Monday, March 26, 2012

What internalized and insidious oppression can look like

My recent conversations around the web have led me to realize that not everyone knows what some of the less overt kinds of oppression looks like. It's hard to tell sometimes when something is oppression when it isn't in your face. I am working on putting together a list of various ways people are oppressive to themselves and others, often without even realizing it is happening.

I'll start by going through the different '-ism's and then go through some of the tactics used to shut down even the discussion of the '-ism' in question. After all, we can never change the system if we never talk about it.

(Some of these are pretty overt examples – I would really appreciate it if people think of more insidious or internalized examples that they either share them here or message me them so I can have better examples of less overt methods. Also, if you think something in my definition is busted or if you can think of a clearer or more succinct definition please share it. Thanks! -Lee) 

The Oppressions


“Of course you can afford that, all you need to do is cut out one coffee or pack of smokes a week”
Classism is oppression based upon a persons assumed wealth or overall monetary value. This example assumes that the person can even afford to get coffee, or smokes and doesn't take into account the fact that many people can't even afford one pack of smokes a month because they don't have the extra money.


(said by a cisfemale to a cisfemale) “Girl, if you wear that you will never get ahead, you have to be sexy.”
Sexism is discrimination against someone because of their presumed sex or gender. In the example this is horizontal oppression of another female with the assumption that you have to dress to appeal others in order to 'get ahead.' This implies that your body is valued over your brain.


 “So where are your people from”
Racism is oppression due to a persons race, real or presumed. In this case the question assumes the person is from somewhere else because they don't look like what the person asking thinks they should to be a local.


“But you were born with a penis, that makes you a boy”
Cissexism is when people assume that your genitals and gender identity “match.” This not only reduces a person to their genitalia but denies their gender identity, especially if they don't plan on aligning their body physically with what society expects it to look like for their identity (if society even accepts their identity otherwise it reduces it to an assumed binary identity).


 “So... You were born a girl, cut off your tits and pretend you don't have a gender?”
Transphobia is oppression against people who are not cis*. This can be against transsexual people and transgender people both. The example is a case where someone is assuming that a trans* person is pretending (and thus being trans* isn't a valid identity) and is reducing them to their CASAB.


 “So... are you a boy or a girl?”
Binarism is the assumption that a person fits into the gender binary. This fails to take into account all of the people who are non-binary in gender identify.


 “I feel really fat and it makes me look not sexy.”
Sizeism occurs when people are discriminated against due to their size, usually due to being larger than the socially accepted ideal though it can occurs for “too skinny” too. In the example it is internalized sizeism where the person equates being “fat” with “not sexy.”


“Grandpa, you wouldn't understand the new computer. It's after your time.”
Ageism is discrimination based upon older people. This can be youth's onto adults, or adults onto other, older (or perceived as older) adults. In this case the person assumes that someone who is “older” can't understand a new technology.


 “You'll get it when You're older.”
Adultism occurs when adults discriminate against youth. This example is a patronizing display of adultism that assumes a young person couldn't possibly understand the situation.

Religious Oppression (ever wonder why this one doesn't have an '-ism'?)

“So what church do you go to?”
Religious Oppression occurs when people discriminate based upon religion. This also occurs in the general assumption that people are christian (sometimes this is even more specifically protestant). In this example the person fails to consider the person might be jewish, hindi, shinto, atheist, muslim or any other of a number of non-church based religions. (oh, and I don't know why either, if someone has an idea please share – I am curious.)


“Oh so where is your girlfriend?”
Heterosexism happens when people automatically assume heterosexuality in another person. This is an example of someone assuming a male attributed person must then have a girlfriend.


“So... if you're a guy why are you in a dress?”
Cisgenderism happens when people assume that everyone's gender identity and/or gender expression agrees with what society thinks it should be. This is an example of people forcing you to conform to societies expectations of how you should present your gender.


A person uses skin bleach to lighten their skin tone.
Colorism happens when people are treated differently because of the amount of visible melatonin in their skin. This is an internalized example where the person feels the need to lighten their skin because of the social stigma they face for having a darker skin tone.


“Wow, look at that, she's got one eye bigger than the other. She must hate herself.”
Lookism happens when people who fit the social ideal are treated better than others. This is related to sizeism, transphobia and more but is also distinct. The assumption that 'she' must hate herself is assuming that having traits that aren't socially ideal is bad.


“We need to make sure that American's get jobs, it's ridiculous how those immigrants are getting all of the jobs hard-working American's need.”
Nativism happens when people who were born in a country are systematically privileged over people who have immigrated or are perceived to have immigrated. This shows that by assuming that someone who has come to this country shouldn't be considered for a job if an American is also qualified.


