The Theoretical Concepts of Privilege and Oppression
Privilege and oppression are two dominant and opposing forces in the society that we live. Often, I find myself in situations where others judge me based on perceived social or economic status. The modern society in is divided into classes and each of these accorded particular privileges. However, it is not in all circumstances that I have received privilege. Oppression has also shaped a better part of my life. Oppression occurs when a particular group of people acquire and maintain particular advantages over others. In oppression, a group of individuals becomes dominant over another. The group may be defined by unique physical appearances, culture, language, or ethnic background. In this paper, I will critically analyze the theoretical concepts of privilege and oppression.
One of the things I have realized in life is that human beings are to a certain extent egocentric in nature. Thus when things are in their favor they often tend to forget about others or show empathy towards their needs or problems. This is exactly the way oppression is progressed across generations in society. When people receive privileges, they tend to make use of these privileges to maintain and perpetuate an advantage over other groups. The dominant group aims at maintaining the status quo by all means most probably as a result of having some vested interests. For instance, I always feel enthralled to receive privileges and hence willing to take steps to ensure that I continue to receive those privileges even in future.
Privileges of dominant groups significantly contribute to progression of oppression of the subordinate groups in society. One of the ways in which the progression occurs is through the use of social structures by the dominant groups. Since the dominant group controls all major areas of the county, the laws, policies, political systems, and social institutions tend to favor these dominant groups. As such, it is quite difficult for the subordinate groups to emerge from the suppression. Personal oppressions may also have a negative impact on groups of people. This is mostly in the way we tend to judge others which may have a negative impact on them. My attitude towards other people may have a negative or positive impact on them. A negative attitude means that it is difficult to maintain interpersonal relationships with such people. In this case, I will mostly alienate myself from such people which constitutes oppression. When certain groups bear dominant sets of behaviors, values, customs, and knowledge over other groups this may also be termed as oppression.
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Another area where privilege of dominant groups significantly contributed to oppression of subordinate groups is in class struggles which occurred in 19th century America. It is only in the 20th century that women stopped being considered as property of men. Women were denied basic rights such as the right to vote by men who were dominant in the society. Oppression has always been associated with perceived differences between aspects or groups of people. For instance, the perception that white is superior to black, or that women are inferior to men. If I harbor the belief that women are inferior to men, then it means that I will never treat any woman as equal to a man. This contributes to maintaining the oppression of subordinate groups.
A key element in privilege and oppression is the issue of power. In order for an individual or group to oppress another, he/she must yield some form of power, either real or imagined. Power is of essence in this. If for instance I am able to influence other people and make them agree with my points of view especially in making critical decisions, then it may be said that I yield power over them. Such influence or power can enable me to privilege my beliefs or values over those of the individuals. In addition, I may consider the subordinate group’s beliefs and values as wrong and make them feel that I am the one who is right. Privilege and oppression are related in many ways. Depending on the context and particular circumstances, I may at one point be experiencing oppression while at another point, I am reinforcing oppression (Heldke & O’Connor, 2004).
I have received a number of unwarranted advantages during my life that benefit me even up to now. Being the eldest among my siblings, I have received unwarranted advantages from my parents compared to my younger siblings. My parents believe that as the eldest, I have to set a good example to my younger siblings. As such, they have devoted more attention to me in ensuring that I get the right education, moral values, and that I succeed in life. Even at a tender age, my parents would assign me responsibilities such as taking care of my younger siblings. This is despite the fact that I am only a year older than my younger brother. Even today, my parents still believe I should look after and give council to my younger siblings. I have come to realize that I have privilege status back at home. This status is assigned to me because I am the eldest in the family. As Pease (2010) says, oppression is all about assigned membership whereby a particular group is deemed subordinate, regardless of the attributes the group has.
As a white, I have received unearned advantages in my entire life, but which I came to realize when I came of age. There are many advantages I receive as a white. First, I can do my shopping without being harassed or suspected of shoplifting. Most people hold the notion that it is the people of color who commit crimes in the country. Thus if I walk into a shopping mall with my friends of color, shop attendants are more likely to keep an eye on my friends rather than me. I have also realized that is easy for me to access credit or pass as financially reliable compared to my friends of color. Another advantage is that I can live in any location or neighborhood and expect the people to be pleasant to me. We live in a society that places privilege on the whites and oppression on the people of color (Croteau et al., 2002). While these advantages I receive may seem trivial, they mean a lot in the real world. For example, the privileges would enable me get a loan while a person of color would be denied the same despite our financial background being the same.
