Marigold Capital is founded on the principle of using finance as a tool for social change, to empower marginalized individuals and lift structural and institutional barriers. Investment has the power to either alleviate or reinforce oppression in our society. Our goal is to effect change within the venture capital space by opening channels of positive change and demonstrating that profit and social change are not mutually exclusive.
This guide is intended to provide information (and inspiration) to those who wish to join us in applying an anti-oppression lens to business, organizational strategy, or even at an individual level. It is our hope that this guide will provide a meaningful first glance at what the Anti-Oppression framework is, and that this knowledge can help the further development of anti-oppressive practice, within the venture capital space, or wherever it is applied.
True social and structural change requires the power of multiple people working together, however the ripple effect of each individual or organization that understands and applies an anti-oppression framework cannot be underestimated.
Systems and Structures of Power:
Diversity and Inclusion has become a mainstream topic of conversation within business. Diversity is the representation of people with different identities and abilities within a group, and inclusion is the involvement and belonging of all individuals. When applied authentically, diversity and inclusion can make teams and workplaces more effective and comfortable.
The Anti-oppressive framework asks us to dive deeper in examining power dynamics and structures, and openly challenge the concept of “rightness” of the dominant group. The dominant class is often seen to represent the norm within society. Those who fall outside of the dominant class become invisible as their perspectives and ways of being and living are not even considered. They may find themselves misunderstood, unrepresented, isolated, or even completely silenced or unsafe.
Types of Oppression:
Oppression can be personal (the thoughts, judgements or actions of an individual), societal (shared societal values that deem something normal), or systemic (manifested in systems or institutions).
Visible oppression (think bullying or physical harm) and invisible oppression (language, laws, mindset, and traditions) are inextricably linked. Invisible oppressions can be said to preceed visible oppressions, as the socialized stereotypes and biases are often the basis of hatred or fear that is displayed as emotional or physical abuse toward oppressed groups. On an institutional level, these beliefs are reinforced by policies and laws. Due to the fact that it is largely the dominant group that creates policies and laws, those in the dominant group need to become allies to oppressed groups to help effect change.
Anti-oppressive practice means recognizing power imbalances and working toward the promotion of change to redress the balance of power (Dalrymple & Burke, 1995). Anti-oppression begins with how we uproot our own prejudices and calling to surface oppression that may be unconscious. By having open conversations about oppression and its impact, it can be easier for unconscious biases to be identified and addressed. Anti-oppression work can include, but is not limited to, all of the following efforts:
- Understanding the complex histories involved in oppression
- Examining systems and social practices that are oppressive
- Recognizing areas of privilege and power on an individual and collective level
- Acknowledging the impact on oppressed people as social trauma
- Awareness of the varied lived experience of individuals of the same identified group
- Identifying barriers to social and structural change and how to address them
- Speaking out against oppressive behaviour, language and actions
- Recognizing invisible and visible oppressions
The Lenses of Anti-Oppression:
The six main lenses of Anti-oppression are anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-heterosexism, anti-ableism, ageism and anti-class oppression. Many of these oppressions do not stand in isolation of each other but rather there is intersectionality within oppressed groups. Some of these oppressions are even so deeply embedded in our socialization and societal view that one can be entirely unaware of their existence.
Racism and Anti-Racism:
Racism is the belief in the inherent superiority of a particular racial group over another. It involves biases and discriminatory practices that maintain the position of the dominant group as superior and in power, and the other group as inferior. This discrimination happens at an individual and institutional level.
Shadism is a dynamic within racism whereby lighter skin shades are posited as more desirable, still relating to whiteness as a desired standard and something that is superior. Shadism can also happen within or between racialized groups. Another example of shadism is when lighter-skinned racialized individuals are read as white and therefore given preferential treatment by a ruling class.
Anti-Racism is the beliefs, actions, movements, and policies adopted to oppose bias, discrimination and racism at an individual and institutional level.
Sexism and Anti-Sexism:
Sexism is discrimination or bias based on a person’s biological sex. It is also the belief that one sex is superior to the other and includes systemic and individual practices that give men privilege, make women subordinate and that shame values identified with women. The patriarchy, or system where males are the primary authority figures, has resulted in women having been seen as property, subject to physical abuse, rape, disenfranchisement. They have also been denied access to education, services and legal protections and have been victims of financial repression and control. Closely tied to sexism are rigid gender roles that are assigned to each sex, resulting in different societal expectations for each, which are usually hyper-masculinized or hyper-feminized.
