At Otesha, we are strongly committed to anti-oppression values and practices.
Anti-oppression is the work of actively challenging and removing oppression caused by power inequalities in society, both systemic and on an individual level.
We recognise that oppressions based on race, ethnicity, class, gender, sexual orientation, gender, immigration status, country of origin, religion, mental health status, age, and ability are systemic in British and global society. Each one, in its own way, prevents equality in opportunity, access to education, jobs, housing, health care and social services, limits participation in decision-making, and limits dignity.
These hierarchies of power and privilege are embedded in our culture and social institutions in a way that is often invisible. They affect how we see the world and how we work together. They also limit our capacity to make positive change, since freedom from oppression is one of the necessary building blocks for a just and responsible society. (Taken from Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege)
Okay, that’s a lot of big words.
You’re right. Let’s try to unpack that a bit.
Basically, many of us are born with privileges that give us a leg up in our day-to-day lives, though we have done nothing to earn them. Things that we have no control over, like our social class, gender or the colour of our skin, have given us benefits.
Often the benefits are so subtle that we don’t even notice them, like feeling safe walking home alone late at night, and sometimes they’re more obvious, like being able to afford private education.
We’re not to blame for our privileges, but it’s important to recognise them. If we want to build a more equitable society, we need to start by checking our own privileges in whatever form they take and by calling out systems that reinforce them.
That sounds nice, but aren’t you an environmental organisation? How does this relate?
At Otesha, we believe that the environment isn’t just the green space around us – it also includes our built environment, our day-to-day interactions with those around us and the wider ecological environment.
When you think about it this way, it’s easier to see how equality and environmental sustainability are interconnected.
People facing the worst impacts of unsustainable consumption generally hold less privilege than those who don’t have to deal with them. For example, in the UK people who live close to landfills, power stations and toxic incinerators are more likely to be poor, working class and from ethnic minority backgrounds. And the poorest people in the UK and all around the world are most likely to be impacted by climate change.
What’s more, the environmental movement has historically been mostly white and middle class. As a result, the voices and leadership of those at the frontlines of battles against climate change, pollution and environmental degradation have traditionally been marginalised. This continues today – many groups feel that the environmental movement doesn’t speak for them or to them.
Environmental justice, a big and growing movement that brings together sustainability and social justice, puts those most impacted by environmental degradation at the heart of all related conversations, projects and campaigns.
Working together better
Oppression separates us and prevents all peoples’ voices from being heard. On the other hand, anti-oppression is a means to better understand and care for each other.
If two of us are in the same place, at the same event, involved in the same discussion, we might have completely different experiences. Anti-oppression allows us to talk about these differences, understand that both our experiences are valid, and helps us work together to make positive change.
“If you have come here to help me, then you are wasting your time…But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Aboriginal activists group, Queensland, 1970s
Becoming an ally
An ally is a member of a dominant group who works to dismantle any form of oppression from which she or he benefits. Allies take personal responsibility for the changes we know are needed in society, instead of ignoring them or leaving them for others to deal with. (From Mariama Richards & Elizabeth DeNevi)
“No one free until all of us are free.” – Dr Martin Luther King Jr
If you could use a bit more clarity about what specific terms – like privilege or heterosexism – mean, there are great working list of definitions here.
More definitions coming soon, along with info about how we’re embedding our anti-oppression values into the work that we do.