This paper provides an overview of oppression. It elaborates on the elements of oppression, particularly violence and the threat of violence. It provides a conceptualization of the violence and the acts of threats by defining various aspects related to the oppression of three social groups: Black, indigenous people, and women. Conflict theory is addressed to obtain the full concept of violence, and the threat of violence imposes oppression. Within the paper is noted the norms of society that allow for the continuation of violence. Various social justice strategies are discussed and ethical dilemmas.
Common Element of Oppressions: Violence and the Threat of Violence
Oppression is systematic of historical antecedents manifested in society’s economic, political, social, and cultural realm, restricting individual groups or institutions (Van Wormer, 2015). It degrades based on identity and social characteristics (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, class, and age), and it embeds in all forms of inequality (e.g., racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism, and ageism) (Adams et al., 2018; Pharr, 1988). Oppression is reinforced by institutional power, economic power, and violence on individual and institutional levels (Pharr, 1988). It is detrimental to those exclusive from implicit social norms constructed by the hegemonic group of white, able-body, heterosexual, wealthy, Christian male (Adams et al., 2018; Pharr, 1988).
Although there is a connectivity between various elements of oppression, the acts of violence, and the threat of violence have a more significant impact on minority and marginalized groups opening the gateway to the other forms of oppression.
Defining Violence and Threat of Violence
The conceptualization of violence and the threat of violence helps understand the unpropitious treatment towards minorities and marginalized groups. As a public health issue, the World Health Organization (WHO) (2020) defines violence as intentional (e.g., threat or actual) use of physical force or power and control against oneself, another person, or group or community. Rutherford et al. (2007) generalize the terms violence and its threat as being hostile physical, verbal, or passive in nature behaviors from a person or group against another person or group. Many visualize or interpret violence as direct physical contact from one person to another. On the contrary, violence is not always direct contact, and in most cases, there is no physical acts or relationship between the victims and perpetrators (Van Soest & Bryant, 1995). Whether direct or indirect enactment, violence may result in destructive actions causing injury, death,
psychological harm, maldevelopment, and/or deprivation (Van Soest & Bryant, 1995; Rutherford et al., 2007; World Health Organization, 2020).
Van Soest and Bryant (1995) explain the complexity of violence as a social phenomenon as its linkage between the trilevel (e.g., individual, institutional, and structural-cultural), the three dimensions: (1) interpersonal: individual or small group conducting harm to others, (2) intrapersonal- self-directed violence, and (3) collective- organized or unorganized group that inflict harm to others, and the three types of violence: (1) omission- the failure to help a person in need, (2) repression- deprivation of human rights and equality, and (3) alienation- depriving individuals of identity and self-worth. The three types of violence and dimension operate on all three levels and, in some instances, overlap (Van Soest & Bryant, 1995).
On the individual level, violence is visible, easily accessible, and involves a direct motive to cause potential harm (Van Soest & Bryant, 1995). Personal history and biological factors influence one’s increased likeliness to become a victim or perpetrator of violence (World Health Organization, 2020). Depending on the severity of the threats and violence, it may result in physical harm (e.g., death or injuries) or psychological damage (e.g., mental health disorder).
Violence is not visually noticeable on the other two levels due to the indirectness (Van Soest & Bryant, 1995). The institutional level of violence is harmful actions caused by social institutions (e.g., schools, prisons, state and local government) that degrade and inflict punitive measures that causes long-lasting effect the prohibits the potential of an individual or group (e.g., Jim Crow Laws) (Champlin et al., 2016; Pharr, 1998; Van Soest & Bryant, 1995). The structural-cultural level of violence is the embedded attitudes and beliefs that justify and legitimize the exploitation and injustice built into society’s structure put specific individuals and groups at a socio-economic and political disadvantage (Brown et al., 2018; Hathaway, 2013; Van Soest & Bryant, 1995). The
social system based on class, race, sex, religion, and nationality status reinforces feelings of superiority for privileged individuals and groups lay claims to resources and generate their wealth and power and denying access to the same life chances to the rest of society (Brown et al., 2018; Hutchison, 2019). The connection between the three levels, structural-cultural violence may lead to physical violence on the other levels of violence (e.g., individual and institutional) as the oppressed groups or individuals try to control the system and structures that cause them harm (Brown et al., 2018; Van Soest & Bryant, 1995).
