Oppression is at the top of the societal chain. It encompasses prejudice, discrimination, microaggressions, bias, hate and bigotry. It contains the word “press” which is significant because oppression is all about pressing people down. Oppression is a system, i.e. it is systemic and across the board. Oppression is an unjust exercise of authority or power in order to harm a particular social group. Oppression does not really operate on the individual level like prejudice does; it is a group benefitting from the oppression of another group. Oppression is subjugation and it is a pattern of control. Oppression is the injurious outcome experienced by targeted social group members due to the cruel and capricious exercise and abuse of power in our society.
Let’s talk more about the outcome. Oppression is unbelievably destructive. I firmly believe that the ultimate destination of oppression is death. As Audre Lorde wrote in her poem “A Litany for Survival”, we [oppressed people] were never meant to survive. In addition to death, oppression affects the living in a myriad of ways. This includes: impoverishment and economic stratification, homelessness, institutional discrimination, lack of education or miseducation, joblessness, employment discrimination, poor or nonexistent health care and minority stress. It is overwhelming when you are impacted by all of these forces of oppression. It is not just one thing coming down on you but multiple things simultaneously crashing down on you and your kin.
The topic of minority stress is incredibly important. Minority stress greatly affects a person’s health primarily due to the accumulation of excess stress. The daily nature of systemic oppression affects a person’s health physically, psychologically, emotionally and spiritually.
According to Wikipedia:
“Minority stress describes chronically high levels of stress faced by members of stigmatized minority groups. It may be caused by a number of factors, including poor social support and low socioeconomic status, but the most well understood causes of minority stress are interpersonal prejudice and discrimination. Indeed, numerous scientific studies have shown that minority individuals experience a high degree of prejudice, which causes stress responses (e.g., high blood pressure, anxiety) that accrue over time, eventually leading to poor mental and physical health. Minority stress theory summarizes these scientific studies to explain how difficult social situations lead to chronic stress and poor health among minority individuals. It is an important concept for psychologists and public health officials who seek to understand and reduce minority health disparities.” [Emphasis mine]
Oppression leads to poor health. This poor health can then lead to an early grave, which returns us back to my point about the ultimate destination of oppression being death of the person. This statement is not hyperbolic. Life expectancy is the ultimate issue for oppressed people. This is why we can never talk about oppression enough. We need to eradicate oppression but in the interim we need to lessen oppression so we can lessen minority stress and improve people’s health in the here and now to increase their life expectancy. It is not just psychologists and public health officials that should seek to reduce minority stress. We should all be attempting to do that in whatever way we can.
I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but I am very convinced I will not live an average life span. I have faced a lot of oppression, stigma and prejudice in my life and I see it shaving years off my life. I already have a constellation of physical health, mental health and economic problems that make my day to day life very stressful. I have seen how oppression has played out in my own life and either outright caused or been a serious factor in the development of mental and physical ailments and chronic health conditions. Oppression is insidious, dangerous, destructive and deadly. We all need to work together to lessen the scourge of oppression in targeted populations. It is not only our health and well-being that depend on it, but our very lives.