Oppression is the heart of every empire. Without oppression, international political or economic rule could not exist. It is not just that there must be sacrifices made to create a new establishment, but that there must be a class of people whose resources are tapped to create a power base and an economic support for some to live a utopic lifestyle who will not partake in that lifestyle.
There is always the ruling class, who have recently been named the “1 percent”. They are the main beneficiaries of the utopic lifestyle, but they are also have resources that greatly outweigh their own personal use, and they make the determination who and what receives their power to create their ideal. Then there are the mass of people who consider themselves the beneficiaries of a well-run society. They consider themselves “normal” or “average” when really they live above the standards of the majority of the world. They support political, military and economic levers that allow them to keep that privilege. In the ancient world, this “middle class” were the male land owners, the citizens for whom the laws were made and the land was protected. An ancient civilization would only be counted successful or powerful if this citizen class was promoted and strengthened.
And then there are the mass of oppressed. These are those who give to society with the idea of being a part of the middle class, but they never reach it because their resources are necessary to keep the middle class in their privileged position. This would be the class of people for whom the laws do not apply, are not protected by the police, and are generally feared by the citizen class. This is the group whose employment is forced to seriously disrupt their home life, who must sacrifice themselves “for the benefit of everyone”, whose health is secondary to the health of the system, who even dies so that a greater ideal might be met. These are those who are forced to do things they would never do or else they lose their ability to survive. They are also the servant class who are ruled, but never rule. They are the outcast (called by Marx the lumpen-proletariat) who are never welcome into the life of the “normal” because of their social level. They are those whose past actions forever haunt them. They are those labeled as “criminals” although never guilty of a criminal act. They are those who are too disabled, mentally or physically, to ever obtain a “normalized” status. In some societies, they are women, they are certain races, or they are the poor and one of those societies might be our own.
But this is how empire has always worked and always will. There must be a lower class whose resources support the citizen class. There must be those who will exchange some of the trappings of the citizen class for a life of servitude. There will always be slaves, whether we call them that or not, who will work for less than what they need to survive. And there will always be those who are disrespected, harassed, beaten, arrested, and killed because they belong to a non-citizen class. These are the oppressed.
Oppression is not about individuals. An individual can be harmed or be misjudged. An individual can be murdered or martyred. Oppression happens when a group or class of people are denied their rights. That because they belong to a certain ideology, race, sex or social class, they no longer have the rights of “normal” people, or citizens. That because they are a member of a certain group then certain protections of normal citizens don’t pertain to them. If a citizen cannot be incarcerated without a fair trial, they are incarcerated without trial all the time. If a citizen isn’t to be beaten, they are beaten. If a citizen is a full person, the oppressed group are but a fraction of that.
Oppression does not mean having limitations, having one’s privileges revoked or having one’s rights restricted. Every class has changes and debates as to what they deserve or do not. That is part of life in any society. Every single human being suffers. Every human being comes up against a wall that prevents them from doing what they feel they ought.
Oppression is legal beatings, arrests for not participating in criminal activity, having no legal protection, suffering damage with no recourse. Oppression is not being allowed in certain public spaces, being officially asked to leave a city, being escorted to the border and told not to come back. Oppression is public hatred for no wrong doing, is being hurt for doing good, is official rejection because of a harmless opinion.
So a basic definition of oppression is: a group which is officially persecuted by a government, but not for criminal activity.