Oppression: Definition and Meaning

Hunting, gathering, and fishing civilizations were primarily egalitarian and cooperative before agriculture was developed. All of the physically able individuals of these very early nomadic communities had to contribute to obtaining the needs of life because they often did not stockpile and conserve food.

Whatever differences there were within these groupings were mostly determined by sex, age, and unique social and physical abilities. With the exception of times of acute shortage, when the group's existence necessitated giving precedence to those who could contribute the most to it, the distribution of food, work products, and services has a tendency to be egalitarian. The elderly and disabled were frequently given poor priority.

Meaning of Oppression

Oppression is the malicious or unfair use of force, frequently done in the name of political authority or cultural contempt. It has to do with punishment, the class system, and regimentation. Depending on how it is used, oppression can be overt or covert. When an injustice focuses on or disproportionately affects some groups of individuals rather than all members of society as a whole, it is referred to as oppression.

Social Oppression

One frequent definition of social oppression is when one group in society unfairly exploits another group and uses dominance and subordination to exercise power over that group. As a result, people in positions of relative authority abuse and take advantage of a group of people in a way that is socially acceptable. Occupation may be based on a variety of concepts in a social group setting, including deprivation, gender, class, ethnicity, caste, or other characteristics.

Iris Marion Young claims that because oppression takes many different forms, it is challenging to come up with a description that encompasses all of them. She contends that one should concentrate on the traits that various oppressions may display or share. Iris Young created five different oppression "faces" in order to achieve this. These traits—exploitation, marginalization, helplessness, cultural imperialism, and violence—are shared by all forms of oppression.

Racial Oppression

According to the definition of race or racial oppression, it means "...burdening a particular race with unjust or cruel restraints or impositions." Racist oppression can be internalized, institutionalized, social, or systematic. Socially sanctioned exploitation and cruelty are examples of social manifestations of racial oppression.

Sociologist Bob Blauner proposed five main types of racial oppression in American history in his 1972 book Racial Oppression in America: genocide and geographic displacement, slavery, second-class citizenship, non-citizen labor, and diffuse racial discrimination. Racial oppression persisted in the United States, according to Blauner, and "racial groups and racial oppression are central features of the American social dynamic" long after civil rights laws ended legally sanctioned segregation.

Class Discrimination

Prejudice and discrimination based on socioeconomic class are examples of class oppression, often known as classism. Based on factors like income, wealth, education, prestige, and power, class is a social ranking system. A class is a sizable group of people who are grouped together based on factors like income, wealth, property ownership, employment status, education, skills, and influence in the political and economic spheres and who hold comparable economic or social positions. Upper class, middle class, working class, and poverty class are the most typical class divisions.

Despite huge disparities in income and position, the majority of Americans who self-identify as middle class do so in surveys. Depending on factors including race, gender, ethnicity, geographic area, handicap, and more, class is also experienced differently. The lack of basic requirements, a sense of inferiority toward persons from higher social classes, as well as guilt toward one's traditional class, race, gender, or ethnic origin, can all result from the oppression of the poor and working class.

Because of the racialization of class in the United States, a higher proportion of people of color live in poverty. Since class oppression affects every member of the majority class in American culture, it sometimes seems invisible, but it is a real problem that hurts a lot of people.

Gender Oppression

Being oppressed on account of your gender identity or appearance is referred to as gender oppression. In the past, men's actual legal dominance and servitude over women resulted in gender oppression. Even though women's legal and social status has significantly improved over time, particularly in Western nations, some would argue that this is still insufficient.

According to Gertrude Postl (2017), gender inequality can persist even in significant facets of social life that are generally seen as "neutral," like language. This is a result of discriminatory terminology and a lack of words that describe experiences unique to women. Consider the word "sexual harassment," which was just coined in 1975.

Religious Persecution

Religious persecution is the deliberate treatment of someone negatively due to their religious convictions. Iris Young claims that oppression may be broken down into numerous categories, including violence, exploitation, and helplessness. When the Pilgrims migrated to what is now the United States in the 17th century to escape the control of the Church of England, it served as an illustration of the weakness of religion.

In order to prevent other religions from flourishing in their colony, the pilgrims finally developed their own religion, which was a different kind of Protestantism. People of different religions were persecuted in the United States by the Pilgrims and the leaders of other towns where the Protestant majority predominated.

Institutionalized Oppression

When established laws, customs, and practices reflect and create injustices based on one's membership in specific social identification groups, institutional oppression is said to have taken place. Whether or not persons who uphold institutional laws, conventions, or practices have oppressive intentions, the institution is oppressive if oppressive results result from them. Government, religious, and commercial institutions, as well as their staff, are able to consistently favor certain groups of individuals based on group identity thanks to institutionalized oppression.

Since the time of colonization, the United States has pursued policies that have led to the eradication of Native Americans from territories that Euro-Americans desired and has tolerated the practice of slavery, in which Africans were brought to the "New World" as a source of free labor to develop the cotton and tobacco industries. A religious foundation where servants were bought and established as inheritable property" was used by the United States government to justify the implementation of these systems.

Economic Oppression

Depending on the context in which it is used, the phrase "economic oppression" evolves with time and gains new importance. Economic oppression today can take many different forms, including but not limited to: serfdom, forced labor, poor wages, denying equal opportunity, bonded labor, using employment discrimination, and economic discrimination based on sex, nationality, race, and religion. Oppressive economic systems, along with direct and indirect influences, are listed by Ann Cudd as the main causes of economic oppression.

Despite the fact that neither capitalism nor socialism are by nature repressive, they "lend themselves to oppression in characteristic ways." She describes the "restrictions on opportunities that are applied from the outside on the oppressed, including enslavement, segregation, employment discrimination, group-based harassment, opportunity inequality, neocolonialism, and governmental corruption" as the "direct forces of economic oppression." By deliberately taking advantage of their inferior economic status, subordinates, a dominant social group are able to maintain and increase their wealth.


Oppression is defined as "an unjust or cruel exercise of authority or power, especially by the imposition of burdens; the state of being weighed down; an act of pressing down; a sense of heaviness or obstruction in the body or mind." In psychology, oppression is defined as conditions or activities that involve both psychological and political aspects of victimhood, agency, and resistance and in which there is dominance, subordination, or resistance as a result of power relations.

Frequently Asked Question

Q1.What do you mean by Police brutality?

Ans. The excessive and unjustified use of force by law enforcement against a person or a group is known as police brutality. It violates people's civil rights and represents a severe instance of police misconduct. Asphyxiation, beatings, shootings, inappropriate takedowns, and the unnecessary use of Tasers are all examples of police brutality.

Q2. Define the term Triple Oppression?

Ans. Black socialists in the United States, like Claudia Jones, invented the concept of triple oppression, often known as double jeopardy, Jane Crow, or triple exploitation. According to the theory, there is a link between several forms of oppression, including classism, racism, and sexism.

Q3. What is Racial Segregation?

Ans. The deliberate division of people into different racial or ethnic groupings in society is known as racial segregation. According to the 2002 Rome Declaration and Statute of the International Criminal Court, racial segregation can qualify as an apartheid-related international crime and a crime against humanity.

Updated on: 10-May-2023


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