Manifestation and Application of Violence and the Threat of Violence
Conflict theory helps in understanding the manifestation and application of violence with society. Murry (2014) notes conflict theory is used to study power dynamics among competing social groups. The perspective gives insight into the unequal distribution of power within society associated with social categories of race, ethnicity, class, gender, and sexuality (Adams et al., 2018; Murray, 2014). Conflict theory highlights the power differential and inequality between the powerful and less influential groups and how violence is used to construct the societal norms and deviant behaviors (Murry, 2014). The approach focuses on the cohesion, conflict, alienation, and exploitation of one social group over another in which the disadvantaged group competes for power, human rights, and allocation of resources (e.g., housing, money, food, and access to services) and reinforce by violence or the threat of violence (Robbin et al. 2012; Schaefer, 2013; Van Soest & Bryant, 1995).
Although all minority groups experience inequality within the United States, Blacks and indigenous people have experienced the most severity of violence and the threat of violence over five centuries (Burnette & Figley, 2017; Williams-Washington & Mills, 2018). Since the beginning of European American colonization within the United States, both groups have
encountered both collective and intergenerational cumulative, massive chronic trauma (Burnette & Figley, 2017; Williams-Washington & Mills, 2018). Williams-Washington and Mills (2018) elaborate on Blacks’ historical trauma throughout the United States’ history and the similarities of trauma faced by the indigenous people and the detrimental impacts. Blacks were forced by violence into bondage, resulting in disempowerment and dehumanization across generations with a history of discrimination, racism, prejudice, and stereotype towards them. Both groups are the victims of genocide and displacement from families, denied access to resources, and forced assimilation. Examples of violence and the threat of violence inflicted on the indigenous people by the hegemonic group (e.g., White Anglo-Saxon, abled-bodied male) include loss of their land, cultural traditions, self-respect from the systemic oppression opposed through institutional and structural-cultural violence (Burnett & Figley, 2017; Van Soest & Bryant, 1995). The impact of the violence and threat acts are detrimental to both groups causing forbearing results of high rates of “child and domestic violence, alcoholism, various health disparities, and mental health disorder past down from generations to generations (Burnette & Figley, 2017; Williams- Washington & Mills, 2018).
Women are another group that is oppressed by violence and the threat of violence. Hoskin (2020) examined femininity’s devaluing and found for every masculine privileged; there is an equivalent manifestation of femininity subordinate. Meaning, femininity does not have access to various privilege as masculinity, the norm of society. The deviation from masculinity is considered an erosion causing conflict assumed as destructive behavior in returns leaves women subtle to the oppressive acts of violence and the threat of violence by the dominant group, men (Hoskin, 2020).
Sabri and Granger (2018) explore gender-based violence in the marginalized population of women, and the effects of stress have on their health’s biological aspect. Through social exclusion, women are systematically (e.g., structural-cultural violence) blocked from full access to various opportunities, rights, and resources that are fundamentally integrated into society and observed as human rights. In a masculine world as the norm, women are viewed as sex objects, and they are disproportionally victimized through physical/ sexual violence, murder, forced prostitution, and genital mutilation (Hoskins, 2020; Sabri & Granger, 2018).
For all three social groups, violence embarks on three levels of violence (e.g., individual, institutional, and structural-cultural), and violence is embedded and reinforced on the three dimensions (e.g., interpersonal, intrapersonal, and collective). Irby et al. (2018) note violence used a tool to silence and oppress. Violence and the threat of cause oppression yield feelings of powerlessness in individuals and groups who witnessed and endured the acts. Whether actual or perceived, physical or psychological, violence and threats of violence serve to constrain actions by harming those with less power and benefiting those with privilege (Irby et al., 2018).
