Anti-Oppression Work

Brown hands with sparkling nails gently holding a small globe, photo by Qtrix
Dara Burwell, Coffee Shop

Dara Burwell

Anti-oppression work both reveals and addresses the root causes of many cross-identity issues that organizations face.

Anti-oppression theory maintains that certain identity groups are valued above others, and have more social power.  This imbalance of power is rooted in long histories of inequity faced by women, people of color, LGBQ people, poor and working class people, transgender people, marginalized religious groups, non-citizens, people with disabilities, and several other identity groups.  These inequities, or social injustices, have been enacted and reinforced by power structures (such as laws, systems, and institutions), collectively held belief systems (which hold oppression in place), interactions between people, and the stereotypes and social positions that people internalize and use to define themselves and others.

Because of oppression, marginalized communities having significantly less access to resources and opportunities, are underrepresented in leadership roles and positions of power, and face many other broad ranging implications.

It is tremendously important for organizations pursuing anti-oppression and equity work to understand that their efforts are necessitated by a legacy of the active, societal-level exclusion and oppression of different identity groups.

In order for an organization to recruit and retain a diverse and representative group of people, they must recognize the power imbalances that exist between identity groups.  This is necessary to create meaningful and lasting organizational change.  After all, an organization cannot recruit and retain staff and board members of color, for instance, without recognizing ways that the organization may unknowingly reinforce racist policies, structures, and ideologies that are inherently exclusive.  Without a perspective on history and oppression, many organizations cannot identify why their staff and boards are homogenous, or why there are cross-identity conflicts.

A framework in anti-oppression philosophies provides organizations with the tools necessary to address inequities at a structural, interpersonal, and ideological level in a way that can be ongoing and sustained.  This approach emphasizes social justice, and societal-level change via organizational and individual consciousness.

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