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Five Faces of Oppression Analytical Essay

According to Iris Marion Young, America is not prepared to talk about oppression. Young said that it is wrong to believe that oppression is not as relevant today as it was when slavery was still legal in many parts of the world. It presently reveals itself wearing five masks: exploitation; marginalization; powerlessness; cultural imperialism; and violence.

The only way to deal with oppression is to view a person not only as a member of a particular group but as an individual. One way to change the perspective of people is through the use of art as communication devices. Thus, it is imperative to consider the value of community-based art education program to help those who are oppressed.

Social Group

Young was able to illustrate why oppression is possible in the 21st century. She said that it is due to how people categorize individuals into different groups. Young clarified that her use of the term social group is different from the way politicians and social scientists view social groups. In a conventional method of categorizing people, they are given labels like religion and ethnic background. But Young said that it should be more refined than that.

Once Young was able to identify the social groups that are targets of oppression, it is easy to make the recommendation that “eliminating oppression thus requires eliminating groups … people should be treated as individuals” (Young, p.41). However, Young was quick to admit that groups cannot be abolished for it is a natural part of human existence.

Thus, she provided an alternative solution, “not the melting away of difference, but institutions that promote the reproduction of and respect for group differences without oppression” (Young, p.41). With this in mind, it is now possible to identify various forms of oppression and how to develop a CBAE program that can be effective in creating awareness of problems and empowering victims of oppression.

The Faces of Oppression

Exploitation can be interpreted in different ways, but according to the theoretical framework developed by Young, exploitation is when someone benefits from another person’s labor and sacrifice. It is true that the work of an individual benefits someone other than self but in this case the transfer of monetary income and other benefits to another person or group is unfair.

Marginalization is an exclusion. It can be a deliberate form of exclusion wherein the state sanctions the participation of a particular group. But in most cases, marginalization is done indirectly. Marginalization is wrong in so many levels because it is a form of oppression that can systematically destroy people’s lives by barring access to opportunities.

When it comes to the powerless, Young clarified her point by saying, “this powerless status is perhaps best described negatively: the powerless lack the authority, status, and sense of self that professionals tend to have” (p.57). This type of oppression contrasts heavily to the more abstract form of cultural imperialism; nevertheless, oppression is still very much evident.

In cultural imperialism, there is “universalization of a dominant groups experience and culture” therefore disabling the minority’s right to self-expression and their pursuit of happiness (Young, p.59). There is oppression because members of the minority are not free.

The last form of oppression in this framework is violence. It is the most basic form because it is easily observable. But Young clarified that this is no ordinary violence but the random use of force, attacking without provocation or reason other than the fact that the victim is a perceived member of a particular social group.

In the Real World

Five articles will be examined having these concepts in mind. In an article that can be found online at Bloomberg-Businessweek, there is a story of exploitation committed systematically by big corporations. The sad part about this exploitative practice is that it is hardly noticeable.

It requires help from experts in accounting, business, and finance to uncover it. It is the same type of practice that brought the world to its knees when the banking system collapsed because of the subprime mortgage crisis. This time around the tactics used can be considered as “fraudulent” not in legal terms perhaps but through common sense and decency.

In the said article, the writer pointed out how the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer because of strategies, that exploit those that have no choice but to take the bait. In this article, Roxanne a single mother of four has limited options when it comes to the job market. She is only a high school graduate and therefore when she moved to Albuquerque she was forced to take on a job that would require her to use a car. So she bought a car that she cannot afford and ended up not able to pay it in full (Grow & Epstein, p.1).

The disturbing fact of the story came later when investigators discovered that the used car company made money by charging high-interest rates and profiting from repossessed cars. In other words, they knew that Roxanne could not afford the payments and yet they still wanted to deal with her knowing that for a few months she is able to give them a portion of her income.

Marginalization, on the other hand, was experienced firsthand by immigrants in Los Angeles California (Gorman, p.1). Immigrants suffer grave abuses, but they cannot come forward because of the fear of deportation. Others are unable to seek help because of the language barrier. But most of the time they are marginalized, pushed to the outer edges of society because no one wants to help them.

