Oppression has been prevalent throughout society since the beginning of time. When someone oppresses another person, it means that they have a power over them and they are using that power in a cruel or unjust way. In any society, there is always a system of power structures at work. These structures can be used for different kinds of oppression — racist, sexist, classist, etc.
Furthermore, the victims of racist oppression are not necessarily the same group as the targets of sexist oppression, and likewise, the instigator of the racist oppression isn’t necessarily from the same group as the instigator of sexist oppression. However, the commonality between all of these groups is that the victims and instigators of the oppression are members of the same society, which maintains a system of power that connects all of the types of oppression. The word for this interconnectedness of oppression is known as intersectionality.
Intersectionality theory is extremely applicable to today’s society and should therefore should be considered when discussing oppression as a whole. Consider the experience of a gay, African-American male. On the surface, one may separate out his privilege and oppression and state that he has male privilege and is also oppressed due to his sexuality. However, this is where intersectionality comes into play. In a non-intersectional world, all males in society have male privilege.
However, when you consider America’s history of portraying the black man as a menace and danger to society, the roles drastically change. Specifically, there have been many instances where black men, or men of color, have been questionably shot, which raised a lot of debate of whether the shooting was just or an act of racism. Therefore, a person of color that is a part of the LGBTQ community not only has to deal with ridicule, insults, and stigma from society as a whole, but also face oppression from being a person of color in a white-supremacist society. Furthermore, consider the experience of a Muslim woman living in America. First, she has to deal with a misogynistic American culture that has for a long time belittled women and viewed them as objects rather than as people. She also has to deal with an American society that has a warped view of Islam and has been trained to hate all people that are Muslim.
As a result, this woman faces Islamophobic misogyny, where she is belittled for her gender, but also considered a threat to society due to her religion. On the other hand, there are instances where people can be oppressed in some ways but have privileges in other regards. For example, consider the situation of a middle-class gay white male. While he faces oppression from being gay, he essentially has a red carpet rolled out for him from society, as a white male. Also, consider the cases of President Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia. While they both face overlapping oppression by being black women, they will generally have a better life than a random white-male living in Alabama.
This is due to other power structures at work, such as money and status, which is another example why we need to consider all possible power structures when analyzing oppression.