Q: I’ve heard about something called ‘anti-oppressive practice’ – what exactly is that?
A: Simply put, anti-oppressive practice in youth work is working in a way with young people that actively fights oppression that they may be experiencing through ageism, racism, sexism or other forms of discrimination.
However, it goes beyond simply ‘not discriminating’. It includes action. You, as a practitioner, have to see the forms of discrimination firstly that your youth might be experiencing, and then you have to actually do something to challenge and change the rules, laws and other systems that may be causing the discrimination to be ongoing and a genuine barrier to advancement in the lives of your youth.
Below is an excerpt from the final assignment of the Anti-Oppressive Practice module I took during my MA in Youth Work and Community Development. If you’d like any of the bibliographical information please contact us.
Members of society experience unfair discrimination every day. Sexism, racism, and disabilitism to name just a few. What is the difference between being discriminated against, and being oppressed? Oppression is internalized, making it deeper and more systemic. According to Friere, oppression is the “dehumanization” of people, or at the very least stopping them from fully realizing their full “humanization,” or “vocation” in life. He goes on to say that “[humanization] is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression and the violence of the oppressors.” (1999:25-26) My understanding is that oppression is using the perceived or actual power within a relationship to maintain control over a person, the situation or circumstances. One is actively encouraging the superiority of some to the detriment of others, working to maintain this level of power in the relationship, as the status quo.
“Youth work confronts Socrates’ question, ‘How should one live?’ which is both singular and plural in the sense that it asks, ‘How should I live?’ as well as, ‘How should anyone live?”
Williams 1993 in Young 2006:3
As a youth worker, I agree with Williams. My responsibility is to help young people participate in “moral philosophizing” (Young 2006:3) about the world around them. This is achieved through discussion and dialogue with people. Friere argues that you can’t have good praxis without “the word…within [which] we find… reflection and action.” If one doesn’t express their ideas through action, “the word is changed to idle chatter [or] verbalism”, but if action is committed without reflection “the word is converted to activism…action for action’s sake,” which “makes dialogue impossible.” (1999: 68-69) Therefore, I must be a worker of words, action and reflection to truly help young people achieve their full role in society.
As a reflective practitioner I feel I must ask Socrates’ question “How should one live?” and transform my practice with the answer. This requires recognizing oppression in all its forms, understanding power relationships between people, empowering the powerless, speaking and acting on behalf of the voiceless and challenging system forms of oppression. I must go beyond discrimination – the outward symptoms expressed in society – and challenge the root of oppression on all levels.
Next week, we’ll continue this topic by exploring Thompson’s PCS (Personal, Cultural and Structural) model for analyzing power relationships and helping you recognize possible areas where your youth might be experiencing oppression.
Question: How would you answer the question “What is anti-oppressive practice?” Would you add or take anything away from what’s been written above? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
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