Social Justice Strategies
The National Association of Social Workers’ (NASW) Code of Ethics (2017) requires social worker practitioners to enhance the disadvantaged’s well-being and empower the vulnerable. There are various methods to overcome oppression. Three social justice strategies (e.g., allies and solidarity) are used to counter the social injustice’s oppressive element of violence and the threat of violence. Although the intention is to counter acts of oppression, social justice strategies may impose some ethical dilemmas.
Ally, Allies, and Allyship
Allies are members of the dominant or more privileged group in society to help dismantle the various forms of oppression (Ayvazian, 2014). It requires recognizing one advantage and privileges and taking personal responsibility to bring forth the needed changes within society to end oppression (Adams et al., 2018; Ayvazian, 2014). Carlson et al. (2020) synthesized the element of allyship and eight themes of allyship surfaces: (1) constant action of allyship engagement- the commitment to practice accountability every day in all activities to push for equality, (2) prioritizing structural analysis of oppression and privileges – the constant awareness and consciously developing skills to disrupt oppressive structures (e.g., violence and the threat of violence), (3) accountable self-reflection and non-self-absorptions- reflect without becoming paralyze and inactive in remaining focused on the social issue, (4) amplify marginalized voices- avoid taking the spotlight and speaking on behalf of the marginalized group instead let their voice be heard, (5) be accountable and welcome criticism- have the openness to accept guidance and take responsibility for one’s actions, (6) shut up, listen, and read- position self to listen and learn as a self-motivated learner willing to read to obtain knowledge about the social issue, (7) no self-applied labels- allyship is not worn as name tag, and (8) pessimistic outlook- not all social group are keen on the term allyship as it is considered derogatory in imposes separation and reinforces self-centered privileges (Carlson et al., 2020).
There are ethical issues that may occur when using the social strategy, such as the risk of betrayal and loss of trust between the social groups increasing feelings of powerlessness and reducing self-esteem with the disadvantaged social groups (Adams et al., 2018; Irby et al., 2018). As noted in the eighth theme, allyship’s pessimistic outlook, not everyone is keened to the term’s use. Carlson et al. (2020) also note allies are not immune to the perpetuation of inequality and reinforcement of oppression. Another issue that may arise, distinguished by Carlson et al.’s
seventh theme, the self-applied label of “ally” bestows a problem, self-indulgence, and self- gratification and use the title for personal and social gain with the emphasis on obtaining credit for performing allyship behavior (Carlson et al., 2020).
Sangiovanni (2015) defines solidarity as the interrelated relations, dispositions, and relations that share similarities in the same agency or social issue. It is the act of (1) shared goals to overcome significant adversities; (2) each party intends to do their part to achieve the intended purpose; (3) each person is committed to the realization of the shared desire outcome and does not bypass each other efforts to achieve the goal; (4) all entities are disposed to share the cost and fate to the attainment of the purpose; and (5) common knowledge is not a requirement to achieve the goal. Solidarity is a collective action towards a common goal with the interplay of trust, altruism, and reciprocity (Dawes, 2018; Sangiovanni, 2015).
Some ethical issues to consider when enacting solidarity. It may revoke more adversity impact the solidified group as a hold. People within the coalition of solidarity may have different unknowingly have different agendas (Dawes, 2018). Solidarity may diminish when change is not being fully met.
The violence and the threat of violence are imposed on various social groups to oppress through denying them access to fundamentally resources integrated into society. The oppression has long-lasting effects on the psychological, physiological, and biological aspects of marginalized groups. Various social justice strategies may help counter the act of oppression, but they can reinforce oppressive structures. As a result, social workers must continue to actively
work to finds ways to eliminate the cycle of oppression and the element of violence and the threat of violence.
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