Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment by Leticia Nieto Psy.D. and co-authors is a book about oppression within our society. This book explains how in society we have a social rank system that consists of 9 different categories of rank. These categories help us become more aware of who we are as a person and the invisible privilege we may or may not have. In society we also have agent and target memberships. People within the agent group tend to be overvalued and have unearned advantages. Target group members are those who are devalued and are treated poorly. Many of us are taught to devalue those who are different than us. Through social conditioning we are taught that there are biases among all categories of rank and that due to rank status, some of us should be considered less valuable.
One of the rank categories that has a major impact on my life is disability. I have a severe latex allergy that prevents me from being like everyone else. A disability can be defined as many different things, it can be physical, mental, invisible, and many other things. Having a disability can make you a target by having people demean you and making challenges harder to face. Within society disabilities aren’t as openly accepted as they should be. Typically, when one thinks of someone who is disabled they think of someone in a wheelchair, but ableness is a construct when it comes to disabilities. Loss of an ability affects the human experience, therefore those who have never lost an ability, such as sight, hearing, their ability to eat whatever they please, or other ableisms, tend to not understand people who live with a disability.
When having an invisible disability, like me, many people don’t believe or don’t truly understand your disability. For those reasons, many people don’t take people’s disabilities into consideration. People with disabilities want their disability recognized. They want people to acknowledge their loss of ableness and know that people without a disability have invisible privilege. Having a disability in life has taught me a lot about society and their willingness to accept other’s differences. I’ve always known that I was different from everyone else and I had to work a lot harder with my disability in order to function within society. But it wasn’t until I was older when I realized how oppressed I was for being different. I’ve been laughed at for asking about the use of latex gloves at restaurants. I’ve had people in the medical profession doubt my disability. I’ve been purposely excluded from participating in activities because people would not accommodate or try to understand my disability. Worst of all many people think my disability is fabricated and that I am crazy. My disability causes a great deal of anxiety for never knowing when I’ll become life threateningly ill, but I am not making my symptoms up and I’m not a hypochondriac.
Being oppressed in society really takes a toll on your mental health especially when it comes to disability. Being oppressed because of your disability feels like you’re getting blamed for not being like everyone else. We’re taught to feel like a burden within this society instead of celebrating the differences that makes everyone unique. In our society I feel like we have a sliding scale when it comes to acceptance. On this scale one can only be pushed so far until someone is considered too different to accept. People with disabilities don’t want your sympathy, many of us want your consideration and recognition that we do have to do things differently. We want accommodations for our disabilities in order for us to live a semi-normal life. We don’t want to feel bad for our differences, we want our differences to be celebrated and normalized within society.
A target group I’m not a part of is the social class target group. People within the social class target group might not have stable living conditions. They also might lack access to education. People within this target group have little to no say in social institutions, therefore they feel ignored within society. Classism is a condition that promotes and maintains economic inequalities within society. Some attitudes people might have are that ‘people should work harder’ or ‘why don’t you just get another job.’ What many people don’t know is that many social class targets have a lot of other things to do besides work. If they don’t have their own car, they might have to use public transportation, costing them time and money. Some people already have multiple jobs, but also have a family to take care of. The expectations we have for people might not even be realistic.
Being an agent for social class targets doesn’t necessarily mean you have a lot of money, it just means you have access to institutions and have social class influence. You can be an agent by knowing the social class codes and being mindful of those who are struggling. In order to work against oppression, become aware of the rank system and the inequality within our society. Be sensitive to those in a target group. Acknowledge your privilege. Know what ways you are privileged in life and how it’s given you a step up in life. But mostly become an ally. Be the voice that stands up for the oppressed and ignored.
Beyond Inclusion, Beyond Empowerment teaches us methods that we can use in order to recognize the oppressed and liberate those in oppressive situations. Social change won’t happen overnight, but as an ever growing and changing society we can take the steps to change our actions. We can reverse social conditioning by educating ourselves in the lies and negative messages we have been taught. Differences should be things we celebrate instead of things we hinder. As a society if we took time to have empathy and put ourselves in someone else's shoes we could have a stronger and more inclusive society.
Author of this blog post, Liv Swanton, is a Freshman at Michigan State University and is SLM's Community Builders Intern. She works regularly with our youth, helping them to see themselves as leaders and fight oppression.