Anti-Oppression Practice

Learning Objectives–At the end of this module, you will be able to:

  1. Understand what anti-oppression means
  2. Understand that oppressions overlap
  3. Understand the main tenets of anti-oppression practice

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us work together.” Lila Watson

Anti-Oppression–Strategies, theories and actions that challenge social and historical inequalities and injustices that are systemic to our systems and institutions by policies and practices that allow certain groups to dominate over other groups.

The text below is from Lisa Fithian and Dave Oswald Mitchell’s Theory: Anti-Oppression.

Activist groups sometimes make the mistake of assuming that oppression (the unjust exercise of power or authority) is only what they do; that we are inherently anti-oppressive purely because of our intention to do away with oppressive structures. Unfortunately the situation is much more complex, and we ignore that complexity at our peril.[1]

“Our oppressive actions diminish us, divide us and inhibit our ability to organize broad-based, emancipatory movements.”

We have been socialized in cultures founded upon multiple, overlapping forms of oppression, often leading us to inadvertently perpetuate dehumanizing behaviors, situations and structures. Our oppressive actions diminish us, divide us and inhibit our ability to organize broad-based, emancipatory movements.

In order to build a world free from domination, we offer up for discussion the following tenets and practices in the hopes they can provide a solid foundation for advancing our work and deepening our interpersonal relationships.

Tenets:

  • Power and privilege can play out in our group dynamics in destructive ways. For the good of all, we must challenge words and actions that marginalize, exclude or dehumanize others.
  • We can only identify the ways that power and privilege play out when we are conscious and committed to understanding how white supremacy, patriarchy, classism, heterosexism and other systems of oppression affect us all.
  • Until we are clearly committed to anti-oppression practice, all forms of oppression will continue to divide and weaken our movements.
  • Developing anti-oppression practices is life-long work. No single workshop is sufficient for unlearning our socialization within a culture built on multiple forms of oppression.
  • Dialogue, discussion and reflection are some of the tools through which we overcome oppressive attitudes, behaviors and situations in our groups. Anti-oppression work requires active listening, non-defensiveness and respectful communication.

Personal practices:

  • Challenge yourself to be courageously honest and open, willing to take risks and make yourself vulnerable in order to address racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and other oppressive dynamics head-on.
  • When you witness, experience, or commit an abuse of power or oppression, address it as proactively as the situation permits, either one-on-one or with a few allies, keeping in mind that the goal is to encourage positive change.
  • Challenge the behavior, not the person. Be sensitive and promote open dialogue.
  • When someone offers criticism in an oppressive framework, treat it as a gift rather than an attack. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  • Be willing to lose a friend, but try not to “throw away” people who fuck up. Help them take responsibility for making reparations for their behavior, and be willing to extend forgiveness in return.
  • Take on the “grunt” work that often falls on women, especially women of color. This includes the work of cooking, cleaning, set up, clean up, phone calls, e-mail, taking notes, doing support work, sending mailings.
  • Understand that you will feel discomfort as you face your part in oppression, and realize that this is a necessary part of the process. We must support each other and be gentle with each other in this process.
  • Don’t feel guilty, feel responsible. Being part of the problem doesn’t mean you can’t be an active part of the solution.
  • Contribute time and energy to building healthy relationships, both personal and political.

Organizational practices:

  • Commit time to facilitated discussions on discrimination and oppression.
  • Set anti-oppression goals and continually evaluate whether or not you are meeting them.
  • Create opportunities for people to develop anti-oppression skills and practices.
  • Promote egalitarian group development by prioritizing skill shares and an equitable division of roles, responsibilities and recognition.
  • Respect different styles of leadership and communication.
  • Don’t push historically marginalized people to do things because of their oppressed group (tokenism); base it on their work, experience and skills.
  • Make a collective commitment to hold everyone accountable for their behavior so that the organization can be a safe and nurturing place for all.

[1] This article is adapted from “Anti-Oppression Principles & Practices” by Lisa Fithian, itself compiled from the “Anti-Racism Principles and Practices” by RiseUp DAN-LA, Overcoming Masculine Oppression by Bill Moyers and the FEMMAFESTO by a women’s affinity group in Philadelphia.

For more on this topic, please read Privilege 101: A Quick and Dirty Guide

Sources:

Fithian, L. (n.d.). Anti-oppression. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://beautifultrouble.org/theory/anti-oppression/

Canadian Race Relations Foundation. (n.d.). CRRF Glossary of Terms. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://www.crr.ca/en/library-a-clearinghouse/glossary-a-terms-en-gb-1

Ontario Human Rights Commission. (n.d.). Duty to Accommodate. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/learning/duty-accommodate

Ferguson, S. (2014, September 29). Privilege 101: A Quick and Dirty Guide. Retrieved February 9, 2015, from http://everydayfeminism.com/2014/09/what-is-privilege/

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