- Liberation is both the undoing of the effects and the elimination of the causes of social oppression. The achievement of human liberation on a global scale will require far-reaching changes at the institutional level and at the level of group and individual interactions. These changes will involve transforming oppressive behavioral patterns and “unlearning” oppressive attitudes and assumptions.
- No one is naturally or genetically oppressive; no human being is born as an oppressor. No one is naturally or genetically destined to be oppressed; no one is born to be oppressed.
- Oppression is the systematic and pervasive mistreatment of individuals on the basis of their membership in various groups, which are disadvantaged by the institutionalized imbalances in social power in a particular society. Oppression includes both institutionalized or “normalized” mistreatment as well as instances of violence. It includes the invalidation, denial, or the non-recognition of the complete humanness (the goodness, uniqueness, smartness, powerfulness, etc.) of those who are members of the mistreated group.
- Biological/cultural/ethnic/sexual/religious/age differences between human beings are never the cause of oppression. The use of these differences to explain either why certain groups of people are oppressed (or) why certain groups of people behave oppressively, functions as a justification of oppression.
- Differences in class, in social and economic power, in educational opportunity and achievement, in health and physical well being, are the expression and result of institutionalized inequalities in opportunity. Such differences perpetuate and increase the social imbalances in power and thereby serve to maintain all forms of oppression.
- The perpetuation of oppression is made possible by the conditioning of new generations of human beings into the role of being oppressed and the role of being oppressive. In a society in which there is oppression, everyone (at one time or another) is socialized into both of these roles. People who are the target group of a particular form of mistreatment are socialized to become victims; people who are the non-target group of a particular form of mistreatment are socialized to become perpetrators- either in a direct, active form or in an indirect, passive form. Neither of these roles serves our best interests as human beings.
- The conditioning of both groups, the target group and the non-target group of any given oppression takes place through a specific form of oppression, the oppression of young people. In a society in which there is oppression, all young people will be the targets of this systematic mistreatment, i.e. all young people will be oppressed.
- In addition to force and the threat of force, oppression is perpetuated through the generation and recycling of systematic misinformation about the nature, history, and the abilities of the target group. -Because this misinformation is socially empowered and sanctioned, it functions as the justification for the continued mistreatment of the target group.
- Each group targeted by oppression inevitably “internalizes” the mistreatment and the misinformation about itself. The target group thus “mis-believes” about itself the same misinformation which pervades the social system. This “mis-believing” expresses itself in behavior and interactions between individual members of the target group which repeat the content of their oppression. Internalized oppression is always an involuntary reaction to the experience of oppression on the part of the target group.) To blame the target group in any way for having internalized the consequences of their oppression is itself an act of oppression.
- The “positive re-enforcements” and social rewards that people in a non-target group receive for going along with their conditioning would not in themselves be sufficient to secure their acceptance of the social role of the perpetrator. The “acceptance” of this role is first made possible as a result of the individual’s own experience of oppression, originally as a young person.
- People who are the targets of any particular form of oppression have resisted and attempted to resist their oppression in any way they could. The fact that their resistance is not generally recognized is itself a feature of the oppression.
- People who are the non-target of any particular oppression have resisted and attempted to resist their socialization into the oppressive role. The fact that this resistance is not generally recognized is also a feature of the oppression.
- Being socialized into the oppressed role is a painful experience for all people of the target group. Being socialized into the oppressor role is a painful experience for all people of the non-target group — in spite of the positive re-enforcements and material benefits that go along with this role.
- Part of the conditioning experience is the misinformation that socialization into these roles is not painful. In some cases the pain of the conditioning is recognized for people in the target group. It is seldom recognized for people of the non-target group. The conditioning experiences are portrayed as “a normal part of growing up”. For the most part the original awareness that this socialization was painful is obscured, or forgotten.
- The perpetuation of any particular oppression requires that the pain of being socialized into either the oppressed or the oppressor role be forgotten, or discounted. The discounting or “normalizing” of the painful aspects of the conditioning process thus becomes a means of perpetuating all forms of oppression.
- Liberation is possible. It is possible to recover the buried memories of our socialization, to share our stories and heal the hurts imposed by the conditioning, to act in the present in a humane and caring manner, to rebuild our human connections and to change our world.
Ricky Sherover-Marcuse is best known among a generation of political activists from the sixties and seventies as the initiator of workshops in “unlearning racism.” She developed this form of consciousness raising, and conducted workshops all over the United States, Europe, and the Middle East until her death from cancer in December 1988.
A Jew, committed to the liberation of all peoples, Ricky was determined to forge an authentic, socialist revolutionary movement by encouraging both an understanding of the political roots of oppression, and of how it is personally internalized within each of us and enacted, however unwittingly, in daily life.