I came across an interesting article summarizing a study that found that “Favoritism, not hostility, causes most discrimination.” The main point of the findings is that social scientists have studied discrimination as hostility towards out-groups (negative discrimination) and have not spent much time studying the effects of favoritism towards in-groups (positive discrimination).
I find this helpful in bringing to light that the driving force of oppressions is usually not hostility toward other groups, but to favoritism one’s own group – i.e. white privilege, male privilege, heterosexual privilege, etc.
A co-author of the study, University of Washington psychologist Tony Greenwald, also made this point about the good intentions of decent people: “We can produce discrimination without having any intent to discriminate or any dislike for those who end up being disadvantaged by our behavior.”
However, as write-ups of very targeted studies do, one could be left with the notion that oppression is simply about individuals being extra-nice to people they feel affinity with, and occasionally mean people being hostile toward those they see as Others. The next piece of oppression is how those favoritisms and hostilities get encoded into policies and practices of governments and institutions. Institutions can continue discriminatory effects on people’s lives regardless of which individuals are involved. See our short video about the Iceberg of Racism for a quick explanation of white privilege and how it plays out in institutions.
The good news is that institutions can change and contribute life-giving, equitable effects among all communities.