It’s not unusual to think of oppression as a social issue of the past, yet oppressive conditions continue to exist all over the world, including in modern democratic societies like ours. In fact, most people experience one or more forms of oppression at some point in their lives. Oppression can persist through an individual (e.g. a shopkeeper who only lets one teenager shop at a time), an institution (e.g. a school that does not let girls play a certain sport), or a culture (e.g. the caste system in India). Oppression can occur consciously or unconsciously; people often do not realize they are oppressing others (e.g. through laughing at racist or homophobic jokes), and are often even less aware of their own privilege as compared to those who are oppressed.
While small acts of oppression may seem insignificant, oppression can lead to large-scale, devastating impacts such as wars and genocides. The term ‘genocide’ comes from combining the Greek word ‘genos’ (race) with the Latin word ‘cide’ (killing). Genocides and other mass murders killed more people in the twentieth century than all wars combined. After the Holocaust, the international community promised “never again” would the world stand by and allow genocide to occur. Although the sentiment of “never again” continues to be repeated, there have been many genocides committed since the Holocaust. Many people attribute the extent and severity of genocide to the inaction of outside governments and people. Genocide is a complicated and political word to apply to many situations since its use implies a number of legal and moral obligations. In addition, genocides are often defined long after the violent acts have taken place, thus complicating the ability for outsiders to intervene in the genocide.
- Exploitation (e.g. child labour);
- Cultural dominance or violence (e.g. police brutality against people of colour in the U.S.);
- Racism (e.g. Apartheid in South Africa;
- Classism (e.g. “Untouchables” in India);
- Ableism (discrimination against those with disabilities);
- Heterosexism and cisgenderism (discrimination against transgender), and homophobia and transphobia;
- Debate over recognition of genocides;
- Oppressive institutional and social structures