Hi folks:  There has been some confusion about the part from  the Exam # 2 where I ask you to "Discuss the form of discrimination at multiple levels: personal/individual, institutional and cultural.  Give several concrete examples of your form of oppression that help the reader to better understand it."  So, I thought I would share this handout to help spell out more clearly what is meant by individual, institutional and cultural oppression.  -JRR

Understanding the Different Levels of Oppression 

Oppression is a system that maintains advantage and disadvantage based on social group memberships and operates, intentionally and unintentionally, on individual, institutional and cultural levels.

Individual: Attitudes and actions that reflect prejudice against a social group (intentional and unintentional).

Institutional: Policies, laws, rules, norms and customs enacted by organizations and social institutions that disadvantage some social groups and advantage other social groups.  These institutions include religion, government, education, law, the media, and the health care system (intentional and unintentional).

Societal/Cultural:  Social norms, roles, rituals, language, music and art that reflect and reinforce the belief that one social group is superior to another  (Intentional and unintentional).

Here are some examples of each type:

Individual Unintentional:

·      A high school teacher assumes all her students are interested in dating classmates of the “opposite” gender

·      A teacher who prides himself on being fair to all his students calls on boys to answer questions three times more often than he calls on girls

Individual Intentional:

·      Someone uses racial slurs to refer to Black and Puerto Rican People

·      A Parents asks to have her child moved out of a transgender teacher’s classroom

Institutional Unintentional:

·      Students celebrate Christmas in school, but not other winter religious holidays

·      A town hall building does not have an entrance that is accessible to people using wheelchairs

Institutional Intentional:

·      A state adopts a law prohibiting the legal recognition (marriage equality) of lesbian and gay relationships

·      An employment agency steers Black People toward low-paying, domestic, or custodial positions

Societal/Cultural Unintentional:

·      Standards of beauty for women are based on white norms: blond, fine hair, blue eyes, and fair/light skin

·      A Belief in individual merit and hard work being rewarded by economic success leads to an assumption that poor people are lazy and undeserving

Societal/Cultural Intentional:

·      English is designated as the “official” language in the United States

·      European Culture is assumed to be superior to other cultures

From: Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, 2nd Edition.  P. 58-59.


  1. I am loving your blog and the topics you post on.

    Would you ever consider doing a guest post on Feminist Truths?

  2. I'm trying to get the definition of personal oppression from one person ton another

    1. I am trying to get a definition of personal oppression from one person on another individual.