Principles of Systems of Oppression Essay Paper

Systems of Oppression

Oppression is a systematic way of treating other human beings in dehumanizing ways by subjecting them to suffering and deprivation of such important amenities that would otherwise make them lead a bearable and a comfortable life. It may involve denying them access to education, language, and healthcare. Oppression is orchestrated by government systems such as the police, the military, laws and customs and other practices that lead to inequality in the distribution of resources in society. Oppression systems target specific groups with social identities (Young, 2004).

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Principles of Systems of Oppression

Robinson (2010) points out that there are some habits and cultural practices which perpetuate the oppression of individuals and groups. Although they occur in varying forms, the systems assume similar characteristics and principles.

Power: here, the dominant group exercises authority over the subjects through exploitation. Usually, the party on the receiving end has no capacity to resist or ward off such oppression (Robinson, 2010).

Abuse patterns: oppression systems are constituted by a series of abusive acts meant to establish dominance. Racism, for instance, is not a product of an incident. Rather, it has been shaped by a history of discriminatory laws, biased labor practices and lynching (Robinson, 2010).

Social Justification: The dominant group justifies the oppressive acts as a way of maintaining proper social order (Robinson, 2010).

Secrecy: The actual abuse is often concealed from the public (Robinson, 2010).

Distress internally: the differences that arise between the oppressor and the one oppressed are, ideally underlying conflicts in the oppressor but vented out on the oppressed.

The meaning of legitimizing oppression as a social product: Societal institutions proclaim the superiority of the oppressor. History, natural law, science and God’s will are often employed by oppressive individuals and groups to emphasize their superiority claim and to diminish the identity of the oppressed (Young, 2004).

Self-fulfilling prophecies- Myths that propagate oppression and used to legitimize acts of oppression are commonly a product of self-fulfilling prophecy (Young, 2004).

Skewed relationships between those oppressed and the ones who oppress: Submission and obedience are common elements observed among the oppressed when interacting and dealing with the oppressors. Commonly, the oppressor demands for what is unreasonable and the oppressed fulfills because of fear and their inferior power and not because they agree with the demands made by the oppressor (Young, 2004).

Marginalization: Restricting or relegating a social group to inferior status and declaring that they cannot be good for some functions but can be used for others even for work purposes. These are groups that have been excluded from productive participation in social activity. They are exposed to serious deprivation. They may even be exterminated because of their race, age, gender or other arbitrary description (Young, 2004).

Exploitation: one social group labors but another one gains from the proceeds of such labor. The oppressive acts are systematically repeatedly, reproduced via oppressive systems. In these systems, those who do not have, spend their energies in uninterrupted fashion just to augment and maintain the wealth and statuses of those who have (Young, 2004).

Systems of Oppression in “God Made Me a Slave”

Mauritania is the only country n the world where institutionalized oppression is still widespread, says Elinor Burkett. The ruling Arab tribes are served by blacks who are enslaved. There is no remuneration or compensation of any kind for the slaves. There is nothing like education, salaries or planning for the future for the oppressed group. They even have to seek permission to marry. It is clear how the power abuse patterns come into play here. Indeed, the social production of meaning is also at play in the maintenance of oppressive systems in Mauritania (Conway-Smith, 2015).

Burkett, demonstrates in the article that although the oppressed in Mauritania are black Africans, they regard themselves as part of the master’s tribe and clan. They live in a world that equates belonging to being. They do not have any other identity in a society that demonizes individualism. Consequently, the relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed is distorted, i.e. Mauritania slaves and their masters (Conway-Smith, 2015).

Although the slaves in Mauritania are not chained physically, they are long standing psychological prisoners who are also utterly poor. Some of the slaves regard their status servitude as sacred. The social justification of slavery is unbeknown to some of them (Conway-Smith, 2015).

Some of the slaves describe their position as a caste system. It is pointed out that slaves spring from dark skinned ancestors who were subjected to slavery centuries in the past by their masters were of lighter skin. It has been construed that it is God’s will that they are slaves (Conway-Smith, 2015). The Mauritanian government denies the seriousness of the problem. Indeed, people from across the divide deny the existence of slavery. It is interesting to note that even the slaves themselves deny that slavery exists in Mauritania (Conway-Smith, 2015).

According to Robinson, there is only one way to break free from such oppressive systems. He opines that acting out of such an assumption that prevails and holds people is the sure way. Creating awareness to the existence of oppressive systems and addressing the issues as they emerge, including digging deep to the root causes are a sustainable approaches. If people are going to stop cooperating with oppressors, they need to make conscious decisions and identify that they are disadvantaged arbitrarily. They will then deconstruct the systems of oppression.

Systems of Oppression has established itself as an in-depth exploration of social causes of oppression. It has applied a number of components as co concepts. However, most of its co-principles are inspired by western thinking. Consequently, we are made to think that oppression is the same across the globe. Unequal distribution of resources informed by consideration of socially distinct groups of people constitutes social inequality. It is largely associated with racial, ethnic gender and other inequalities. Systems of Oppression is a useful tool to help people understand inequalities of social nature owing to the social categories relationship they manifest


Conway-Smith, E. (2015, October 19). ‘Slaves by the will of God’: Why Mauritania has the highest percentage of slaves in the world. Retrieved June 13, 2017, from:

Robinson, M. L. (2010, June 3). Systems of Oppression. Retrieved June 13, 2017, from Creative Commons:

Young, I. (2004). Five Faces of Oppression. In L. Heldke & P. O’Connor, Oppression, Privilege, & Resistance. Boston: McGraw Hill.

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