As humans we come into this world without culture, prejudices, or social skills. Being human means we are socialized by our family members, peers, the educational system, our institutions, and society.
Socialization means we are prepared to become members of an existing group and to think, act, and feel in ways approved by that group.
Part of our socialization includes viewing others based on what our social norms identify as right or wrong and good or bad.
When we internalize these norms we tend view those who have different standards as outside of the norm or abnormal.
This can create social hierarchies and provide a means by which the dominant group can exploit a country’s resources in a self-serving meaningful way.
Hierarchies, for the purpose of this article, are based on dominant and subordinate relations, which result in primary and secondary groups in society.
Hierarchies are such a defining and pervasive feature of modern societies that they are often taken for granted. Of concern is the domination of secondary groups by more powerful political, economic, social, and cultural groups and the resulting oppression.
By definition, oppression is: The systematic, institutionalized, and socially condoned mistreatment of a group in society by another group or by people acting as agents of the society as a whole.
Some conditions that determine oppression are unequal access to resources, blocking individuals from opportunities of self development, excluding them from full participation in society, denying certain rights that the dominant group takes for granted, or assigning them a second class citizenship.
As a society we must come to the realization that social hierarchies and oppression are not the result of an individual’s talent or failure, but due to his or her membership in a particular group or category of people.
In today’s societies oppression occurs on three levels: Personal, structural, and cultural. When you are oppressed at a personal level it compromises your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviours.
This occurs when the dominant society assigns negative prejudgments on a particular group based on prejudice and stereotyping. This creates ideals where culturally different populations are viewed as not having the ability to live up to expectations or as not being able to fit in with the dominant group.
Cultural oppression consists of those values, norms, and shared patterns of seeing, thinking, and acting.
It assumes a consensus about what is right and normal from the dominant group’s perspective.
It can refer to the ways in which the dominant group portrays other groups that they consider secondary historically.
For instance, pertaining to First Nation populations, in old movies the common theme is marauding Indians in massive amounts and a small group of brave white soldiers who always won and by dying they became heroes.
This leads to ethnocentrism where we only see through the eyes of the group we belong to. This process marginalizes other groups.
Structural oppression refers to the means by which oppression is institutionalized in society.
It consists of the ways the social institutions laws, policies, social processes, and practices and the economic and political systems all work together primarily in favor of the dominant group at the expense of secondary groups.
The next time you are out look at how many buildings that the public accesses are modified to meet the needs of the disabled.
The Canadian reality is that when we view others as “lesser” or outside of the norm we are creating a society that labels its citizens and assigns them to a subordinate or secondary position.
Those individuals assigned to an inferior position are not seen as having as much worth or value as those individuals in the superior position.
Consequently, as humans we begin to view our experiences and place in society as something that we deserve, as natural and inevitable.
This means that those who have the lived experience of being lesser or outside of the norm begin to believe the negative stereotypes that have been created for them through socialization.
Often, these beliefs can be so all consuming that even though people are in the process of creating a new history they cannot overcome their past history.
You might ask how does the dominant population create a destabilizing atmosphere? The answer is through myths that are often regarded as the absolute truth. They include, but are not limited to:
The Myth of Scarcity where the belief is that our society is constructed unequally because there is not enough resources to go around. The inevitable result of this is that some people will have access to society’s resources and others will not. The reality is that approximately 10 percent of the population controls approximately 80 percent of the wealth.
The Myth of Might is Right where we ascribe to the insidious militaristic ideal of it is easier to make war than peace. The truth is that the majority of people who are injured or die in military campaigns are the poor, weak, and marginalized.
The Myth of Supremacy is a myth that in order for a society to function there must be social hierarchy.
Our educational systems are a good example of this and can be viewed as feeder systems designed to maintain the social order. If you don’t achieve you are left asking yourself “What is wrong with me? “Why didn’t I make it?”
In conclusion, my aim is to be transformational and mobilize people to recognize and address the conditions that continue to enable oppression and intensify social inequality and cultural polarization in society.
As a society we have to take a good look at ourselves and how our actions contribute to the powerlessness, oppression, and marginalization of others.