Marginalization can, therefore, be defeated by simplifying the social group into individuals. It is easy to ignore immigrants if one looks at them as a group. But if there is a way to break the culture and language barrier it is easier to have compassion on them and learn that they are not different from the members of the majority group. They too are human beings capable of feeling and more importantly has the potential to contribute to society if they are only given a chance.

When it comes to powerlessness, there is perhaps no other group that exemplifies its meaning other than the homeless. The homeless person is so powerless that at the end of the day there is no place to call home. Workers may be exploited and maltreated, but at the end of each shift, there is a place of refuge. There is a place where they can come home and recover. But the homeless have nothing.

Homelessness is so disturbing if it happens in a progressive city like Vancouver, Canada. In 2010 the authorities discovered that the number of homeless people can exceed 5,000 and the reason why this number is significant is due to the fact that Vancouver hosted the Winter Olympics in 2010 (Paulsen, p.1). There must be a way to empower them so that they can recover everything that they have lost.

Cultural imperialism can be seen in China. The Chinese government uses its power to stifle the resistance of Tibetan monks who demanded that Tibet must be free from Chinese rule (Guardian UK, p.1). This is not a simple political struggle. Tibetan monks are challenging a government that does not value their belief system. The response of the Chinese government demonstrates its utter contempt on the ideals of Buddhism and the desire of this particular minority to practice their religion freely.

When it comes to the random use of violence against a particular social group none fits the bill perfectly that the use of violence against gay people. In an incident that occurred three years ago in Vancouver, a 27-year old man was struck in the face, fracturing his jaw (CBC News, p.1). There was no provocation; the man attacked him for no other reason except that he is gay. It is an example of a hate crime.

Community-Based Art Education Program

There are different ways to reduce oppression in society. There are various ways to deal with this problem, but it can be argued that one of the effective ways to empower, raise awareness, and education is through the use of arts.

It can be singing, dancing, acting, painting, opera, stage plays, street mime and other forms of art that can draw people to a particular issue and discuss it. Community-based art education program (CBAE) can be used not only to educate people but to connect to a social group.

For example, a group can set-up a stage in a poor section of the city and begin to perform plays. The homeless people are given free entertainment. But there is a follow-up; afterward, the team can provide lessons that can improve the skills of the people drawn to the event; thus, the CBAE is just a way to attract people.

On the other hand, CBAE can be utilized as a direct teaching tool. In the case of cultural imperialism in China, a group of talented filmmakers can develop a low-budget film regarding the plight of the Tibetan monks and use this medium to spread the word regarding their struggle against the Chinese government.

But in order for it to be called a CBAE, the filmmakers must travel to Tibet and live among the Tibetan monks to establish a connection first with the social group. A CBAE can also be developed in border towns where there are a significant number of immigrants that are marginalized.

The CBAE program can help break the language barrier. The immigrants attracted to the program, especially the youth, are given a chance to learn more about the English language in order to improve their communication skills and hopefully improve their lives.


Iris Young made an impressive contribution to the study of oppression in the 21st century. Her idea serves as an eye-opener to many people who may have had a wrong understanding regarding the absence of oppression in this country.

The second most important contribution of Iris Young is the assertion that it is imperative to view people as individuals and not just members of a particular social group. By doing so, people are made aware that these are human beings worthy of compassion and respect. One way to reach them and help them deal with their problems is through the use of a CBAE program.

Works Cited

CBC News. “CBC. News Canada, 2008. Web.

Gorman, A. “Los Angeles Times, 2010. Web.

Grow, B. & Keith E. “The Poverty Business.” Bloomberg-Businessweek, 2007. Web.

Paulsen, M. “The Tyee, 2007. Web.

The Guardian. “The Guardian, 2008. Web.

Young, Iris Marion. “Five Faces of Oppression.” Justice and the Politics of Difference. New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 39-65. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Five Faces of Oppression'. 16 October.

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