The need for anti-oppression education

Shutterstock.

There have always been advantaged and disadvantaged groups in every society where dominant classes have ruled, aside from a few exceptions. These social and power relations in society usually went unchallenged either out of fear of violent repercussions under authoritarian regimes or the tactic of influencing and trying to control what people think and express by the state in democratic societies. Understanding oppression helps to challenge dominant viewpoints that enable the oppression of disadvantaged groups. Advocating for policy change and inclusion is necessary to progress towards a more equitable society.

Understanding the terms power and privilege is a must. Definitions I found helpful are from the Canadian Federation of Students. Power is described as “The use of advantages that allow some groups to have preference over or dominate others. Power is the ability to define reality, have control or access to institutions supported by the state, and have ownership and control over major resources.” Privilege is defined as “Systemic advantages based on certain characteristics that are normalized by society. Privilege refers to advantages dominant groups have whether they want it or not.”

Richard and Paula.

A comic by Toby Morris, “ON A PLATE: A SHORT STORY ABOUT PRIVILEGE,” does an excellent job of helping people understand privilege in visual form. For many in society, the idea of there being different inequalities is hard to see, as the idea that everyone has the same start and opportunity to work hard and be successful is prevalent. The comic compares Richard, who is in a warm home with food and books, and Paula, who grew up in a damp and noisy home and got sick a lot. Richard’s parents could be home and support him, whereas Paula was home alone as her parents each worked two jobs to make ends meet. Paula’s parents are happy with a B on her report card; Richard’s parents are worried and get him a tutor for receiving a B+. Richard’s parents pay for his university studies while Paula has to work and study. Richard’s dad has connections for him to get his foot in the door and obtain secure employment; Paula’s father is sick in the hospital.

Another important lesson to learn is the difference between equality and equity. Equality is everyone receiving the same treatment, and therefore everyone having the same opportunities for the outcomes to be equal. Equity is recognizing that people have different experiences. Equity is the idea of providing someone with the support they need to reach the same outcome as others who do not require supports. One of the images that is widely used to illustrate this idea is one depicting three people standing up on boxes watching a baseball game over a fence. In the first image, they each have a box to stand on, and this is labelled Equality. In the second image, labelled Equity, the first person does not have a box because he is tall enough to see, the second person still gets one box, and the third person gets two boxes to see. The images are side by side. Sometimes there is a third image, labelled Justice or Liberation, with the fence removed, so that they can see the game without accommodations as the cause of the inequality was addressed, hence removing the systemic barrier.

Much progress has been made, but there is still much more that needs to be done to achieve a genuinely caring and inclusive society. Anti-oppression education is needed in schools, workplaces, and organizations.

Matt Barter is a fourth-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.

The Elites’ Control and Use of Propaganda in the Media

Media has become a crucial part of our lives in the Western world; almost everyone has radios, televisions (TV), cell phones, computers, and internet access.

In many Western countries, such as Canada, the United States, and France, we are made to believe that because we have freedom of speech and a free press, our countries are democratic.

There has also been the privatization of our press and media; only six media conglomerates in the United States account for most of the content compared to the 1980s when 29 media companies accounted for over half. Years before that, there were over 50 media companies. Media companies are getting bigger, and there is more power solicitation in the hands of fewer. News Corporation, owned by Rupert Murdoch, sold 21st Century Fox to Walt Disney for $71 billion, which resulted in Disney becoming an even bigger empire and the number of companies that produce content even smaller.

To better understand the effect media has on our society, it is essential to look at the theories of Theodor Adorno and Noam Chomsky.

Adorno coined the term ‘culture industry’ instead of mass culture because of his belief that culture is not a collective creation but rather a production in an industrial process for the masses. Popular culture is created in mass production and then sold to a mass public of consumers; an example of this is Hollywood studios. Adorno talks about how we, as consumers of mass media, are often passive, uncritical, and easily manipulated. Also, our social realities are created for us. He argues that the audience seeks fantasy and escapism instead of intellectual challenge and stimulation. The mass media does not offer real-world solutions but instead artificial solutions. We receive the same messages and therefore think alike. Adorno even goes so far as to state that the culture industry tries to control the minds and actions of people to bring us in line with capitalist ideology.

Theodor Adorno.

A significant part of capitalism is happiness through material possessions. The system of capitalism helps us satisfy our desires through consumption but ignores that it is capitalism that creates these desires for us. We cannot think differently, but we must instead submit ourselves to conformity and obey authority. Many of the movies and TV shows that we watch are produced by the culture industry, follow the same formulas, and are repetitive. Yet, we want more of the same instead of watching something new, different, and thought-provoking.

Chomsky’s focus is on propaganda and how wealth and power have a great deal of influence and control over our media. According to Chomsky, the function of media is “to amuse, entertain, and inform, and to inculcate individuals with the values, beliefs, and codes of behaviour that will integrate them into the institutional structures of the larger society.” Chomsky’s theory has filters including ownership and profit orientation, advertising as the primary source of income, and reliance on “experts” as sources of news (governments, corporations, and businesses).

It is primarily the wealthy and large companies that have the means to produce mass culture. As most media companies are privately-owned, their main goal is profit, so they are run by the executives and shareholders, with the editors and journalists having little influence. Due to the increasing costs of in-depth news stories and investigative work, we are now getting less of these stories, and some of the smaller companies are now using stories from larger media companies. Small media companies are closing, and there is a declining number of local news stories, which results in less information for the people. Less news and fewer longer stories hurt democracy.

Noam Chomsky.

Advertising is the primary source of income for private media companies. Most newspapers and magazines would close if not for advertisements because revenue from sales is not enough. Thus, the advertisers have a great deal of influence on what gets reported. If a news company is not toeing the line and instead criticizes capitalism, then advertisers may see it as damaging to be associated with this company.

Many news channels broadcast 24 hours a day. Therefore, they need a constant flow of information. The news companies cannot afford to have reporters everywhere, and it is easier to have them in places where news is made available by official sources, such as The White House or the House of Commons. Those deemed to be experts, such as government officials, corporations, and leaders in the business world, are seen as credible and have name recognition. Therefore, the powerful voices dominate, and the voices of the many are silenced.

Matt Barter is a third-year student in the Humanities and Social Sciences Faculty at Memorial University of Newfoundland, majoring in Political Science with a minor in Sociology. He enjoys reading thought-provoking articles, walks in nature, and volunteering in the community.