Urban Equity blogs

Something has been eating at me for some time and I need to get this off my chest before I am off the grid for a while. OPPRESSION OLYMPICS!!!! Why does it continue to exist?

I only heard this term recently from my good friend Diya Khanna. I’ve now become keenly aware of it of late based on some personal conversations. One conversation centered around the recent hiring of EDI directors in Ottawa and Montréal who were not Black. This conversation turned ugly because of such thoughts of hiring based on proximity to whiteness, White comfort of executive leaders and anti-Black racism. The other conversation focused on prioritization of Indigenous reconciliation which was pitted against the lack of advancement of Black people in the organization.

We need to understand what Oppression Olympics is. Here is a quote that I found from the Harvard Political Review that sums it up:

The term “oppression olympics” was coined in an academic context by scholars of identity politics in the late 90s, but its implications for competition between groups are manifest well beyond the borders of academia and deeply felt by America’s many demographic groups. Among Global Majority (my emphasis), the University of Chicago found that Black, Latiné (my emphasis), and Asian Americans were more than twice as likely as White Americans to believe that increased opportunities and influence for other demographic groups jeopardized their political and professional prospects. Pew Research Center also found that Black and Latiné (my emphasis) Americans were consistently and significantly more likely to view themselves as oppressed than they were to view other groups as such. In the same poll, four demographic groups identified themselves as “most-discriminated against.”

Source: Amen Gashaw In the Oppression Olympics, Don’t Go for the Gold – Harvard Political Review (harvardpolitics.com)

How does such a “competition” of oppressed communities come about? Organizational dynamics is part to blame. As much as professionals discussed collaboration as a leadership skills, for example, there is still the status quo of remaining in silos in the form of identity-based networks. These networks represent the existing structures of single identity categories. Equity and inclusion management practices remain entrenched in identity-based initiatives aimed at increasing the number of historically and systemically marginalized groups in organizations. Research from Dennissen, Benschop and Brink highlight that typically findings focus on the effectiveness in terms of performance metrics surrounding only training, mentoring, and networks. Therefore, various researchers have concluded that single-identity approaches ignore the complexities surrounding multiple differences and inequities.

Getting to equity, inclusion and belonging requires an organizational understanding of intersectionality. We are complex individuals with varied lived experiences. Equity practitioners and inclusive leaders must start with a basic understanding of cultural awareness in our hyperglobal and hyperconnected society. Intersectionality adds an element to the conversation. Inclusive leaders already have multiple goals and objectives to follow through with. But continuing with the status quo is not an option.

Oppression Olympics hamper progress, collaboration and building coalitions. It further creates inter and intra-organizational tensions. As a result, they fail to address they dynamics of multiple inequities within organizations. When developing training programs, incorporate the organizations’ mission, vision and values. Highlight the goal of equity with a full understanding of intersectionality. Incorporate cultural awareness into training programs. Listen to the challenges that pit groups against each other and find collaborative ways towards progress for the Global Majority. How we get to equity and create a sense of belonging is continuously evolving. We all want to eliminate this work eventually so that we can live and work harmoniously. Equity practitioners and inclusive leaders just need to start somewhere instead of engaging the competing interests the hamper progress.


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