As a male, I have also received unearned advantages compared to my female friends. One of the reasons is because many of the societies, if not all of them, are patriarchal which means they assign more power to the male figure in the society. As a male, I have received privileges that women have literally had to fight for over the years. The most visible is political power which even today rests with males in the society. On most occasions, men are assigned leadership positions in the society since there is a notion that men are the better leaders. From the military to majority of organizations, men are the majority in the top positions. Men also hold religious power in the society. This is to say that if today I was to vie for a position of power, I a better placed in getting to power than my female opponents since the society ascribes power to men. According to Mullaly (2002) the modern culture is defined by male privilege. The institutions, policies, laws, and spaces privilege male interests who are the dominant group in the society.
Another unearned advantage I have received in my life is fair treatment due to my sexual orientation. The society is more welcoming of heterosexual people. However, the transgender and those in same-sex relationships are likely to face discrimination and acts of violence directed towards them due to their sexual orientation. As a heterosexual person, I am sure that my classmates or colleagues will be comfortable with me. Also as heterosexual person, I can talk about the subject without others feeling that I am forcing my sexual orientation on them. Also, I do not fear that if anyone knows about my sexual orientation that there will be any consequences, either psychological, emotional, or physical consequences. These advantages enable me to express myself and feel proud of who I am. This is in contrast to those in same-sex relations who have to live in fear or are forced to hide their sexual orientation in order to avoid being discriminated against.
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There are certain privileges that I gain as a tertiary educated, professional welfare worker. Due to the level of education, I am more likely to be given a promotion compared to other welfare workers who have a lower level of education. Some of the welfare workers have more experience working with diverse communities. However when opportunities emerge concerning management of a particular program, I am mostly assigned the role due to the fact that I have higher academic qualifications. The privileges I receive can deny others the chance to attain higher positions even though they are qualified and have the necessary experience. The privileges also deny others the chance to prove their leadership capabilities (Mullaly & Mullaly, 2010). As aforementioned, power the critical aspect used in oppression. As people rise in positions of power they become capable of oppressing others. This form of oppression is structural in nature since it relates to the way social institutions favor the dominant groups in the society or those groups that yield power.
As a welfare worker, I also receive the privilege of being among the majority and dominant groups in the workforce. The whites make up majority of those in the entire workforce. They also dominate the leadership positions in the workforce. The society perceives the minority ethnic groups as subordinates and inferior in some way (Ferber, 2008). The superior groups are given more responsibilities and are seen as the best suited to lead others. The minority groups rarely get to positions of power. This is more so because of the dominant groups which have vested interests and feel the need to protect these interests. For instance, they feel the need to maintain dominance due to pride or other hidden reasons. The privilege of being in a position of power as a welfare worker contributes to ongoing oppression of others. This is because the very fact of being in that position means that somebody else has been denied the privilege of being there.
As a tertiary educated and professional welfare worker, I have enjoyed other privileges as well. For instance, it is easy for me to put my points across and be heard. I have realized that what when I say something my colleagues take it serious and evaluate it with keen interest. During meetings, my opinions are highly regarded. This is evidenced by the fact that even when I fail to contribute the manager may still enquire about my opinion. This is in contrast to junior level employees whose opinions are not taken as seriously as it should. Such privilege may make the junior workers to feel sidelined and lead to low morale of the workers. It also denies them the opportunity to voice their concerns in the organization. The privilege in this case is assigned to people who have a higher educational status than others.
In conclusion, privilege and oppression are complex in nature and affect us in different ways. In some situations, I may be a victim of oppression while at on other circumstances, I may be the one having privilege or maintaining oppression on subordinates. All individuals are defined by groups which they associate with. These groups reinforce oppression within the subordinate groups in the society. The dominant groups are keen on maintaining their influence over other groups. This is due to vested interests that the groups may harbor.
Croteau, J. et al. (2002). A Qualitative study of the interplay between privilege and oppression. Journal of Multicultural Counselling and Development, 30(4): 239-258.
Ferber, A. L. (2008). The matrix reader: Examining the dynamics of oppression and privilege. New York, N.Y: McGraw-Hill.
Heldke, L. M., & O’Connor, P. (2004). Oppression, Privilege, and Resistance: Theoretical Perspectives on Racism, Sexism, and Heterosexism. McGraw-Hill.
Mullaly, Bob. (2002). Challenging Oppression: A Critical Social Work Approach. Ontario: Oxford University Press.
Mullaly, R. P., & Mullaly, R. P. (2010). Challenging oppression and confronting privilege: A critical social work approach. Don Mills, Ont: Oxford University Press.
Pease, Bob (2010). Undoing Privilege: unearned advantage in a divided world. London: Zed Books.