Dolores Huerta (b. 1930)

Dolores Huerta (b. 1930)

Huerta is a pioneering labor and civil rights leader, and the cofounder (with Cesar Chávez) of the United Farmworkers of America. In 1955 she became involved with a grassroots organization (the Community Service Organization) that was fighting police brutality in the community and pushing for improved public services. It was there at CSO that she met Cesar Chávez. Together they became involved in supporting farm workers, and she played a central role as cofounder, organizer, and leader for the movement. She led some of the most important peaceful demonstrations and public boycotts, spoke out against the harmful effects of pesticides, organized field strikes, and lobbied for changes to policies to support workers. All of her efforts helped win recognition for farm workers’ rights. She was also significantly involved in the feminist movement, and challenged gender discrimination within the farm workers movement.

Today, the Dolores Huerta Foundation pursues its mandate to motivate and organize sustainable communities in order to attain social justice.

Note. Photo available at huerta-si-se-puede/

Understanding the “isms”

In order to understand how oppression works and why it is different from discrimination, we must understand that oppression involves pervasive, historical, and political relationships of unequal power among social groups. It is more than an individual, situational, or momentary interaction. Scholars capture this large-scale, historical, political, and pervasive relationship through the “ism” words, such as: racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, ableism. In the study of social stratification, when scholars use the “ism” words, we are not referring primarily to individual acts of discrimination, which all people can commit. Rather, we are referring to specific forms of oppression.




The “ism” words give us the language to discuss these specific forms of oppression and include in the discussion the reality of unequal social and institutional power between dominant and minoritized groups. In this way, we avoid denying power dynamics by reducing oppression to individual acts of discrimination and claiming that these acts are comparable, regardless of who commits them. From this perspective, “reverse racism” or “reverse sexism” are misnomers and do not exist because racism and sexism (or any form of oppression) refer to power relations that are historic, embedded, and pervasive—they are not fluid and do not flip back and forth; the same groups who have historically held institutional power in the United States and Canada continue to do so.

STOP: Discrimination and the “isms” (e.g., sexism and racism) are not the same thing. All people have prejudice and discriminate, but only the dominant group has the social, historical, and institutional power to back their prejudice and infuse it throughout the entire society. Thus these terms cannot be used interchangeably.

For example, despite suffrage and women’s numerical majority, in 2017 women in the United States are only 19% of the House and Senate seats, 33% of the Supreme Court, 18% of mayors, 8% of governors and have never held the highest office, the presidency. In Canada, women constitute 52% of the population, and in 2015 Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gained wide praise for appointing a 50/50 gender- balanced Cabinet. Despite this important move, women are still under- elected to federal posts, making up only 26% of members of parliament (MPs) in the House of Commons. Thus, many of the 24 standing House committees (such as Environment, Health, Industry Science and Technology, National Defence, Public Safety, Veterans Affairs) are without equal (even marginal) female MP representation simply because there aren’t enough elected women MPs to go around. These committees play important roles in the evaluation of legislation that’s before the House, and these committees make decisions that impact women’s lives (Taber, 2016; Equal Voice, 2014; Parliament of Canada, 2017). The only one of the 24 standing House committees with a female majority is the Status of Women committee (Taber, 2016). In 2015, across Canada women represented 28% of city councillors, and 18% of mayors (Federation of Canadian Municipalities, 2015).

The United Nations has concluded that a critical mass of at least 30% of women is needed before government policies begin to reflect women’s




priorities and shift governmental management style and organizational culture (Tarr-Whelan, 2009). In 2017 Canada and the United States were 62nd and 104th respectively in an international ranking of women’s representation in 193 federal parliaments (dropping from their positions as 50th and 72nd respectively in 2010) (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2017). In fact, the number one country in terms of women holding office is Rwanda (with women holding 61% of seats); Sweden, Spain, Argentina, Philippines, Algeria, and Afghanistan all rank higher than Canada or the United States. Our North American neighbor Mexico outranks both countries by far with its position at #8 on the list, between Sweden and Finland, with 43% of federal seats held by Mexican women. While numbers do matter, oppression isn’t simply the result of a numerical majority (e.g., women are the majority of the world, as are poor and working class people, yet they don’t hold institutional power). Oppression is a multidimensional imbalance of social, political, and institutional power that builds over time and then becomes normal and acceptable to most people in the society. There are four key elements of oppression.

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