Psychologist Dr Funke Baffour explores whether it is possible to obtain power without oppressing people. Do we have it within ourselves to exercise power without oppressing those without?
For the oppressor, the fear of pain often leads us to bury thoughts or, causes our conscious mind to feign unawareness of our power to oppress. However, these thoughts remain and without challenging the scars embedded in our psyche many are inevitably robbed of their own humanity.
‘How is it I remain comfortable whilst knowing I continue to gain from the suffering of another?’ It gets deeper, we then ask, ‘can anyone truly be human under the forces of such oppression, where they are condemned to a life where injustice is at the core, where their free will is exhausted and subservience is a prerequisite for survival?’ If this is true then why do they accept it, perhaps they really are subhuman? (Leary, 2005)
We as individuals have a habit of using ignorance to construct our world from concepts that make us feel good about ourselves. This of course impacts on how we perceive racism. It should therefore come as no surprise that many people shut down when they are confronted with the word ‘racist’. Sometimes this is due to fear of other people’s reactions. On the flip side it may also be the case that for those who have lived with the effects of racism they feel too vulnerable and too disempowered to address it.
Prejudice or racism?
In simplistic terms racism refers to a persistent inequality where individuals in a society inherit an inferior social status on the basis of ethnicity. The results can manifest themselves in many forms but in essence it is the exclusion of people from full and equal participation in that lifestyle we all collectively perceive as being valuable, important, personally worthwhile and socially desirable.
Racism and prejudice are so easily intertwined that many people confuse the terms which can lead to the erroneous assumption that overt racism no longer exists.
Racism cuts both ways
Many who have experienced oppression inherit prejudices borne from their experiences. These prejudices can represent as a form of detestation towards all those who they feel are part of the collective group responsible for their social disadvantages.
To identify the act of racism in all of its insidious and pervasive forms can be extremely challenging. However, it is important not to forget the biology of racism. We are wired to like people that are similar to us. It is this biology of racism that cannot be dealt with immediately.
Dr Funke Baffour, Clinical Psychologist appeared on The Event: How Racist Are You?
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