live in a culture of discrete and indirect methods of oppression. Due to the
reason that it is indeed indirect – people can be reluctant to put oppression
on the agenda as a serious issue. Indeed, I have heard many workers often
complain about people discussing oppression in this country because they feel
that it is not an issue for practitioners. My argument is that it is one of the
cornerstones of our practice and should be given attention at all stages of our
paper is written with the intention of introducing a process by which we can
consider oppression in the context of youth and community work, and in our own
the first part, I shall explore mental health as an aspect of disability. I then
link this to gender, in terms of young women and then onto race.
essay draws on models to highlight how oppression is not just an issue of one
person’s prejudice but has wider definitions. I will also use my own model to
demonstrate my practice response to oppression as a suggestion for other
essay concludes by reaffirming the key principles of anti-oppressive practice
and why I have selected just three elements as a discussion point.
of Surveillance: Understanding Anti-Oppressive Practice
simply cannot exist without the collusion of the less prominent factors in
society. It is not something that exists without power, but equally we are not
powerless in challenging it. My argument in this essay is that oppression is to
be challenged, and is one of the foundations of youth work practice. In
exploring the wider picture, I am able to present the anti-oppressive strategies
and models of practice that are relevant in the challenging behavior we present.
would like to begin this essay with the first of my topics – mental ill
health. This form of illness falls under the category of disability in that it
is considered to be an impairment of the mind or a disease that causes a disablement
of normal functions (Chambers
I present this analysis based on my own personal experiences of mental
ill health and the promotion and education surrounding this subject in my work
as a practitioner.
ill health is a vast subject, and that which is beset by various diagnoses and
treatments. The incidence of mental health difficulties is vastly unknown, in
one respect to the nature of treatment uptake in relation to illness (Nazroo
but more so by the representation it is given through our news and media
sources. If I reflect on the last time that I read about a mental ill health
concern either in the press or through other sources, it is usually in relation
to coverage of a murder or violent attack by a person who is severely troubled
by a mental illness. This type of information aids in informing young people
about the “dangers” of mental illness or distress, whilst neglecting to
educate them about the realities of
the conditions. An example figure worth consideration is that one person in 100
experiences a form of Schizophrenia in their lives (Deproost,
Wood & Bayle 1999).
Through the lack of education around mental health and other factors, terms such
as “psycho” “loony bin” “deranged” and “freak” still haunt
people of all ages.
is only a snapshot of a wider issue and stigma is not my primary focus for this
essay. I want to explore the wider picture of mental ill health in terms of
present Thompson’s PCS model that details different levels of oppression:
from Thompson 1997:21 Fig 2.1)
diagram displays three different circles and in explaining their function, I
will relate them to the discussion in this essay. The P stands for personal,
the C for cultural
and the S for structural. In terms of
the nature of oppressive actions, they relate to the different levels. The personal
is what we could commonly call a prejudice, while this thinking is shared in cultural
norms or common thinking. The wider oppression is exacted through the structural
level as a result of social divisions or the unequal distribution of power (Thompson
model could relate to the oppression against sufferers of mental health
problems, on a personal level in the prejudices they face and in the cultural
norms that state that mentally ill people cannot cope or are dangerous. The
wider spectrum is through the organisation of treatment, employment difficulties
and state dominant message that reinforces the personal and cultural elements.
The Sunday People’s story gives a
clear example of this.
sufferers of mental ill health can experience discrimination on grounds of their
illness, either through lack of understanding or sheer bigoted behaviour. But
those more likely to have mental health brought into question are women and
black people, where mental illness has been used to reaffirm stereotypes, and as
my argument will present, introduce elements of social control.
to the nature of the western world’s preoccupation with image consumerism and
the way that the media portrays “good role models” – young women face a
major struggle to be accepted as individuals. The striving battle for women to
feel respected and to “look good” is made increasingly difficult with the
unrealistic expectations presented to society as a whole. As a result of this,
many young women experience one the most common mental illnesses known –
eating disorders (Barnes
& Maple 1992).
