Week 3 Oppression

In my mind, oppression is an unfair treatment from a person or a group of people to another person or another group of people. It comes out because of the differences among people, such as gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, age, (dis)ability, and so on. Furthermore, because of the power of some groups of people, all kinds of social justice issue occurs, no matter they are majority or minority. Oppression usually starts from prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. It helped to build up an unfair and unsafe world for some people to live. Some people may use survive rather than live to describe their situation of life.

First of all, I think there is no absolute right or absolute wrong in the world. Everything happened could be good for that moment but bad for this moment. For example, years ago, homosexuality was considered as mental problems and many people died because of this. But now, homosexuality is treated as a part of nature. I think it is a success of history of human development. However, even though we have legal rights to live as homosexuality and get same-sex marriage, some people are still trying to punish or censure homosexuality because of prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. From my point, unless there is no difference or no relative unequal power among people, oppression could be an issue forever. Here are some oppression examples from my experiences:

  • Exploitation:

In the long patrilineal history of China, women were belongings of families. Women didn’t have rights to go to school and be educated. They all need to stay and home and learn about housing, cooking, clothing work. They cannot even get out from the house without a male from the family stay with them, otherwise, they will be considered as bimbos. Things get even worse in South Africa, young men will not marry with women who did not do female genital mutilation (FGM) because those men think women without FGM are dirty. I am super glad that many of these stereotypes are changed because of the development of the world. Back to several decades ago, nobody will consider these bad habits as oppression because people thought that was the way the world works.

  • Marginalization:

International students are a group of people in the minority of the minority. We are paying the highest tuition but have the lowest chance to earn back from scholarship or job opportunities. It is somehow understandable because most of the funds are coming from federal level towards citizenship, include citizens and green card holder. However, there are some unfair occurs because of the system. From school level, there is a program called Federal Financial Aid. This financial aid allows schools to get funds from the federal level and support some students as a work-study program. However, because this fund is coming from the federal level, international students are not included for applying. For schools, it is a good program because they can have job opportunities for students without pay by the school itself. However, it made many campus-work opportunities become international student unfriendly. Nevertheless, because of the language barriers, most of the international student will only be considered for handworks, such as cafeteria works.

  • Powerlessness:

Chinese labors are cheap labors. As we can see, many American goods are made in China. Decades ago, many factories were moved out from U.S.A to China because both the lands and the labors are cheap. Chinese labors worked very hard with low-paid just because they have no decision-making power. In 2010, at least 14 labors suicided themselves from the high factory building in a company called Foxconn, which is a manufacturing company for Apple, BlackBerry, Sony, Nokia, etc. The reasons for suicides are varied, but they all considered by working issues, such as salary, working hours. In 2012, Apple company audited Foxconn because Foxconn violated the rule of salary and overtime working.

From Imani Perry’s talks, I think, as individuals, what we can do to prepare for and precipitate them is building up self-awareness. It is important for the oppressed to have self-esteem. During the talk, Dr. Perry said: “There’s this image that, um, black youth believe that doing well in school is acting white.” (The Fabric of Our Identity, Imani Peppy, https://onbeing.org/programs/imani-perry-the-fabric-of-our-identity/) First of all, doing well in school is a part of self-esteem. The knowledge and ideas that students gain from the school are the honor of themselves. It is a stereotype to think schools are for the white children because we all should have the rights to be educated. These kids who think they should not do well in school have not self-esteem to study. Then, self-confidence is also important for those students. If you do not believe you can do it, none of the others will believe you. Students who think they shouldn’t do it well at school usually are the students who did do well at school. They do not have enough confidence to believe they can do it well. Some of the racial equality issues are not been given to the people. They are generated from the original group because of the lack of self-awareness, self-esteem, and self-confidence. For these issues, we should learn more and learn better about the world, speak out for ourselves, let other people see you can do it. If people keep blaming on how the world treats them unfair, there will be no development for this world. In the other hand, from the opposite group of people, they should look on people equally and do not look down on people’s weakness, because none of us is perfect. Discrimination is the source of most of the social issues, include oppression.

7 thoughts on “Week 3 Oppression”

  1. Hi Lin Zhu, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I really like how you pointed out that some people would describe their situations as surviving rather than living – that is so true and I think it really highlights how oppression can manifest in peoples’ lives. I also think it’s true that unless there is no unequal power, or no difference among people, then oppression could be an issue forever. That feels very bleak to me, but unequal power keeps systems of privilege and oppression in place, so that must be done away with in order to end oppression, and that is such a huge task that I’m not sure we will ever fully accomplish. Of course, there will always be differences between people and groups – I think this is what makes life so beautiful and interesting – and a world without difference would make for a pretty dull world, so I don’t think erasing difference would be a good avenue to work toward social justice.

    I appreciate your honesty in sharing your personal examples and experiences of oppression. I knew that international students faced some oppressive policies such as extremely high tuition, but I had not thought much more into it than that. I didn’t think about how US financial aid comes from the federal government and so international students are not eligible for this funding nor work-study. I also didn’t think about how international students facing language barriers could be limited in terms of which types of employment they would be considered for. Thank you for being so transparent in this example and opening my eyes to an issue I had not considered before.

