We are all in it:
You have probably heard of pyramid scams before. If you either haven’t heard nor participated in a pyramid or Ponzi scheme, just so you know, you are currently involved in one, the social kind.
Our human society is designed using similar principles in terms of [artificial] attribution of privilege and power to people within certain social demographics. This is generally defined as ‘the kyriarchy’. The term is derived from the Greek for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein). Kyriarchy, as coined by Elizabeth Schussler Fiorenza, is a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.
Privilege and Oppression:
These are two sides of the same coin. Privilege can be defined as a set of unearned benefits given to people who fit into a specific social group, whereas oppression is marginalization of people from outside this social group.
To further illustrate this point; globally, the wealthiest, most powerful or influential personalities are unequivocally male, white, old, including other dominant, defining identities. The global face of poverty on the other hand is predominantly female, black, and African. This arises out of intersecting systems of social discrimination as perpetuated by traditional cultures, religion, and politics leading to extreme inequality.
The conflation of any one individual’s specific privileges and/or oppressions relating to various facets of their identity intersect to produce a unique lived experience which will vary from another individual sharing a similar demographic status. For example: women are a marginalized group, but black women are more marginalized than white women. Again black women do not all have the exact same experiences regarding privilege and oppression. A poor, disabled, black woman with a low education is much more marginalized than another black woman who is able-bodied, well educated and wealthy. It’s all relative.
Privilege that comes at the expense of the marginalized group is always unethical and wrong. However, many ‘privileges’ such as access to a good education, health care, employment opportunities, and others are in fact human rights issues, and should be equitably available to everyone.
So What Next?
Anti-oppression work aims to remove obstacles to ensuring a fair and equitable society. Being so diverse, this will be realized along several fronts including; gender equity, racial justice, class justice, anti-poverty initiatives, and the like.
As individuals, we can participate in humanist ethics by working for those causes closest to us. Either at the level of organized movements contributing to a specific cause but especially at a personal level, by resisting in thought, and actions those specific oppressions directed at us.
Here, personal efforts taken toward self education and information regarding deconstructing oppression ideology are important. Interact with like-minded others, through face-to-face, and/or online fora. Read and listen as much as you can. Start with questions that are most pertinent to you right now at this point in time in your life. And search, (this is easier done online) using these questions. You are likely to be overwhelmed with an abundance of information and resources. Engage more with those persons, individuals or authors whose ‘voices’ resonate most with you. We all process information differently, and some communication styles may suit us better than others. Check what sources, books, personalities most influence those speakers, writers, authors that resonate most with you and snowball your way to freedom!
It is also important to take note of our specific individual privileges, and use these to dismantle oppression. This is called being an ally. Be a good ally, without expecting a ‘reward’ from the marginalized group you are supposed to work in solidarity with!