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Racism and Anti-Racism in America

Defining Privilege, Oppression, Diversity and Social Justice

This video introduces you to a framework used at the University of Michigan School of Social Work called PODS, which stands for privilege, oppression, diversity, and social justice.

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This video introduces you to a framework that we use at the University of Michigan School of Social Work called PODS, which stands for privilege, oppression, diversity, and social justice. I thought we could start with the question of why PODS? Achieving or really we would say centering justice should be at the core of our work, and that means both in relation to the goals that we are trying to attain in social work, but also in the processes and in the methods that we use to move us towards those goals. Really the practice of centering justice, if we're doing it well, if we're really being mindful, it should become the lens through which our goals are viewed. This means actively thinking about and actively seeking justice all the time, not just when we happen to hear about an injustice. This acronym of PODS and the concepts of privilege, oppression, diversity, and social justice, provide us with a framework for centering justice, it's a way of paying attention to the complexity of justice. Privilege, oppression, diversity, and social justice is about the identification of theories, of practices, and of policies that both promote social justice and those that eliminate injustice. Put in other way, PODS helps us in developing a vision for justice and it recognizes and reduces mechanisms that support oppression and injustice. Let's take a look at the four components of PODS. First is the concept of privilege. Privilege can be thought of as unearned advantage that an individual or a group experiences because they have more valued positionalities. Aspects of positionalities can include things like race, or gender, sexual orientation, social class, and there are many other examples. Privileged groups often hold characteristics that are considered by dominant culture to be more socially acceptable or most valued, they tend to be seen as the norm. We all have privileges. For me, I'm white, I'm well-educated, I'm able-bodied, those are a few of the privileges that I hold. For you, perhaps it's the privilege around your ability to take this course, could be seen as a privilege that you hold. Having privileges certainly doesn't mean that you're immune to life's hardships, but considering privilege, considering where it exists and where it doesn't, really helps us understand the context in which people are engaging with the world. By people, I mean both us as the social workers and clients and client systems that we might be working with. Oppression can be thought of as the social act of placing severe restrictions on an individual, a group, or an institution. Political theorist, Iris Young created a model called The Five Faces of Oppression. Essentially, Young says that there are five distinct types of oppression and that these types of oppression need to be understood separately and distinctly. Violence is probably the most obvious and maybe visible form of oppression, especially when it's over 10, especially when it's physical, but violence can also be insidious and hidden, or it can be subtle. Exploitation means that those with more power benefit from the labor and resources produced by others, those with less power. Marginalization refers to the active relegating or confining a group of people to a lower social standing or to the outer limit or edges of, say, society. Powerlessness includes internalized negative images and it considers the forces that silence and the forces that demean those with more socially devalued characteristics. Cultural imperialism means taking the culture of the dominant class and establishing that as the norm, as the center. What I appreciate about The Five Faces of Oppression, this model, is that it makes clear that oppression occurs at all levels and that oppression is reinforced by social norms, by institutional biases, by interpersonal relationships, and also by personal beliefs. At its most basic level, diversity can be thought of as variety. In social work, it's usually used in reference to different types or groupings of people, so we might think about cultural diversity, or racial diversity, or gender diversity. Of course, there are unethical reasons to support why diversity matters and as social workers, that should matter to us. We also know though that there are practical reasons why we should care about diversity, we know that diverse groups of people make more well-informed decisions by creating more opportunities for people who've been excluded, maybe from other settings, and widening the participation to include more areas of our society, we end up with better decision-making processes. Those benefits though don't occur if people have to fit in and feel like they need to suppress some of those areas of difference, it's really about valuing and I'm opening that tent to fully accept that difference that really can bring us value. Social justice is central to social work. In fact, many social workers would say that social work is social justice. According to our National Association of Social Workers Code of Ethics or NASW Code of Ethics, social workers have a duty to both pursue social justice and to challenge social injustice, this includes things like social worker's work to pursue a social change particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people. The change effort of social workers are largely focused on issues of things like poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and other forms of social injustice. Social workers strive to ensure access, access to needed information, needed services, needed resources, and they work for equality of opportunity, and they work for meaningful participation in decision-making across all levels and for all people. Along with understanding the complex inner connectivity between privilege, and oppression, and diversity, and social justice, the idea of centering justice includes one other important concept, and that's the concept of praxis. Praxis is the idea that it isn't enough to just learn something and it's not enough to just apply something, rather, we need to learn it, we need to critically reflect on that knowledge, we need to act, and then we need to go back to that critical reflection. So it's this continual process of learning, reflecting, acting, reflecting that's really needed in order to truly center justice in social work practice.