I began thinking about how oppression impacts purpose a few months ago. However, I procrastinated with actually putting my feelings in written form. I suppose now is the time to condense this complex issue into a few short, concise paragraphs. Though this is a complex topic, I still feel an urge to write about it from the perspective of the oppressed. It affects many of our lives. Let’s get to it, shall we?
What is oppression? While researching for this post, I came across several definitions. They all described this concept as an abuse of authority (oppressor) resulting in the exclusion of a particular group, accompanied by a feeling of being weighed down (oppressed).
The best definition I could find states that oppression is systemic-not by accident or happenstance, but planned acts to keep “undesirables” on the fringes of society, separate from those that are privileged in some way. It is also institutionalized. This means that it is woven into the fabric of every structure, process, and program we utilize. People are marginalized or excluded from these structures based on several factors, the most common being skin color, gender, age, sexual orientation, class, and religion (courtesy of shelter-care.org).
The infamous –isms, think racism, heterosexism, classism, ableism, ageism, and sexism, are all manifestations of oppression. We observe these manifestations everyday through the oppressive behaviors of others, in popular media, or through personal experiences of being oppressed. These manifestations are both subtle and unsubtle; ranging from microaggressions a person of color receives in their workplace based on misconceptions steeped in racism to Indigenous peoples being stripped of their culture and forced to reside on reservations. Needless to say, this is problematic.
Problematic is an understatement. The contrast between oppression and privilege is the difference between life and death physically, spiritually, and mentally.
Oppression can consume the oppressed. Iris Young, author of the Five Faces of Oppression, states those who are oppressors dehumanize those they oppress in every facet of their lives, decreasing their potential to be fully capable humans in mind and body.
So what does all of this have to do with pursuing purpose? Oppression not only results in the exclusion of people from opportunity and rights intrinsic to their humanness. It also changes the way the oppressed view themselves and others who are like them. We internalize the oppression that we experience. This is due to the negative images of ourselves we take in from oppressive systems on a conscious and subconscious (section of the mind that we are not aware of, but impacts our views) level.
It makes us question the beauty of our various skin tones, hair textures, and facial features and desire to obtain those of the oppressor.
It makes us skeptical of our own intellectual abilities.
It can make us hesitant to speak in our beautiful accents and dialects.
It can cause us to devalue our own lives and humanness.
It can cause us to forget that we are worthy of exercising our God given right to pursue purpose and utilize our gifts.
On second thought, maybe it doesn’t cause us to forget. Oppression and the internalized misperceptions we have about ourselves flat out make it exponentially more difficult to walk in our callings. For it is easier to exist, just getting by daily, than to live intentionally when oppressed. Oppression is like carrying a boulder on one’s shoulders or being confined to one stagnant destination in life. Additionally, internalized oppression is like a mental prison we are sentenced to as a result of our experiences as the downtrodden and marginalized.
How can we achieve purpose despite oppression? Where there is a problem, there is always potential for a solution. Dismantling oppressive systems globally is the burden of the creators and beneficiaries of oppression. That is a fact. There have been great efforts historically and presently to achieve this goal. Many strides have been made. However, A LOT of work needs to be done before we are all truly equal.
In the meantime there are some steps we can take to help alleviate internalized oppression or the negative views we have of ourselves because of marginalization. Elements of self-work include:
- Dismantling misperceptions caused by internalized oppression- This involves coming to the realization that every negative view we have about our nature founded on oppression is false. They are absolutely not true. We are intelligent, beautiful (internally and externally), capable, and worthy enough to passionately live in our purpose. We are deserving of more than existence. We deserve life. Dismantling misperceptions also involves researching the truth about ourselves and our cultural groups to uncover the history, accomplishments, and contributions that have been made by people like us.
- Considering hardship as preparation for extraordinary growth- We have probably all admired the grit and determination a person has from living a hard knock life. It may sound strange, but oppression may be the necessary ingredient in our recipe for success.
- A hard knock life is not only the source of grit. It also provides a unique perspective and capacity for empathy and compassion. It should make us more sensitive to others’ needs and ways in which our gifts can be used to meet those needs. This, my friends, is a part of what purpose is all about. It is contributing to a cause bigger than us. Talk about an advantage.
- Last, but certainly not least, is to always remember that nothing is greater than God and His plans for our lives. Nothing. Not racism, sexism, and all the other forms of oppression. The enemy may try to put insurmountable mountains in our way, but faith in God and belief that He designed you with intention and for a unique purpose is the source of power to move them.
Thoughts on this topic? Feel free to comment!