Social Oppression: Readings and Resources

Sharon Raz

Oppression defines as the interlocking forces that create and sustain injustice (Bell, 2016). Our focus on social oppression follows the social justice educational approach (Adams and Zuniga, 2016), which focuses on the ways in which “social group differences of race and ethnicity, national origins, language, religion, gender, sexuality, class, disability, and age interact with systems of domination and subordination to privilege or disadvantage different social group members relative to each other” (Adams and Zunita, 2016). The emphasis of this approach, unlike the diversity approach that we highlighted when we focused on “difference”, is on “unequal social structures, supremacist ideologies, and oppressive politics and practices by which members of dominant social groups, whether knowingly or unconsciously, perpetuate their own social and cultural privilege to the disadvantage of marginalized social groups” (Adams and Zunita, 2016).

You are invited to read more about the definitions of oppression and features of oppression on pages 5-16 of Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (2016).

The term “systems of oppression” helps us better identify inequity by calling attention to the historical and organized patterns of mistreatment. In the United States, systems of oppression (like systemic racism) are woven into the very foundation of American culture, society, and laws. Other examples of systems of oppression are sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, ageism, and anti-Semitism. Society’s institutions, such as government, education, and culture, all contribute or reinforce the oppression of marginalized social groups while elevating dominant social groups (“Talking about race”, the Smithsonian, The national museum of African American History and Culture). The conditions of oppression are socially constructed and are reinforced by all members of society, whether they are part of the dominant or marginalized groups. Both social groups who are privileges by the conditions of oppression and those who are disadvantaged by it are socialized into accepting the system as is and viewing it as “normal”. We adopt and internalize oppressions and perpetuate the values, norms, expectations and practices that keep the status-quo intact. Oppression, thus, impacts us all. In a way, we are all dehumanized by oppression and forced into positions and behaviors that society has prescribed for us.



* Adams, M. and Zuniga, X (2016). “Getting Started: Core Concepts for Social Justice Education”. In: Adams et al (Eds) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. Routledge, New York.

* Bell, L.A, (2016). “Theoretical Foundations for Social Justice Education”. In: Adams et al (Eds) Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice. Routledge, New York.


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