CR #4: Empowering the Oppressed

What? Oppression is a word thrown around by many, but truly understood by few. Marion Young addresses in her piece Five Faces of Oppression that the common understanding of the term is “the exercise of tyranny by a ruling group” (Young, p. 39), however, “social movements of the 1960s and 1970s, however, shifted the meaning of the concept of oppression… oppression designates the disadvantage and injustice some people suffer not because a tyrannical power coerces them, but because of the everyday practices of a well-intentioned society” (Young, p. 39). What this means is that even when there is not an evil force, there are groups that are systematically disadvantaged and others that are privileged due to structure of the society. Young addresses five different categories of oppression: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence. In some of these definitions there is not consciousness coming from the oppresses, but for Isasi-Diaz, author of Mujerista Discourse: A Platform for Latinas’ Subjugated Knowledge, “when I refer to the oppressed and the impoverished, I am referring to those who are conscious of their oppression and who struggle for their liberation” (Isasi-Diaz, p. 47). Individuals in this situation recognize that they are in their position not because of individual choices, but a larger structural issue that is in place.

So What? In Mujerista Discourse: A Platform for Latinas’ Subjugated Knowledge, Isasi-Diaz introduces a concept called lo cotidiano which according to her “refers to the problematized daily reality” (p. 48). The importance then of focusing on day-to-day experiences is that it allows groups to recognize and specify what is going on in their lives and use this as a starting point to them imagine a different structure that challenges oppression. Isasi-Diaz also adds that “because lo cotidiano refers to what is specific about each of us, it is the main locus for considering diversity in a positive way” (p. 50). This brings me back to many of my studies in psychology on identifying your reality and then using your strengths to better your weaknesses. If the oppressed are not aware of their struggles, it is impossible to envision a world where they do not exist, which in turn gives more power to the dominant. With these ideas it becomes apparent that we do not need to shy away from our problems or weaknesses, acknowledging them is the first step to climbing out of the hole that is oppression.

Currently, going to school is a part of my lo cotidiano that seems mundane. It is what I have done for the past eighteen years of my life without question. However, the larger structure is that once I am done receiving my education I will be better equipped to enter the workforce in order to provide for my future family. Even though it is something I take for granted now, down the road I am going to look back and appreciate the work I did as an undergraduate because it prepared me for the future.

Now What? When working with students at College of Marin in the adaptive physical education program, the concept of lo cotidiano sheds light on the differences in routine the students may have compared to myself. Many of them cannot walk on their own, let alone sit up. In my first thirty minutes upon waking up I am already out the door, but the morning routine for these people living with disabilities is likely to look very different. Additionally, the adaptive p.e. program is a community that out dates the buildings they are working in. While this creates an inclusive space for these students to have developed a community together, which has benefits in itself, had normal gyms been structured to fit the needs of this population, the need for a special program like the one at COM may not have been necessary. Keeping lo cotidiano in mind helps us to understand that everyone is living a different reality which ultimately shapes who they are. When we are aware of this, we are better equipped to handle the situations which may arise.