The whole media circus presenting what is deemed to be a correct image has
informed these young people’s opinions, influencing peers in their cruel
pressure and creating a situation where women become ill. Living in a
male-dominated arena, women can resort to this illness as a demonstration of
their powerlessness at the hands of the status quo. Indeed, history as early as
the beginning of the 17th century, women were seeking support from
doctors due to their “distracted, disordered and melancholy” behaviour (Porter
Porter goes on to say that at the time this was not surprising due to the
position that women were put in by society. They had duties of labour, raising
families and maintaining the house. In the nature of our patriarchal society,
women who have presented emotive behaviour have been placed under “control by
what is the structural response to the disorders in these young women? I do not
dispute that there are treatment options available – but what do the tablets
and therapies seek to achieve?
is sufficient argument that young women are put through the rounds of treatment
as a means of returning them to their “acceptable” state of mood, or
controlling their emotional disturbances (Barnes
& Maple 1992).
However, this does not challenge the forces that created these negative factors
and does not seek to promote good mental health. Indeed, some treatments are
often delivered in the forms of force-feeding or Electro-Convulsive Therapy (ECT).
ECT is not even fully understood and has been at the forefront of some very
sinister side effects. Under current laws of compulsory admission through the
Mental Health Act 1983, patients can be administered these treatments without
their consent (Turner
It is clear then that this treatment of women can be at the forefront of
suppressing both choice and participation in recovery as well as neglecting to
explore the reasons behind the illness. With one of the more common side effects
of ECT being memory loss – this reaffirms my earlier statement of neglecting
to address the needs or reasons for the illness. It is not just through these
harsh measures, but in General Practice consultations and throughout the NHS
treatment as a whole, modern anti-depressants are used. Modern treatments, such
as Prozac aim to raise
chemical levels in the brain – the deficiency being a believed link to cause
of depression (MIMS 1999).
In effect, the patient is set to comply and stick to treatment – generating a
“chemical smile”. To draw on a local example, recorded incidence of eating
disorders in Gloucestershire are reaching levels of 1800-2200 patients,
identifying a clear need for study of the wider circle of pressure rather than
suppress the symptoms (Deproost,
Wood and Bayle 1999).
is a factor that was rarely considered in the examination of causes and
incidence of mental ill health, but I put forward the argument of the need to
re-visit this issue. For a long period of time and through results of research
into race and mental illness, it was perceived that:
disadvantages (were) inherent to their ethnicity – a consequence of their
cultural and genetic weaknesses”
research carried out in the Forth National Survey of Ethnic Minorities (FNS)
shows that anxiety and significant depression is higher in Black British people
than the older generation migrants (Nazroo
Using this analysis, we can determine that (as Black British people are born in
Britain) the above statement has no basis for truth. Indeed, there is more of a
visible link to how society affects people through structural oppression.
Numerous research projects show that there is a link between class levels and
health. As it is considered that Black British people are generally of lower
class, they suffer worse health.
if class is a factor – what contributes to the class structure of black
people? Interviews carried out in the FNS uncovered severe racism at the hands
of employers, services and communities. 28% of interviewees described being
refused employment on grounds of race (Nazroo
equation here is simple: Black people face inequality in employment due to the
inherent cultural and structural racism which then leads to poor health,
resulting in treatment that is questionable. Studies show that “Afro-Caribbean
people are more likely to be detained for compulsory hospital admission” even
though there is no evidence to suggestion that they are in any way more violent
or aggressive upon admission in comparison to other ethnic groups, such as white
The structural oppression that is evident here is at the hands of the doctors,
police and hospital staff, the “Agents of Surveillance” who can show their
racial bias through the NHS framework and by using the law to maintain “social
“agents of surveillance” can use their personal
power, supported by their cultural
norms, through the structural
environment of the health service to exact racism or sexism; thus their level
of influence is of a greater formula.
