Activity Analyzing Personal Connection to Forms of Oppression

The Three “I”s of Oppression activity centered an arts-based component and continued over several PAR meeting sessions. This activity included visual handouts that used drawings to represent internalized, interpersonal, and institutional oppression followed by the definitions and examples for each of these three forms of oppression and a discussion. Chenda, a youth researcher, recalls this activity:

There was an activity that I remember for sure with oppression. And we were discussing how we have interpersonal, internalized, and institutional oppression. It’s just describing oppression and how many things could influence you and what people influence you and how you change yourself. And if your environment is one way, it might impact you in the same way.

What was striking for Chenda was the extent to which oppressions within the macro-level may influence micro-level experiences.

In the next part of the activity, the youth researchers discussed forms of interpersonal or internalized oppression that they had directly experienced and then the two adult facilitators had them list all of the institutions that helped produce and reproduce interpersonal and internalized oppressions. This generated list was then documented on flip-chart paper and the institutions the youth came up with included: television and media, the family system, the church or the mosque, and textbooks and schooling. Jocelyn, one of the two adult facilitators, then invited the youth researchers to share their experiences with one of these three forms of oppression.

Four of the youth researchers—Terrence, Jason, Miguel, and Victor—who are all Black or Latinx young men, all disclosed that they experience police harassment in their neighborhood almost every day. They shared that when they walked down the street in their own neighborhood—perhaps returning home from school or running an errand for a parent, or on the way to visit a nearby family member—the police accosted them with hostility and suspicion and demanded to know why they are walking down the street. Sometimes the police besieged them and required them to stand with their hands and legs sprawled apart while the police would pat them down and perform a body search, insinuating that they were carrying illegal drugs or weapons. Other times the police did not frisk them but instead took pictures of them without their permission or stopped them and commanded that they present their identification. They also shared that when they went to the mall that uniformed police confronted them and asked them why they are there, inquired whether they were actually shopping, threatened to arrest them for loitering, and then insisted that they leave. The newly built shopping mall was mostly frequented by the wealthy condo dwellers and others who lived outside of the neighborhood and the police never stopped or questioned them or evicted them from the mall. Similarly, when the young men of color tried to use the newly built neighborhood park, the police typically stopped them, questioned them, and ultimately kicked them out of the public park. The remaining members of the youth research team were girls of color who realized that the police routinely arrived late when people of color in their neighborhood called 911 for emergency services. These fellow team members also realized that such unconstitutional police surveillance targeting young men of color carried with it the looming threat of police misconduct and police violence that could possibly result in death. However, these girls of color on the research team did not realize the frequency or extent to which the young men of color were profiled, targeted, and harassed by law enforcement in their neighborhood.

In the discussion following this activity about forms of oppression, the two adult facilitators asked these four young men of color on the research team why they thought they were being routinely stopped and frisked by the police for merely walking in their own neighborhood and why they were often expelled from the neighborhood mall and park. After some reflection, Terrence, Jason, Miguel, and Victor answered that they were being racially profiled by the police and pointed out that it was a case of walking while Black or Brown. The four youth researchers explained that their outward presentation of sagging pants, sportswear, fitted baseball caps, and hoodie sweatshirts all corresponded to existing stereotypes of Black and Latinx young men who lived in the hood. They went on to say that their presence as Black and Latinx men who lived in a rough neighborhood was seen as a threat to society and elicited an irrational fear, aversion, and hostility on the part of the police and others, even in their own neighborhood. The two adult facilitators then chimed in and offered statistics and findings about hyper-surveillance and aggressive, unconstitutional policing practices that targeted Black and Latinx males. The critical youth PAR project later analyzed data that found that over one-third of 12- to 18-year-olds had been expelled from the newly constructed local shopping mall and public park that were built as part of the “urban revitalization” process in their neighborhood. Due to the escalating gentrification and displacement in their neighborhood, the working-class Black and Latinx young researchers were under constant surveillance by the wealthy neighbors and the police and were seen as suspect and unwelcome in the new mall and park and were evicted from both spaces by the police.

These four young men seemed to be excited to have an opportunity to share and discuss their experiences and it was apparent that they had few opportunities to divulge their experiences and express how it impacted them. They shared that these experiences made them feel unsafe in their own neighborhood and that these daily indignities were degrading, scary, and humiliating. These encounters were also deeply upsetting and enraging because they had been taught that the police were supposed to protect them instead of terrorize them. The young men expressed relief that in contrast to the classroom, they could frankly discuss these distressing police encounters with others who did not deny or diminish their experiences or blame them for simply existing and walking in their own neighborhood. Terrence, Jason, Miguel, and Victor decided that the pattern of policing fits into the institutional oppression category. This vignette will be further explored later in this chapter.2

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