Juneteenth to July 4th

An opportunity to reflect on Freedom and Racial Injustice

O - Oppression

What is Oppression?

Oppression is defined as "the social act of placing severe restrictions on an individual group, or institution. Typically, a government or political organization in power places restrictions formally or covertly on oppressed groups so they may be exploited and less able to compete with other social groups. The oppressed individual or group is devalued, exploited, and deprived of privileges by the individual or group who has more power." (Barker, 2003)

The oppression of Black people in the United States began with slavery, continued through the passage of the 13th Amendment, which "freed" the slaves and has endured in some form since that time (The National Constitution Center, n.d.). From the establishment of “separate but equal” under Plessy v. Ferguson to the violence that erupted toward Black communities after Brown v. Board of Education and the integration of public schools (Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.; Equal Justice Initiative, 2014; The History Channel, 2009). Throughout this time and until now, racial violence has also been used to oppress and control Black people (American Bar Association, 2019). BlackPast published an incomplete list of 98 such instances of violence toward Black communities (BlackPast, n.d.).

What does Modern-day oppression look like?

Modern-day oppression includes systemic racism and institutional racism

Systemic racism is defined as “policies and practices that exist throughout a whole society or organization, and that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race.” (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.).

Institutional racism is defined as “policies, rules, practices, etc., that are a usual part of the way an organization works, and that result in and support a continued unfair advantage to some people and unfair or harmful treatment of others based on race.” (Cambridge Dictionary, n.d.)

Current examples of systemic racism and institutional racism in the United States include:

  • The underfunding of schools within Black communities (Lombardo, 2019)

  • The vilification/stigmatization of traditionally Black hairstyles (Duke Fuqua School of Business, 2020)

  • The prevalence of employer bias against traditionally Black names (National Bureau of Economic Research [NBER], 2003)

  • Black folks are denied home loans at higher rates, even with identical credit scores (Olik, 2020)

  • The creation of laws and rules which seek to restrict voting rights in predominantly Black communities (Rakich & Mejia, 2021).

  • Along with many more instances of oppression in the daily lives of Black people - check out Ben and Jerry’s (yes, the ice cream) overview here: https://www.benjerry.com/home/whats-new/2016/systemic-racism-is-real

Calls to Action & Resources


American Bar Association. (2019). A history of tolerance for violence has laid the groundwork for injustice today. https://www.americanbar.org/groups/crsj/publications/human_rights_magazine_home/black-to-the-future/tolerance-for-violence/

Barker, R. L. (2003). The social work dictionary, 6th edition (6th ed.)

BlackPast. (n.d.). Racial violence in the United States since 1660. https://www.blackpast.org/special-features/racial-violence-united-states-1660/

Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Institutional racism. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/institutional-racism

Cambridge Dictionary. (n.d.). Systemic racism. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/systemic-racism

Duke Fuqua School of Business. (2020). Research suggests bias against natural hair limits job opportunities for Black women. https://www.fuqua.duke.edu/duke-fuqua-insights/ashleigh-rosette-research-suggests-bias-against-natural-hair-limits-job

Encyclopedia Britannica. (n.d.). Jim Crow law. https://www.britannica.com/event/Jim-Crow-law

Equal Justice Initiative. (2014, March 1). Resistance to school desegregation. https://eji.org/news/history-racial-injustice-resistance-to-school-desegregation/

Lombardo, C. (2019, February 26). Why white school districts have so much more money. https://www.npr.org/2019/02/26/696794821/why-white-school-districts-have-so-much-more-money

National Bureau of Economic Research. (2003). Employers' replies to racial names. https://www.nber.org/digest/sep03/employers-replies-racial-names

Olik, D. (2020). A troubling tale of a Black man trying to refinance his mortgage. https://www.cnbc.com/2020/08/19/lenders-deny-mortgages-for-blacks-at-a-rate-80percent-higher-than-whites.html

Rakich, N., & Mejia, E. (2021). Where Republicans have made it harder to vote (so far). https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/republicans-have-made-it-harder-to-vote-in-11-states-so-far/

The Brookings Institute. (2021, May 4). Is the United States a racist country? https://www.brookings.edu/blog/how-we-rise/2021/05/04/is-the-united-states-a-racist-country/

The History Channel. (2009, October 27). Brown v. Board of Education. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/brown-v-board-of-education-of-topeka

The National Constitution Center. (n.d.). Interpretation: https://constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/interpretation/amendment-xiii/interps/137