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A Visual Understanding of Systems of Oppression

Updated: Dec 21, 2022

Listen to the audio recording on Spotify


It can be difficult to emotionally accept that our lives are shaped by systems of oppression.

I mean, we were born into them so we barely even notice them. They just seem "normal".

But this hasn't always been the way humanity has co-existed on this planet - even if it feels normal to us now.

That's why I'm making this blog series breaking down how each system of oppression shows up in our everyday lives.

Because oppression is inherently violent.

And if we're desensitized to the casual violence that shapes society, and ultimately our lives, what else are we NOT noticing?

How can we notice when the reverberations of causal violence show up in our most beloved relationships?

Apart from the desire to love, how can we actually embody love when we're subconsciously replicating what we've learned from our environment?

This is internalized oppression.

Emulating what we've inherited, simply because nothing else has been modeled for us.

How could we possibly embody what we do not know?

Well, we have to dream.

But before we start dreaming, let's take a sober look at what's already happening - so we can choose where we wanna go from here.

image source:

As James Baldwin says -

"Not everything that is faced can be changed,

but nothing can be changed until it is faced."

Capitalism is a "divide and conquer" strategy that weaves together various systems of oppression in order to sustain itself. Capitalism is a web of social hierarchies that facilitates extractive relationships. Each system acts interdependently. Hopefully, this visual will start making more sense as we break down each system in more detail.


We can't see systems of power in real life. They're intangible.

But their effects are real.

Their impact might show up in subtle ways, like not feeling fulfilled at work. (We'll explore why later on.)

Or chasing the desire to deepen with your beloveds only to keep running into a wall over and over again.

On a macro level, these systems impact our access to safety and on a micro level they interfere with emotional intimacy.

The key takeaway here is that, no matter the specific social system we look at, what they all have in common is that they distribute power in a way that is systematically unequal.

This is why they are oppressive in nature.

They're hierarchical.

The nature of hierarchies is that the people closer to the top hold more power over the people towards the bottom.

It's not so black or white as to categorize people into "oppressed" or "oppressor".

It's intersectional.

When there are so many tiers within the pyramids of oppression, most of us hold a foot in multiple roles simultaneously.

It's more like a spectrum.

The emphasis is on control over rather than collaboration with.

Domination over consent.

Extraction over reciprocity.

Though these systems blend together interdependently to uphold social hierarchies - I'm going to lay them out one by one for the sake of simplicity.

But please know these systems cannot be untangled from the web that currently shapes society.

These are the systems we'll be exposing in this series.






Human Supremacy

Eventually, there will be links breaking down each of these in more detail.

It will take me some time though.

Eventually, this blog will serve as a circular resource, with links cross referencing each blog post (as these systems are circular in nature).

This is the foundation of all posts to come.

If you enjoy my work and want to help me invest more time and energy giving life to these resources, you can sponsor my writing here.

It seriously goes a long way 😇🙏🏻💜

Full Disclosure

The way I define power here is the ability to follow through with your intentions. I believe there are many lenses in which to view power. I don't pretend I have the final say on what power is or isn't, but for the sake of this blog post, this is how I'll be referencing power.

Again, I'm doing my best from my perspective to summarize these abstract concepts into easily digestible visuals. I'm aware that I have blind spots and that I may not capture every nuance or every system of oppression (like ableism for example).

All to say - take it with a grain of salt. This is my perspective as a queer, white transgender man who grew up in the Midwest and spent four years learning about social justice in the Bay Area, California.

I'm open to receiving feedback and collaborating to make these visual concepts more accurate and comprehensive. My request is that you please approach me with compassion and curiosity, as it will require less emotional labor for me to receive, which deepens my capacity to implement the feedback - which I would love to do!

Thanks, friends 😊

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