Oppression = Prejudice + Power
• Oppression is more than the prejudicial thoughts and actions of individuals, oppression is institutionalized power that is historically formed and perpetuated over time;
• Through the use of that institutionalized power, it allows certain groups of people or certain identities to assume a dominant (privileged) position over other groups and identities and this dominance is maintained and continued at institutional and cultural levels;
• This means oppression is built into institutions like government and education systems. For example, think of ways that heterosexism is privileged by and built into laws around marriage, property ownership, and raising/adopting children.
Systems of oppression run through our language, shape the way we act and do things in our culture, and are built around what are understood to be “norms” in our societies. A norm signifies what is “normal,” acceptable, and desirable and is something that is valued and supported in a society. It is also given a position of dominance, privilege, and power over what is defined as non-dominant, abnormal, and therefore, invaluable or marginal.
Anti-Oppression involves using strategies, theories, actions and practices that actively challenge systems of oppression on an ongoing basis in one's daily life and in social justice/change work.
Anti-oppression work seeks to recognize the oppression that exists in our society and attempts to mitigate its effects and eventually equalize the power imbalance in our communities. Oppression operates at different levels (from individual to institutional to cultural) and so anti-oppression must as well.
Though they go hand in hand, anti-oppression is not the same as diversity & inclusion. Diversity & Inclusion (which are defined in another tab) have to do with the acknowledgment, valuing, and celebration of difference, whereas Anti-Oppression challenges the systemic biases that devalue and marginalize difference. Diversity & Inclusion and Anti-Oppression are two sides of the same coin--one doesn't work without the other--but they are not interchangeable.
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Why does this guide use the suffix "misia" instead of the suffix "phobia." If you've not encountered "misia" language before, you may also be wondering what it means. Well never fear! We are more than happy to explain this relatively new shift in language.
The suffix "phobia" comes from the Greek word for "fear of," and so it denotes an intense aversion to the part of the word that precedes it (e.g. arachnophobia is a fear of spiders). Words like "homophobia" or "Islamophobia" are pretty recognizable, and most folks understand them to mean a position or perspective that is prejudicial and discriminatory against LGBTQIA+ identities and the religion of Islam respectively. The problem with using "phobia" terms as labels for prejudice is that there are folks who actually have phobias (real anxiety disorders in which someone experiences intense anxiety or fear that they're unable to control—Claustraphobia, for instance).
When we use terms like "homophobia," we are equating bigotry with a mental health disorder, which does several problematic things:
• It relies on and reinforces the harmful stigma against mental illness (see the Anti-Ableism and Anti-Sanism tabs to learn more);
• It inaccurately attributes oppression and oppressive attitudes to fear rather than to hate and bigotry;
• It removes the accountability of an oppressive person by implying their actions and attitudes are outside their control.
Since labeling oppression with "phobia" suffixes is harmful, many folks are exchanging them for "misia" suffixes instead. Misia (pronounced "miz-eeya") comes from the Greek word for hate or hatred, so similar to how Islamophobia means "fear of Islam," the more accurate Islamomisia means "hatred of Islam." For these reasons, our guide will be using "misia" language in place of "phobia" in an effort to be as accurate, clear, and inclusive as possible.
Diversity is the range of human differences, including but not limited to race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual identity & orientation, age, socioeconomic class, physical ability or attributes, neurodivergence or neurological condition, religious or ethical values system, and national origin (adapted from Ferris State University).
Equity is defined as “the state, quality or ideal of being just, impartial, and fair.” The concept of equity is closely tied to fairness and justice, and all three are context-specific to the historical, systemic barriers, disadvantages, and power disparities present in any given situation. It is helpful to think of equity as not simply a desired state of affairs or a "finish line," but instead as a continuous structural concept—a lens and mindset (proactively reinforced by policies, practices, attitudes, and actions) through which power is redistributed and inequity is challenged and addressed (adapted from Race Equity and Inclusion Action Guide).
Inclusion is involvement and empowerment, where the inherent worth and dignity of all people are recognized. An inclusive community promotes and sustains a sense of belonging; it values, celebrates, and recognizes the enriching benefits of diversity and practices respect for the talents, beliefs, identities, and lived experiences of its members (adapted from Ferris State University).
Justice is the systematic fair treatment of all people along all axes of identity and of any social position. In practice, it is the proactive operationalization of policies, practices, attitudes, and actions resulting in equitable access, opportunities, treatment, empowerment, and outcomes for all (adapted from Center for the Study of Social Policy).
Diversity & Inclusion is a very frequently heard phrase. Though they go hand in hand, diversity & inclusion is not the same as anti-oppression. Diversity & Inclusion have to do with the acknowledgment, valuing, celebration, and empowerment of difference, whereas Anti-Oppression challenges the systems and systemic biases that devalue and marginalize difference. Diversity & Inclusion and Anti-Oppression are all necessary in order to work toward Equity and Justice.
Note: Definitions for diversity are...well...diverse.
Context and environment play a big part in what we mean when we say "diversity," and as social justice movements have gained media spotlight, the term has unfortunately become somewhat hollowed out from being overused and under-defined from situation to situation. The definitions above do not capture the many, many cultural and political nuances embedded in these terms, rather they are intended to provide a broad scaffolding for understanding.
Allyship is a process, most notably a learning process. Allyship involves a lot of listening and is sometimes referred to as "doing ally work," "acting in solidarity with," or "being an accomplice" to reference the fact that "ally" is not an identity but rather an ongoing and lifelong process and commitment to action that involves a lot of work.
An ally acknowledges the limits of their knowledge about oppressed people’s experiences but doesn't use that as a reason not to think and/or act. An ally does not remain silent but confronts oppression as it comes up daily and also seeks to deconstruct it institutionally and live in a way that challenges systemic oppression, even at the risk of experiencing some of that oppression. Being an ally entails building relationships with both people oppressed by their identities but also with people privileged by their identities in order to challenge them in their thinking (adapted from Allyship & Anti-Oppression).
Allies don’t have it all figured out but are committed to non-complacency.