recapping the facts, mental health discrimination is something that occurs
throughout society, and using race and gender we can see how it can be used as a
tool of control. We can also see the link between class and health, and the
reasons for the class inequalities. Mental
health treatment, from the evidence shown, can be a tool for retaining status
quo rather than tackling the social implications for the illnesses or the social
is simply no hierarchy of oppression and I have touched on three issues for one
reason. The subject of poor mental health is a vast one and can affect anyone,
but it has oppressive implications and stigma attached to the illness. Exploring
further, I have made links to how this illness can reinforce stereotypes or
cultural norms in both racism and sexism. There is also a clear link to class
inequalities. So what does this mean? I give my reasons for not selecting the
other oppressions to discussion. Firstly, we can see that to be anti-oppressive
means to be against oppression. This is not just a case of being anti-racist,
nor have these examples informed anti-sexism. More so, I have used mental ill
health to show that oppressions are all linked
through the model that I provided. As Youth and Community Workers,
anti-oppressive practice means being aware of the whole picture rather than a
specific area. From disability I discussed gender; from gender I discussed race
and from race I discussed class. This could have been written again with
sexuality, age or religion. Simply, the point is that oppression is generally
indifferent in its nature. I have used the three examples to explain this and
understand that there is no hierarchy for oppressed groups. It is about being
aware of our own values and beliefs and translating the theories across the
anti-oppressive in our practice, we must first know ourselves. To know ourselves
we can begin to know others.” (Patel
practice, challenging oppression is a difficult role for youth workers, but must
be central to our work. We have different capacities and different roles, but
the message of anti-oppressive practice must be consistent and paramount.
I would like to present another model to analyze:
from Sibbit 1997:107 Fig 6.1)
this essay, I have argued that there are wider forces of power at play in
oppression and that personal prejudices have little influence unless supported
by the cultural and structural powers in society. The above model illustrates a
profile of perpetrators involved in racial harassment or attacks. It presents
the idea that workers need to challenge the perpetrators, the potential
perpetrators and the community.
the cultural norms and the establishment of common thinking, racism can manifest
itself in the actual “doers” of the crime through the support of potential
perpetrators, within a community that condones the actions. The implication for
practitioners here is the ability to consider what is forming the young person’s
beliefs. Therefore, in relating back to the PCS model, we can see that our role
as Youth and Community workers is to challenge all three levels – and the
above model, using racism, is a good example of how layers of oppression are
identified. It is rare for a young person to be prejudice based on their own
ideals – values are set and defined long before this.
Taking this method of thinking further, we can translate across all
inequalities and all patterns of oppression.
meaningful, trusting relationships through youth work with young people.
and work on real concerns such as
unemployment or education
beliefs or assumptions held by young people in response to their concerns
working to this model of anti-oppressive practice, I can challenge the
assumptions that tend to cloud the real concerns of the young person that I am
engaging with, for example the common myth that black people “take all the
jobs”. These assumptions have been supported by the cultural and structural
systems that society has in place. How we adapt this model to our own strategies
for tackling oppressive thinking and actions is based on the individual
situations. This is merely a framework to encompass our processes.
essay has selected disability, race and gender as three focal points for
anti-oppressive practice and the nature of oppression.
the first part, I focused on mental ill health as an element of disability
drawing on my own experiences and knowledge.
then linked the social oppression relating to mental illness to race and gender
by drawing on the elements of theory dispelling common stereotypes such as the
“cultural or genetic weaknesses” that were common explanations for poor
health in Black British people.
finished the essay by discussing my role as a youth work practitioner and the
implications for anti-oppressive practice and understanding.
in conclusion, my argument for anti-oppressive understanding is clear. Although,
I presented just three examples, this does not neglect that other oppressions
that exist. It simply presents my belief that the nature of anti-oppressive
practice, especially as a white practitioner, should be a study of the whole structure
rather than just the individual elements. I have presented the idea that
oppressions are linked and are often the result of the wider social elements. In
short, we should understand how our own values and background as white people
inform our practice. Anti-oppressive practice needs to be consistent and should
target the three levels where possible. This can be achieved, in theory, through
the “perpetrator” model of working, in that we should aim to target not only
those who are racist but those who support racism and those who simply condone
or collude to it.
order for use to practice in an anti-oppressive nature, we need to be aware of
the wider picture and our own personal value base. If we do not comprehend the
wider picture - we challenge without insight and we educate without knowledge.
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