3.9. Systems of Oppression

Life is collectively, objectively, unfairly more difficult for people who belong to certain groups. Period. 

If we want real, lasting social change…we need to disrupt bad group dynamics.

There are two of them that are especially bad.

One is what I’ll call tribalism—the usual kind of us-versus-them pride, preference, and superiority that can develop with any group, even among fans of our favorite sports teams.

The other dynamic encompasses our systemic forms of oppression, marginalization, discrimination, prejudice, and bias against particular groups. Racism, sexism, homophobia, class warfare, nationalism, and several others.

It’s tricky, because sometimes these dynamics overlap. But they aren’t the same thing—which is really important to understand.

The big difference is systems of oppression definitely do not go both ways, the way ordinary group favoritism can.

Not every group has been targeted for genocide, slavery, vigilante violence, imperialism, institutionalization, and second-class citizenship for hundreds of years.

Not every group has mountains of statistics and studies showing that it’s significantly harder for them to get a good education, get a good job, get compensated fairly for their work, get necessary health benefits—or to simply live and love together in peace.

Not every group has to constantly worry about burdens and hardships that privileged folks like me rarely—if ever—have to worry about. Like being followed around or harassed, being disregarded or silenced, or even fearing for your life.

Just because you’re privileged doesn’t mean your life is all peachy. But life is collectively, objectively, unfairly more difficult for people who belong to certain groups. Period. For no reason other than some trait or group membership they happened to be born with.

They get marginalized and targeted—and then get blamed for their marginalization and their victimization.

This does not go “both ways.” This does not disappear or become any less of a problem, even if you personally don’t feel any hostility toward people in those groups.

We have to confront these systems of oppression not just in our interactions, but in our institutions. Because they’re literally built into our society.

Our laws, our regulations, our policies, our norms, our customs, our practices—they’re set up to keep these people down.

Not always intentionally. But it’s systematic. It’s global. And it’s indisputably, ludicrously unfair.

We can’t hedge or equivocate on this.

We can’t hide behind any excuses, evasions, or rationalizations for continuing to do this.

The fact is, we don’t live in a just society as long as these groups continue to be discriminated against.

It’s against pretty much every moral and ethical code you could possibly subscribe to. And yet it continues.

Later this week, I’ll talk more about what we can do, concretely, to deal with this.

But in the next video, I want to turn to the other nasty, unhelpful group dynamic: us-versus-them tribalism. Because there are some complicated ways that our systems of oppression and our natural tendency to take pride in the groups we belong to interact with each other.


This is the 53rd in a series of over 150 videos about how to create real, lasting social change. Click here for a list of all titles, videos, and transcripts.

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