“You're Hispanic so you must really like Mexican food then”
This is when members of a culture look down on people from other cultures. This is also making assumptions about a person's cultural identification based upon assumed ethnicity.

Dyadism or Couple Privilege

“We each have veto power for new partners because our relationship always comes first.”
This is the assumption that the people in a pre-existing relationship (a dyad) is more important than a new relationship. This leads to systematic oppression of 'secondaries' in a poly relationship by the 'primary relationship'.


“Here, read this.”
This is the oppression of those without credentials or who are not literate by those who have credentials and are literate. In this case it is the assumption that the other person can read.


“So, when are you going to have kids?”
This is the assumption both of fertility and the desire to have children. Not everyone can have kids or wants them so this default is oppressive.


“Where did you learn to speak English so well?”
This is a bias against people with English as a second language, this also appears when someone assumes English isn't the other person's primary language.


“Oh him? He's just crazy don't worry about that.”
This is oppression of the neurotypical against the neuroatypical. This occurs either with the systematic oppression of those with mental illnesses or those assumed to have mental illnesses.


“You're too mouthy to be a submissive,”
This is the oppression of those who take a submissive role by those who take a dominant role in a power exchange.

American exceptionalism/American privilege

“The African's should be grateful for our aid, we are clearly helping them out of a tough place."
This is the oppression of non-American's by American people. This also, as with many other oppressions, extends to those assumed to not be from America. 

The Derails and Denies


“Do we really need to have this discussion now?”
Unfortunately, yes we do. Silencing is also effectively done with pretty much any other derail or deny. This is an overt example – all of the other ones are silencing techniques that can be a little less obvious.


“Your right, I don't have to work to attend, I just sneeze and 100 dollar bills fly out my nose.”
The patronization techniques are many and varied but generally involve, snark, sarcasm, hyperbole, or a protestation of innocence. Sometimes these get combined together for one big whopping patronization fest.


“Stop acting like a child.”
Telling the person that their behavior isn't age appropriate isn't just ageist, it's a derail! This demeans the other person and shuts down the argument.


“You're just seeing problems where there aren't any.”
If we pretend it isn't there it goes away right? No. Dismissing that there is even a problem just forces it to get even more insidious. This is why “colorblindness” is such a big problem. (well, one of the reasons)


“I didn't know, so you can't blame me.”
Ignorance may seem like the perfect alibi but it isn't. After all, there are a huge number of resources out there for you to educate yourself with so ignorance isn't an excuse. Ignorance is something that can only be afforded with privilege.


“Oh my gosh, I have so been there too! I mean, I know I'm not black but people totally make fun of me because I'm so pale!”
No. Just... No. Unless you are in the target group you don't get to appropriate their experience. This happens all the time and just makes the discussion about the privileged again and frankly, they have had their space, it's the time for the target groups to get a voice. Oh and it denies target groups their experiences, trivializing them. In this case it's comparing the systematic oppression of a person of color with someone teasing because of skin tone.

False Argument

“Complaining at the cost of something like this, and calling it classist, reeks of entitlement to me. Like they should just hand tickets out to everyone, and if they don't, well, they're discriminating”
This is when someone, rather than arguing about the oppression you're actually talking about, argues about something similar but not the actual question. This makes them feel like they are arguing against you but often leaves you with a face/palm. In this case discussing classism doesn't assume that the event has to be free, just that the policies don't systematically exclude people due to their class.


“if you don't want a discussion to take a hostile tone, then maybe you shouldn't throw out such dirty and accusatory words as "privilege" at people who really worked hard to get somewhere just because you didn't.”
This is when they don't discuss the issue at hand but instead attack you, your tone, or your word use. Who needs discussions when you can just flame!


“I'm sure it isn't as bad as you think.”
This is when someone not of the target group, assures the person trying to discuss or interrupt oppression that they are exaggerating. This minimizes the problem and allows it to be dismissed, not talked about, and also allows it to continue.

Red Herring

“why are we talking about racism? The real problem is the systematic oppression of the poor!”
This happens when the person just changes the subject. Sometimes this is done by some who isn't in the social justice field or doing social justice work, but it also is often done within those doing the work. This perpetuates the system but literally silencing the ones discussing it.

I am sure there are more of these since lists like this are never complete so if you have additions, corrections or suggests please send me a message or leave a comment! Thanks. 


  1. Hmmmm... That looks familiar. :)

    1. Say it isn't so! ^_^

      I liked it enough I felt it needed a link outside of the annuls of FL. >.>