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Is the act of treating someone unfairly to benefit from their work without giving recognition, compensation, or credit.   Example: Some professors recruiting international students because they are likely to work 12-14 hours/day at the lab.  

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Means to push to the fringes, out of the mainstream, or to make unimportant. Marginalization excludes groups of people from beneficial participation in social life and these groups are often deprived of material goods and access. Example: Native American in the U.S. continue to be excluded and pushed away from their homelands and have been victims of genocide historically. Part of being marginalized involves not having our distress as a group acknowledged or recognized, but rather having it ignored, denied, or trivialized.

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Means that one lacks the ability to control their own well-being; has limited power to make decisions and is treated with disrespect because of their social group. Example: People with disabilities are often faced with socially constructed limitations to make decisions that may impact their basic life conditions.

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Is how one group’s experiences, history, and cultural expressions are treated as superior in comparison to those of other groups. The dominant culture is reflected in art, music, films, and literature. We typically see that people outside of the dominant group have to fight for cultural space or explain their culture. Example: When a person is defined as a member of an oppressed community, they are often seen as representing their entire group, but if they are a member of the dominant culture they are regarded as a unique individual. 

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Some people live in persistent fear of potential attack to their person or property meant to humiliate or destroy them due to group membership. This abuse can be physical, sexual, verbal, economic, or emotional. Example: Transgender women from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups are likely to be physically assaulted and even murdered.


Which face of oppression is described in each of the following statements?

JIONI Despite her bachelor’s degree in business administration and her significant job experience, Jioni, a Black woman, repeatedly finds it impossible to find employment because of her mental health history.


KAI Kai, a 22-year-old genderqueer Asian American person, who sometimes wears clothing traditionally considered to be masculine and other times clothing traditionally considered feminine, is physically harassed by a group of cisgender men living in their dorm.


MANUEL Manuel, a middle-aged heterosexual Latino man, works at a factory as a line manager. While his job requires additional training and skill, he is paid minimum wage, the same amount as the people he directly supervises.


SHELLEY Shelley, a 14-year-old bisexual White woman, is not exposed to any positive, affirming lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender role models in her school, church, or on the television shows she is allowed to watch.

Cultural dominance

AHIGA Although a successful lawyer at his law firm, Ahiga, a 30-year-old Native American man, is repeatedly denied a raise, while he notices equally qualified White lawyers receiving raises over the past two years.


So, what marginalized groups are likely to experience which forms of oppression?

Remember, not every marginalized group is likely to experience every form of oppression, but some groups do, and therefore some people do.

  • People from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups have an increased likelihood of experiencing all forms of oppression. For example, even from a very young age, Black children are disproportionately punished in schools, and are hyper-policed at alarming rates. This contributes to the school-to-prison pipeline where Black students in many public schools are likely to be funneled into to the juvenile and/or criminal justice systems for even minor infractions of school rules.
  • People of a lower socioeconomic status most typically experience exploitation, powerlessness, and cultural domination. They may also experience marginalization. Some specific examples typically include feeling “less than” individuals in a higher social class, denial of class heritage, shame about class, hostility and blame towards other working class and poor people, and believing the class system is fair (Class Action, 2004).
  • People from marginalized sexual and gender identities are likely to experience cultural domination, violence, and marginalization. They are likely to experience high rates of violence, particularly those with intersecting marginalized racial and ethnic identities. Other examples of oppression include denial of adoption rights, denial of spousal rights at hospitals when one is sick or dying, and lack of diverse sexual and gender identities representation in school curricula.
  • Women are likely to experience cultural dominance, fear of and or sexual violence, as well as powerlessness. In fact, 91% of victims of rape and sexual assault are women, regardless of race and ethnicity (National Sexual Violence Resource Center, 2015). Other oppressive experiences faced by women today include the wage gap; weight-based discrimination; gaps in hiring practices; portrayals in advertising, media, and pornography; and domestic violence.

As you take in all of this information, please remember that we do not experience our identities in a vacuum. Think about intersectionality! When we embody two or more oppressed identities, such as self-identifying as a transgender person from an underrepresented racial and ethnic group, the oppression experienced becomes compounded and more complex.


Please take the chance to reflect with these questions:
1. Which forms of oppression do you experience? How do you know?
2. If you do not experience all five forms, what would it be like to experience all five?
3. What do you want to do about oppression?