Systems of Oppression and Suppressed Social Identities

By Eli Daniel

In this course, systems of oppression are a common topic. While there is no cookie-cutter definition of this complex concept this post will help you gain a better understanding of the fundamentals of oppression while highlighting the institutionalized oppression present in our nation. Exploring college websites is a common activity for high school seniors. We find ourselves constantly researching schools for information including the standards they have for admissions, the social life on campus, and courses offered through different major programs. While these are all important details to know when applying to schools the opportunity to apply and attend universities across this nation is not available for everyone. Furthermore, to better understand the situation we should educate ourselves and work to dismantle the institutionalized aspects of oppression.

Whether we realize it or not, people are often assigned multiple social identities, which can not be changed. Within these identities, there is a hierarchy portrayed through the social status of both dominant and non-dominant groups. Furthermore, these groups’ dominant members can favor those deemed “normal” within that specific group and oppress those who also identify in other categories. 

Non-dominant groups’ experiences are often filled with limitations, disadvantages, disapproval from other groups. This oppression is not based on a single event between certain groups however is controlled by a more extensive system. The system is primarily structured around the four I’s of oppression: Information sourced from “The Four I’s of Oppression”

  1. Ideological Oppression

Any oppressive system at its core has the idea that for some reason, one group is better than another and that that group has the right to control the other. This is often due to the belief that they are “more intelligent, capable, harder working, stronger, etc.”

  1. Institutional Oppression:

The idea that one group is superior to another gets embedded in the institutions of our society, which includes “laws, the legal system, the education system, media images, political power, etc.” Examples of institutionalized oppression include the wage gap between men and women in the same jobs and the percentage of young African-American men in prison. 

  1. Interpersonal Oppression:

The idea that one group is better than another and has the right to control each other within the structured institutions allows individual members of the dominant group to disrespect and mistreat individuals in the oppressed groups personally. Examples include “stereotypes, threats, harassment, etc.”

  1. Internalized Oppression:

This oppression is represented within groups where people or mistreated by those around them with who they identify. When oppression is internalized, the effects are increased due to the identity relation you share with the aggressor. Once internalized oppression occurs, it is difficult for the oppressed individual to recover due to the limited options regarding their identity.

While the four I’s successfully generalize how the system of oppression is constructed our research needs to reach beyond the surface of summarization. Working to identify systems within your own life is the next step to confronting and identifying oppression. Taking action is the next step that needs to take place in order to enact change in the community around you and the system we all find ourselves in.

Image Sourced from “Born with Two Strikes: How Systemic Racism Shaped Floyd’s Life and Hobbbled his Ambition” Washington Post

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