5 Faces of Oppression

5 Faces of Oppression

Author: Josh Valdez


Marion Young developed what is to be considered the 5 Faces of Oppression to help us understand better social movements and groups. Oppression is often associated with frustration that leads to violence. Ashley Crossman, a Sociology Expert for About Education, defines social oppression [as] “a concept that describes a relationship of dominance and subordination between categories of people in which one benefits from the systematic abuse, exploitation, and injustice directed toward the other (About Education, 2016).” It is the root of dehumanization and powerful variable in many of the correlations behind violent terrorist organizations. Marion Young identified five states of oppression being exploitation, violence, marginalization, powerlessness, and cultural imperialism.

Exploitation is where the uncompensated efforts of one social group directly benefits another at little to no cost. One group is taxed or has a cost no matter if they benefit from their wages or labor it does not matter to the benefiting group. An example of this would be when Slavery was barely lifted in the United States and American Americans were trying to get a job. Many turned to military, mining, or railroad work but their wages were not the same as those of their colleagues but their efforts equally benefited the organization they worked for. Exploitation will slowly lead to the idea of relative deprivation or the “shame” known as marginalization.

Marginalization is the practice where we believe a group of people to be so low in status that we don’t want them to even work for or alongside of us. This occurs when we decide to deprive someone of participating in social life and advancement.  Marginalization is very commonly based upon race or ethnic background but not limited to age, marital status, or disability circumstances. The Equal Employment Act was created to attempt to minimalize this type of oppression but still widely exists today. Many times elderly or singles mothers are oppressed to the added risk taken upon the employer when hiring these employees due to the potential lack of ability because of health or constant needs.

Powerlessness is the lack of authority or status socially required in order to participate. Because of this lack of power, one is not able to stand up for himself of his beliefs. The powerless or proletariat as Karl Marx would put it would be constantly governed by the Bourgeoisie. This is not always in a physical sense of power but widely a psychological or political power over a group of people. This phase of oppression is widely seen when the Slaves in the United States first started to gain rights or political worth. They had to fight through their vote only being counted as 3/5 of a person, resulting in them feeling powerless.

Cultural Imperialism is the presence of cultural dominance or social reinforcement of the dominate group while making the minority group feel subordinate, targeted, and invisible. It makes the dominate group the ruling class establishing the social norms in a society. If you belong to the minority group you are focused to live by these rules but your values and goals are dismissible to society. An example of this group would be the Native American Indians when settlers came into America.  These settlers invoked dominance over the Native Americans giving them little say or power over what cultures or traditions were expected in society. Even banishing them out farther in society or localizing them on reservations to have little influence over the rest of society.

Violence. Attacks from the oppressed or dominate group that may not have a direct motive but that of humiliation, damage, and destruction to a person. This is not limited to race, gender, religion, or ideals. It is driven by an irrational fear of a group of people, ideas, traditions or customs known as xenophobia. ISIS is a group led by such ideology, where any nation or people that do not believe or participate in Jihad is one to damage and destroy. It is absolute oppression generated by such threats and acts of violence.



About Education. 2016. “Social Oppression.” Retrieved Nov. 3, 2016 (http://sociology.about.com/od/S_Index/g/Social-Oppression.htm)



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