From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Oppression is the negative outcome experienced by people targeted by the cruel exercise of power in a society or social group. It is particularly closely associated with nationalism and derived social systems, wherein identity is built by antagonism to the other. The term itself derives from the idea of being "weighted down."
The term oppression is primarily used to describe how a certain group is being kept down by unjust use of force, authority, or societal norms. When this is institutionalized formally or informally in a society, it is referred to as "systematic oppression". Oppression is most commonly felt and expressed by a widespread, if unconscious, assumption that a certain group of people are inferior. Oppression is rarely limited solely to government action. Individuals can be victims of oppression, and in this case have no group membership to share their burden of being ostracized.
In psychology, racism, sexism and other prejudices are often studied as individual beliefs which, although not necessarily oppressive in themselves, can lead to oppression if they are acted on, or codified into law or other systems. By comparison, in sociology, these prejudices are often studied as being institutionalized systems of oppression in some societies. In sociology, the tools of oppression include a progression of denigration, dehumanization, and demonization; which often generate scapegoating, which is used to justify aggression against targeted groups and individuals.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the concept of Human Rights in general were designed to challenge oppression by giving a clear articulation of what limits should be placed on the power of any entity to unfairly control an individual or group of people.
A hierarchy of oppression is a ranking (hierarchy) of relative oppressions according to arbitrariness and cruelty, or according to the perceived negative effects on oppressed communities. Hierarchies of oppression are seen by many human rights advocates as problematic, though hierarchies of oppression are often widespread even when unstated or unconscious.
When oppression is systematized through coercion, threats of violence, or violence by government agencies or non-government paramilitiaries with a political motive, it is often called Political repression. More subtle forms of political oppression/repression can be produced by blacklisting or individualized investigations such as happened during McCarthyism in the United States.
Several movements have arisen that specifically aim to oppose, analyse and counter oppression in general; examples include Liberation Theology in the Catholic world, and Re-evaluation Counselling in the psychotherapuetic arena.