Step 4: Learning About Social Power
This exercise, used by antiracism trainers primarily for human and social services providers, deals with class. It may make some participants uncomfortable, so trainers should be aware of the level of distress and offer support and time to process if needed.
Create two lists: one with the stereotypes that you and your family had about people who were wealthier than you were when you were growing up, and another with stereotypes about people who had less money. Take as much time as you need.
Compare the lists and answer the following questions:
- What are the similarities and differences between the two lists?
- Are these sets of stereotypes equally damaging to both groups?
- Do both lead to social disadvantage and discrimination? Why?
Most cultural groups have prejudices about others, and your lists probably contain prejudices about both social groups.
Some typical negative stereotypes about wealthier people are: snobbish, stingy, ungenerous, and uncaring. These prejudices might seem unfair or mean, but they do not create social disadvantages for or discrimination against rich people. They do not have substantive consequences, such as blocking access to resources or power.
Some typical negative stereotypes about poorer people are: lazy, stupid, responsible for their poverty, and substance dependent. These prejudices often do have serious consequences, and have historically been used to discriminate against poor people and deny them access to resources. If we believe that people are poor because they are lazy or unmotivated, it’s their fault, and society has no responsibility to help them.
Poor people suffer from systematic discrimination, social disadvantage, and lack of access to power. This is what we call oppression. Advocates for battered women usually understand these concepts well, since women in general and women who have suffered violence in particular are constant targets of oppression. In the United States, people of color, homosexuals, people with disabilities, and non-Christians have also experienced oppression.
As this exercise demonstrates, whereas prejudice can flow back and forth between two groups with unequal power, oppression, by definition, cannot. Due to the differences in consequences described above, oppression becomes a one way street, affecting almost exclusively the social groups with less access to power.
Go back to the two lists of values from the exercise on Step 2.
- Do you think any of these values might seem oppressive to the communities you are trying to engage?
- Why or why not?
Share your responses and see what other people are saying about the role of social power in building cross-cultural alliances.
This is a good way to think and talk about different experiences of power and oppression and how these relate to gender-based violence
Social Service or Social Change? by Paul Kivel helps social service providers think about the effects of socio-economic class and inequality in their work.
Last modified 2004-10-20 11:53 AM