Anti-Sexism is the beliefs, actions and movements that oppose sexism at an individual and institutional level. Feminism represents the advocacy of women’s rights based on the equality of the sexes. Feminist theory differentiates between sex as a biological category, and gender as a social or cultural category.
Genderism is the cultural belief that gender is a binary, assigned at birth, and related to one’s biological sex, assigned at birth. Cis-gendered individuals, or those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, are the dominant group in society.
In reality, gender is separate and distinct from sexual biology or sexuality. It is a social category where each individual makes conscious or unconscious choices towards their gender presentation and expression. Transgender activism is a movement advocating for equality and human rights for all gender expressions, and specifically for transgender people.
Heterosexism and Anti-Heterosexism:
Heterosexism is a system of attitudes, bias, and discrimination in favour of opposite-sex sexuality and relationships. It can include the presumption that other people are heterosexual or that opposite-sex attractions and relationships between cis-gendered men and women are the only norm, and therefore superior. Heterosexism is so pervasive that it can be hard to recognize and heterosexuals may be unaware of the invisibility LGBTQ2+ people face. This can be evidenced in language and assumptions, for example asking a male if he has a girlfriend or wife, instead of asking if he has a significant other.
Throughout history, religion has painted homosexuality as perverse or impure, and the impact of this is still seen today as homophobia, or the irrational fear and loathing of LGBTQ2+ people. In certain places, non-heterosexuals face exclusion from certain services, a lack of spousal rights, and even criminalization.
Homophobia, though widely used, is a term that has been criticized due to the fact that it equates the hatred of LGBTQ2+ people to a phobia in the clinical sense of the word, whereas physiological reactions are not present. Sexual prejudice is sometimes preferred due to the fact that it describes a harmful attitude and not a clinical manifestation.
Anti-heterosexism is the beliefs, actions, movements, and policies adopted to oppose bias, discrimination and sexual prejudice at an individual and institutional level.
Ableism and Anti-Ableism:
Ableism is discrimination and social prejudice against people with disabilities or who are perceived to have disabilities. Ableism characterizes persons as defined by their disabilities and as inferior to the non-disabled. The needs of the dominant group influence the opportunities for those who possess distinct abilities.
Anti-Ableism is strategies, theories, actions, and practices that counter ableism, inequalities, prejudices, and discrimination towards those with developmental, emotional, physical, or psychiatric disabilities. Anti-Ableism recognizes the value of every disabled person and asserts that the life of someone with a disability is no more inspirational, pitiful or tragic than another.
Increasing accessibility is a benefit to all, but no one solution or single accommodation will be appropriate for all disabled people. It is important to recognize individuality and that each individual can best identify what they need. It is important to recognize that what you think may or may not be helpful and that you should always ask if you can provide assistance before doing so.
Anti-ableism is also the recognition and avoidance of language which either associates an individual’s mind or body with brokenness or has been used to oppress disabled people.
Ageism and Anti-Agism:
Ageism is a system of oppression that produces social and physical barriers based on age, especially toward those at the youngest or oldest end of the age spectrum. Both the young and the elderly are more prone to abuse and violence, as they can be more reliant on others in those stages of life.
In focusing on the older end of the age spectrum, ageism can impact an individual’s confidence, job prospects, financial situation and quality of life. Older individuals may face discrimination in employment, or may even be less likely to receive the same health care, as the condition could be automatically attributed to their age and their recovery deemed less valuable than that of a younger individual.
Ageism also intersects and overlaps with many other forms of oppression: Ageism and sexism often intersect, as ageing is often a feature that is considered to enhance men, but to de-enhance women or their value. Ageism can also feed into ableism, in that someone who becomes disabled as a result of age may face additional oppression. An older woman with age-related disabilities, for example, may face significant discrimination in employment. Now consider the experience of a racialized lesbian with age-related disabilities. It is easier to see how these overlapping identities can compound and increase the complexity of the oppression experienced.
Anti-Ageism is strategies, theories, actions and practices that actively work toward eliminating ageism to provide equal treatment and quality of life for individuals as they grow older.
Classism and Anti-Classism:
Classism is a system of oppression that produces social and physical barriers based on one’s real or perceived economic status or background. It is associated with, but not mutually exclusive to, capitalism.
Classism reinforces and overlaps with other areas of oppression, as marginalized communities often have less access to education or meaningful participation in society that would allow them to be more economically advantaged. The social hierarchy of classism, coupled with lack of resources for lower-class individuals means that someone who is born into a lower-class family will not inherently receive the same advantages (education and work opportunities) as someone who is born into a family that is considered upper class. Less education can lead to lower salaries and the perpetuation of the same classism.
