Tag Archives: suppression

Understanding Repression, Suppression, Oppression

We tend to conceptualize the terms oppression, suppression, and repression to mean exactly the same thing in general conversation and while this is not true, they are nonetheless, interrelated.

To repress is to keep under control, to keep down or to suppress.

To suppress is to put an end to the activities of a person, body of persons, etc.

To oppress is to burden with cruel or unjust restraints, subject to a burdensome or harsh exercise of authority.

The aim of all three of these is to seek to control a person or group of people for some end that is not defined by the subject but, rather, by the object. Any time person (A) seeks to limit or control the actions or thoughts of person (B) is an expression of repression. Both suppression and oppression are means to achieve repression. At the core of this is the denial of person (B)’s agency by person (A), which is in turn a rejection of person (B)’s humanity. This is precisely how Paulo Friere defines oppression and what is wrong with it in the book Pedagogy of the Oppressed.

However, the situation is a bit more complex because not all acts that appear to fit the definition of repressive are by their very nature unjust. To seek to control the actions or the thoughts of a rapist, molester, or murderer, or an anti-Black racist Ku Klux Klan member with the aim of preventing harm to others is not necessarily unjust. The factors that may make such repression unjust are not the repression, but the manner in which the repression is carried out. For example, murdering members of a racist group merely for their affiliation and not because they have themselves done anything harmful. To do so is to become the oppressor and not to achieve real liberation for our people, as Paulo Friere argues can happen. Furthermore, this is by definition one of the conditions of genocide.


On the other hand, accountability circles and restorative justice practices which bring into focus a person’s behavior respecting their agency and humanity and working through what was wrong with a particular situation and working with them to grow so as not to recreate those same harms is a just form of seeking to help a person develop their thoughts and actions. As such, this overcomes the definition of oppression and is not exactly consistent with suppression because it is not an outside entity that shifts the behavior of person (A), but rather internally within person (B) because through a process of reconciliation their analysis has broadened and deepened, thus, becoming more humanizing.
Understanding these terms and what they mean is vital to developing our critical analysis of the conditions under which we live through deep personal and interpersonal examination. Furthermore, it permits us to engage with the complexity of social organization and what may on the surface appear to fit the definitions of oppression, suppression, or repression and to draw a clearly defined boundary between the just and the unjust practices, policies, procedures, and socialization processes of our world.

Reverse Racism

You ever notice how those who scream about #ReverseRacism almost never deny that harm has been done to the subjugated and opressed groups?

This reveals that the supposed ‘dominant group’ is terrified that their system of harmful behavior will be reciprocated upon them. This is an acknowledgement of the harm and a direct opposition to do anything about it!

Reverse racism is a farce, a fantasy that would require the subordinated groups to have the same system of oppressive institutions, practices, and beliefs because racism is systemic; it cannot by definition function on an individual and particular basis. Although, it is true that an individual may act in discriminatory ways, unless that behavior is part of a larger system of oppression and suppression, then it is not racism.

When a person screams “Reverse Racism!” what they are telling us is, “I am just fine with the way they are treating you, and yes, I know that it’s wrong.” It serves as a weak and fallacious ‘justification’ to maintain the status quo.

The Importance of a Name: A Hypothesis about local Graffiti



I have been doing a lot of thinking about graffiti lately,  especially since viewing the graffiti in the Middle East that started hitting the walls during the Arab Spring.

Many of the images were political in nature, attacking a regime or ideology, or were likenesses of martyrs. In essense, it was one of the methods in which an active and disatisfied sub-culture who lacked access to mainstream media and who were dealing with the suppression of their ideas,  utilized to propogate messages. And when I saw this collective and active revolt against the system wherein, the suppression of ideas was not tolerated, I thought it was beautiful and inspiring.

Then, I looked around Seattle for those same types of messages, but mostly all I found were names, tags, monikers and so forth, unless they were sanctioned by some business or institution. And at first, I was dissapointed because I was looking for what I saw in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran. But then I asked why all I was seeing were names, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.


The society in the United States is a credential society, that is, without documentation like a bachelor’s degree or higher, this society disregards our credibility. Entailed in that classicist ideology is the profound impact of a name: Kendrick Lamar, Jerry Springer, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates, BarakObama, Tom Cruise, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Halle Berry, and so on. Microsoft, Google, Wells Fargo, Chase, Levi, Ross, Nike, etc.  It seems readily apparent how important it is to have a popular name.


Another phenomenon that is entailed in both the credential and nomenclature society is alienation. Without credentials, and without a name a person may grow to feel less than average and dislocated from their  fellow citizens. Most importantly, people in this group are often ignored by mainstream society and lack any real means to be noticed by society at large.

I think all this reveals something, although not asimmediately apparent as with the Arab Spring, but nonetheless, simarlarly profound in its own yet, different way. What we observed about the graffiti in the Middle East, was it was a means to overcome the suppression of a message. And I am suggesting that the repeated and reiterated tagging of one’s name is just that; a revolt against society as a whole and battling against the suppression, battling against not mattering, of being forgotten. The tagging of their names on as many walls and in as many places as they can find is an active protest against society treating them as insignificant and sending the message that their name and by extension, they themselves, the graph-artist, do matter.