    I like the link you made between feeling like you can and should do well in school and self-esteem. It is sad to see that some students don’t want to do well in school because of pressure from their peers to not “act white,” but with the oppressive structures in our school systems I can see why many students of color distrust schools and the people who work in them. You say in your last paragraph that students who think they shouldn’t do well in school are usually the students that indeed do well in school – could you explain that a little more? Finally, I would challenge your point that some racial equality issues come from the oppressed groups themselves. I think that the origin of these issues definitely comes from structures put in place to systematically disadvantage people based on their identities, not from the people who are facing the oppression. I can see how continual oppression could put people into a mindset of thinking they cannot succeed, but do you think that this is their fault, or are you more saying that to overcome this people who face oppression need to feel that they can succeed and show the world that they can?

  2. I really appreciate your use of examples, especially the use of international students and financial aid and work study. I would never consider this as I am not an international student, but when I truly think about it, this is definitely a form of oppression. Thank you for sharing this!

  3. I found your thoughts on the marginalization of international students interesting and really thought-provoking in the context of the US’s immigration system. I believe financial aid policies reflect federal broader social welfare policies, which restrict aid to US citizens and (sometimes) green card holders. Public benefits and entitlement programs almost never extend funding to non-green-card visa holders, and probably never to undocumented residents (I couldn’t think of a single case where undocumented residents are eligible for aid, even with DACA). This is a reflection of our government’s belief that “foreigners” (I put this in quotations because many immigrants were born abroad but have lived their whole lives in the US) are not valuable; like you said, they are sources of cheap labor available for exploitation. This makes me reflect on how far social welfare policy has come from the English Poor Laws, which based eligibility for aid on a person’s residence in the community and not their citizenship status; our world would look so different today if these guidelines for who is considered “deserving” of aid had continued.

    Your thoughts on the exploitation and powerlessness of Chinese workers in the global economy also made me think about some of my own struggles with validating oppression in the United States when the majority of people in the world live in conditions that would be unspeakable in this country. There is a common joke here in the US about people having “first world problems” when they complain about issues in their lives that may be considered small or irrelevant in the larger scheme of things. While I am dedicated to social justice work domestically, and I believe that everyone’s problems should be validated, sometimes I just wonder about justifying the dedication of so many resources to problems in our immediate communities when viewing poverty, oppression, and exploitation within a global framework.

  4. You are absolutely right Lin! Oppression is does occur from boundaries that are created by humans. I like to say that boundaries and rules are meant to be challenge. I feel like in our selected field that we will be pushing a lot of boundaries, mainly out of systematic curiosity.

    I am not too familiar with the cafeteria’s here at U-M, but at my undergraduate school, there were many international students who worked in dining services on campus. While some money is better than no money, these types of positions isolate individuals from the social world. As you mentioned before, language can a barrier as an international student. If international students are given jobs that require little interaction with individuals who speak the dominant language, it restricts learning opportunities between international and at-home students. Besides gaining an education from a institution abroad, interacting with others is one of biggest goals of studying/obtaining a degree abroad.

    I think that self-awareness and self-esteem is very important. I am a firm believer in the decolonization process. This is tough process and does not happen overnight. When someone is not aware that they are being oppressed, they may suffer from internalized oppression. Again, the first step in addressing this awareness, but awareness is hard come across if this oppression is viewed as normal or “has is”. As social workers advocating for social justice change, we have a lot of work to do my friend.

  5. You rose a great point in your section of marginalization. As a “resident” student, I enjoyed the perks of work-study during my undergraduate education. I never considered students who were ineligible for these types of programs that also were in need of them. Thank you for brining this up because I usually only think about the programs I am eligible for, but forget about the exclusionary practices that can also occur when discerning who “deserves” the opportunities and who doesn’t. This now makes me think about other resources that I am eligible for that others aren’t.

  6. Lin, I really enjoyed reading your blog post this week. I particularly enjoyed how you used some of your experiences to explain the different parts of oppression, and how well you talked about the history of discrimination and oppression throughout history that has impacted many identities. Your comments about marginalization made me think a lot about my years working with residents as an RA during undergrad — especially with a large population of international students. The struggles that they faced around working and connecting to a historically-based, and still oppressive society like the United States, are very similar, and I continue to find it disheartening that the voices of so many international students on our campus are not heard or considered. Indeed, I feel that this is a continuously overlooked, marginalized population on campus and around the country.

    I also just wanted to say that I definitely agree with you that our preparation for the future needs to come with self-awareness. The more that we become self-aware, and encourage others to do the same, the better we can become as a society to understand others and stop discrimination based on identities or traits. Then we can speak up for a more equitable world.

  7. Thank you for your reflection! I think that minority students sometimes do not want to do well in school because schools do not validate them and their culture/community. When all we learn about is the dominant culture and not see ourselves, we can become complacent and this could lead to lower self esteem. The question is, which came first!

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