Internalized oppression of people in lower classes can reinforce this oppression. An individual who identifies strongly with their class and does not feel that a different life is possible may resign themselves to not strive for more, given all the structural and societal barriers to their success.
Anti-Classism is strategies, theories, actions and practices that actively work toward eliminating classism and providing equal and more equitable opportunities for all classes.
Intersectionality is the recognition that people are often disadvantaged by multiple sources of oppression, taking into account their overlapping identities and experiences. Intersectionality is defined as “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage; a theoretical approach based on such a premise”. (The Oxford Dictionary)
It is important to apply an intersectional lens, as, without it, movements that aim to address injustices toward one group may fail to address, or even perpetuate, systems of oppression or inequity toward other groups.
Another element that may impact how an individual experiences oppression is how they are “read”, i.e. how others see them. For instance, a queer female who is read as cis-gender, may not receive the same oppression as someone who reads as a queer female.
Within a specific group of identity, individual experience will vary and it is important to both consider the perspective of each person and at the same time understand that they are not the spokesperson for that group and their sentiment, reactions, or coping mechanisms to deal with oppression are specific to that individual. Beyond assigned identities, each individual has their own emotions, feelings, upbringing and environment.
The outward visibility of an individual’s identity can also impact their world experience. For instance, a queer Caucasian woman who is read as cis-gender may not experience the same oppression as a racialized woman who reads as queer. A member of a visible minority may be excluded or stereotyped more quickly than someone who has an invisible disability. The individuals in these examples may experience rejection, exclusion and oppression in different ways. The individual who is invited and does not wear their oppression on the outside may be able to contribute so long as they do not openly disclose their differences, however, their impact for true expression and empowerment will also be limited until they are truly able to remove their mask and authentically express who they are. Each form of oppression is harmful, and comparison is not necessary to understand that all forms of oppression need to be dismantled.
The Integrated Anti-Oppression Model:
Integrated Anti-Oppression looks at all the ways in which people can experience oppression and marginalization. This practice allows people to work together to rebuild systems so that everybody shares the benefits and opportunities. It asks us to look at our own experiences and actions and recognize where we hold power which results in the subordination of another group or groups. This approach also recognizes that identities are multifaceted and fluid and that we can simultaneously be both victims and perpetrators of oppression.
In order to apply an Anti-Oppression lens to your work/organization, consider the following:
- Who holds the power in your organization? Who holds the resources? Without the authentic commitment and buy-in of leadership, a hierarchical organization cannot function within an anti-oppression framework.
- What policies do you have in place? In reviewing policies, always ask yourself which groups are benefited from the policies? Are any groups disadvantaged? If so, what are the barriers to changing the policy (legislative, financial etc.), and how can those barriers be best addressed in order to make policies more equitable?
- How flexible are these policies? Policies should be living documents that can be adapted to new information and perspective, as presented.
- What type of open dialogue do you have around the topic of Oppression? Create time to discuss oppression and the impact of oppression with your teams. Do not wait for something to happen.
- Does your business model alleviate or reinforce oppression? Does it produce meaningful social change? What are the barriers to alleviating oppression, and how can they be addressed?
Personal Application of an Anti-Oppression Framework:
We can also practice the application of Anti-Oppression in our personal relationships and interactions. To become a change maker, we need to understand our part and our own roles of power. By remaining unaware of the power you have and how your actions affect others, we continue to reinforce and perpetuate patterns of oppression. The below are topics to reflect on when considering your power and privilege in personal and professional interactions:
- How much space you take up, and how much you speak in any particular group?
- Are you asking questions and expressing curiosity in order to better understand one another?
- Are you allowing, and holding space for, expressions of truth that are different from your own experience?
- Are you initiating the conversation for the sake of understanding and creating change? It is important to consider that oppressed groups may have become used to either being invisible or silenced when they try to speak up and express their perspectives and position and the impact on them. Do not wait for oppressed groups to speak up – ask them to share their experiences.
- Are you recognizing the individual lived experience of each person, no matter what group they belong to? Remember that a member of a marginalized group should be seen as a whole person and not a spokesperson for the group they happen to form a part of.
- Do you feel uncomfortable? Know that discomfort is a natural part of the process when beginning to dismantle oppression. Allow any feelings of guilt to be felt and processed, in order to shift from guilt to accountability.
- Are you aware of the language that you are using and how it impacts others? Make a point to ask someone what language they prefer. Also, understand how seemingly innocent, or well-meaning statements can be micro-aggressions.
- Are you aware that someone who seems sensitive about an issue has often gone through repeated aggressions or encounters where that sensitivity was reinforced?