Since sharing my last post, “Impact of Oppression on Life Purpose,” several people openly shared with me their encounters with prejudice and discrimination. Their firsthand experiences included incidents of racial stereotyping and flat out mistreatment when applying for jobs, while on the job, and even attending church (yes, you read that right- remember oppression permeates all institutions, systems, and programs in which we rely).
In their narratives, I could sense the angst of being expected to function in a racist society. I could also sense these encounters were all too common in their lives. This commonness was a detriment to their ability to thrive and seize opportunities.
Their experiences as the oppressed resonate with me. Being a Black woman, I have an insider’s understanding of the stories they shared. My own angst caused by oppression, racism in particular, stems from my dependence on the same systems that were intentionally created to give certain people (i.e., White) an advantage while disenfranchising others (e.g., people of color). I, like my friends who shared their experiences with me, undoubtedly fall into the “disenfranchised other” category.
Belonging to this category can cause us to feel powerless and helpless, waiting for some streak of luck to unlock doors to opportunities in which we are NOT privy. We attempt to counter these feelings of powerlessness and redistribute opportunity by assimilating to the advantaged group. We beat the odds and get the degrees the dominant culture deems important. We straighten our hair before the job interview. We make sure to the drop any trace of Ebonics from our speech in the presence of Whites in the workplace or at social gatherings. We think to ourselves “maybe they will notice that I can be like them? Maybe this assimilation will end the discrimination I face on a daily basis? Maybe it will increase the amount of opportunities I am granted (e.g. jobs, promotions, small business loans-you name it!)?”
Or maybe not…
Research shows there is still a lack of opportunity given to us despite efforts, like assimilation, on our end (for those of you who need facts or evidence of this, check out these 2 articles – http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/25/news/economy/racial-discrimination-work/ and https://www.brookings.edu/blog/social-mobility-memos/2015/01/15/five-bleak-facts-on-black-opportunity/).
What does all of this have to do with purpose and opportunity? Experiencing the negative impacts of oppression can make it seem as though opportunities are out of our reach.
In fact, opportunities are out of our reach if we are dependent on oppressors handing them to us. This may be a hard pill to swallow, but we must realize that many of us are unprivileged in this society. This means that opportunities are not placed in our laps very often.
It is true that we, like everybody else, may have to find and seize opportunities that already exist.
However, it is also true that we, MORE than anybody else, need to consider the possibility of creating opportunity.
In my mind, the process for creating opportunity while living under oppression involves identifying our purpose, uncovering the ways oppression impedes purposeful living, developing strategies to thrive in purpose despite these obstacles, and discovering how overcoming these obstacles creates opportunities for ourselves and others.
Start by asking yourself these questions:
- What are my God-given gifts and talents?
- How do my unique gifts, talents, and perspective relate to my purpose?
- How has oppression impacted my belief in my ability to achieve this purpose?
- How can I thrive and live a purposeful life despite racism/other forms of oppression?
- How can I use my purpose to meet some of the world’s greatest needs, in particular for marginalized populations?
- How does my purpose relate to opportunity?
- How does fulfilling my purpose create opportunities for me and others who are also marginalized?
As I’ve stated before in the previous post, it is not the job of the oppressed to dismantle systems that marginalize them. That is oppressors’ job- those who benefit from these systems must break them down.
However, we cannot wait for this to happen (if it will ever happen). We can’t wait for oppressors to hand us existent opportunities that they have reserved for themselves, nor should we accept mediocre opportunities. We must think of ways to give ourselves a fighting chance.
Do you have thoughts on this topic? Feel free to share them.