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Anti-Oppression

Welcome

This guide is intended to provide some general information about anti-oppression, diversity, and inclusion as well as information and resources for the social justice issues key to the University of West Florida community.

This guide is by no means exhaustive but rather serves as a starting place for finding information from a variety of sources. It will continue to develop in response to evolving anti-oppression issues and community needs.

Some Basics

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.

Related Information

• Institutionalized Oppression Definitions

• Oppression and Privilege: Two Sides of the Same Coin

• Expanding Criterion A for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: Considering the Deleterious Impact of Oppression


Anti-Oppression is the 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.

Related Information

​• Resistance 101: A Lesson on Social Justice Activists and Strategies

• Social Justice Must Be Complicated, Because Oppression Is Never Simple

• Beware the Sea Lions

​• Audre Lorde's ABC's of Fighting Fascism

• How to survive in intersectional feminist spaces 101

​• Befriending Becky: On The Imperative Of Intersectional Solidarity 

• 26 Ways to Be in the Struggle Beyond the Streets

• A Feminist Glossary Because We Didn't All Major in Gender Studies

                        

So...what's "misia"?

You may be wondering why our guide uses 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). So 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.

So 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 and engaging with the dialogues in and outside Simmons and on which more specific iterations of these concepts as they apply to particular communities can be structured.

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.

Related Information

 

 

Informational Resources for Allies

White Privilege

In the U.S., white privilege is the lived experience of greater social/political access, representation and entitlement, and material and economic security that people considered white have as a result of white supremacy. It's important to note that while many white people are oppressed on the basis of class, gender, sexual orientation, ability, religion, culture, ethnicity, etc, it is still true that ALL white people benefit from white privilege in various ways.

Deconstructing White Privilege with Dr. Robin Di Angelo from GCORR

Reverse Racism is a term created and used by white people to deny white privilege. Those in denial use the term "reverse racism" to refer to hostile behavior by people of color toward whites and to affirmative action policies which allegedly give ‘preferential treatment’ to people of color over whites. However, while people of color can certainly exhibit prejudice against white people, in North America that prejudice is not supported by a system of institutional power. And despite some public opinion to the contrary, studies show the largest group to benefit from affirmative action policies is white women. (adapted from "Definitions & Descriptions of Racism"


White Fragility

White fragility is a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves. These moves include the outward display of emotions such as anger, fear, and guilt, and behaviors such as tears, argumentation, silence, and leaving the stress-inducing situation. These behaviors, in turn, function to reinstate white racial equilibrium. 

White people in North America live in a social environment that protects and insulates them from race-based stress. This insulated environment of racial protection builds white expectations for racial comfort while at the same time lowering the ability to tolerate racial stress, leading to...White Fragility. (from DiAngelo, White Fragility)

Robin DiAngelo on White Fragility

Being a Supportive Ally

           

Privilege & Intersectionality

Privilege

Privilege is unearned benefits/entitlements or lack of barriers assigned to an identity that society considers a "norm" and therefore dominant. Privilege and oppression are well-maintained social systems that are reinforced by binarized, normative hierarchies that categorize certain identities as superior (privileged) and their supposed opposites as inferior (oppressed) (e.g. male and female; straight and queer; cisgender and transgender, etc.). There are various forms of privilege, some of them tangible and others less so. One form of privilege, for instance, is the representation of one's identity in mainstream media and books—something intangible but nevertheless valuable in our culture.

Further Information


Intersectionality

Intersectionality is a legal and sociological theory that promotes the understanding that individuals have multiple identity factors and are "shaped by the interactions and intersections of these different social [identity factors] (e.g., race, ethnicity, Indigeneity, gender, class, sexuality, geography, age, (dis)ability, migration status, religion, etc.)" [from Intersectionality 101]. This means that inequities do not result from the social devaluing of a single identity factor in isolation, but rather from the intersections of different parts of an individual's identity, power relations, and experience. 

Black legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term “intersectionality” in her 1989 essay, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Antidiscrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” which argues that marginalization and discrimination experienced by a black woman cannot be understood in terms of racism or of sexism considered independently, but must include the interactions. Since its coinage, the concept has been expanded to describe experiences outside of black womanhood, and the general concept is that people experience more than one type of oppression because of their intersecting marginalized identities. The concept of intersectionality is not an abstract idea but a description of the way multiple oppressions are experienced by actual people.

Anti-oppression movements and work must acknowledge and account for intersectional experiences of systemic oppression in order to be both fully inclusive and effective in dismantling systemic barriers to equity.