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Systems of Oppression
The term "systems of oppression" helps us better identify inequity by calling attention to the historical and organized patterns of mistreatment. In the United States, systems of oppression (like systemic racism) are woven into the very foundation of American culture, society, and laws. Other examples of systems of oppression are sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, ageism, and anti-Semitism. Society's institutions, such as government, education, and culture, all contribute or reinforce the oppression of marginalized social groups while elevating dominant social groups.

Social Identities
A social identity is both internally constructed and externally applied, occurring simultaneously. Educators from oneTILT define social identity as having these three characteristics:

  • Exists (or is consistently used) to bestow power, benefits, or disadvantage.

  • Is used to explain differences in outcomes, effort, or ability.

  • Is immutable or otherwise sticky (difficult, costly, or dangerous) to change.

It can be difficult to understand the relationships between social groups, privilege, and oppression. For this reason, sociologists have developed tools like The Matrix of Oppression (below) to help us more clearly see and think through how different social groups experience American society. Tools like this remind us that although we all live in one America, our individual experiences can be profoundly different.

Social Identities and Systems of Oppression | National Museum of ...