Challenging oppression

Oppression as the combination of discrimination and institutional systems that value and give power to one group over another1. Institutions include  the healthcare system, education system, all levels of government, police and justice system, employers, etc.

There is no denying that oppression against some communities is widespread here and across the world. This is why we have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Human Rights Codes, as well as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Examples of groups that experience oppression include: 2S and LGBTQIA+ communities, Black people, immigrants, Indigenous people, people experiencing homelessness or home insecurity, people of colour, people who are non-Christian, people with disabilities, women, and more2. Systems of oppression include ableism, ageism, anti-Semitism, classism, homophobia, Islamophobia, racism, sexism, and transphobia3. For definitions of any of these terms, we recommend visiting the Canadian Centre for Diversity and Inclusion’s Glossary of Terms.

Systems of oppression are also connected – people belonging to multiple communities and sometimes experience overlapping forms of oppression based on who they are4. For example, a Black, Muslim woman experiences Islamophobia, racism, and sexism, leading to a unique and complex experience of discrimination2. This overlap in systems of oppression is described as intersectionality4. Intersectionality describes how people have unique experiences of discrimination, and we must understand these experiences when fighting against oppression5.

For a simple explanation of intersectionality, listen to Professor Kimberle Crenshaw, the person who introduced the term.

For more information about intersectionality, please see No Hate in the Hammer’s Community Response to Hate.

When talking about oppression, it’s also important to remember that “there is no hierarchy of oppressions.” – Audre Lorde6

What does this mean?  

It means that different types of oppression are experienced in distinct ways, and recognizing these distinctions is important. However, deciding which type of oppression is the “worst” (i.e., sits at the top of the hierarchy of oppressions) is problematic4. This behaviour can divide marginalized communities that should be working together4.  We believe in recognizing and fighting against all types of oppression – together.

What is anti-oppression?

Anti-oppression goes hand in hand with anti-racism. Like anti-racism, anti-oppression is about actively challenging systems of oppression in our daily lives7. Anti-oppression involves standing up against oppression and equalizing power imbalances in our communities8.

An anti-oppressive framework involves understanding how systems of oppression (like ableism, classism,  homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, etc.) lead to individual, institutional, and systemic discrimination8. Anti-oppression is also about recognizing and dismantling this discrimination8.

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