Systems of Oppression vs. Cultures of Oppression – BH&H

Everyone can see Systems of Oppression.  Whether it’s Slavery, or Jim Crow, or even arguably Domestic-Dependent Sovereignty (the basic legal framework that underlies all Native American Reservations in the U.S. and a true oxymoron), these were/are institutions of society.  Agreed upon and sanctioned by the Powers That Be.

There are less of these around today (gerrymandering and restrictive voting practices notwithstanding) and we should rightly see that as progress.  However, for people of privilege (like me) it’s harder to see Cultures of Oppression, because cultures don’t have offices staffed by bureaucrats who tend to their upkeep, they don’t issue rules and decisions and they aren’t officially sanctioned by the Powers That Be.  Also, and just as importantly, cultures don’t have to affect all members of society to be real.

It’s hard for me to see Cultures of Oppression in America because of my cultural status, but I know that they are out there.  Why?  Because I occasionally hear disparaging or reductive comments aimed at certain cultural groups, or because my non-white friends let me in on their experiences.  But these things are still almost abstract for me.

The one time I was really a viewer of this sort of thing was when my Tlingit friends and I entered a store in Sitka to ostensibly do some browsing, but it was actually a little demonstration they wanted to share with me about white on Tlingit racism in Sitka.  Anyway, we all entered together, but the white shopkeeper pointedly only asked me if I needed any help, but then he started subtly following my Tlingit friends around the store while leaving me be  – even though we all entered together.  It was eye-opening.

I guess the only thing I can really do is reach out to my non-majority culture students by showing my interest in their cultures and at least trying to tie the curriculum into their worldview.

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