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Oppression derives from the concept of being weighted down, and is often depicted as such. Here, a cartoon Jew labors under the metaphorical oppression of the Russian Tsar

Oppression is the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner. It can also be defined as an act or instance of oppressing, the state of being oppressed, and the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions, and anxiety.

Oppression is a popular topic in debates, such as in the QDU league in secondary schools. This article is often used to assist in defining oppression.

Social oppression

The systematic, socially supported mistreatment and exploitation of a group or category of people by another.

Systematic oppression

Anarchists and other forms of libertarian, at either end of the political spectrum, argue that police and law themselves are oppression. The term oppression in such instances to refer to the subordination of a given group or social category by unjust use of force, authority, or societal norms in order to achieve the effects noted above. When institutionalized, formally or informally, it may achieve the dimension of systematic oppression. Oppression is customarily experienced as a consequence of, and expressed in, the form of a prevailing, if unconscious, assumption that the given target is in some way inferior. Oppression is rarely limited solely to formal government action: an individual may be the particular focus of oppression or persecution and in such circumstances have no group membership in which to share, and thus maybe mitigate, the burden of ostracism.

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 codified in law or become parts of a culture. 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 limit oppression by giving a clear articulation of what fundamental freedoms any system should allow to all of the people over whom it has power.

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.

Transnational systems of oppression include colonialism, imperialism, and totalitarianism, and can generate a resistance movement to challenge the oppressive status quo.

Internalized oppression

In sociology and psychology, internalized oppression is the manner in which an oppressed group comes to use against itself the methods of the oppressor. For example, sometimes members of marginalized groups hold an oppressive view toward their own group, or start to believe in negative stereotypes of themselves.

For example, internalized racism is when members of Group A believe that the stereotypes of Group A are true and may believe that they are less intelligent or academically inferior to other groups of people.

Any social group can internalize prejudice.

Indirect oppression

Indirect oppression is oppression that is effected by psychological attack, situational constraints or other indirect means. It has been a popular tactic practiced in single power, power monopoly or other authoritarian or totalitarian regimes.


Several movements have arisen that specifically aim to oppose, analyse and counter oppression in general; examples include Liberation Theology in the Christian world, and Re-evaluation Counselling in the psychotherapeutic arena. Modern-day groups that actively oppose oppression include Ligali, a British African organization headed by civil rights activist Toyin Agbetu.

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