Anti-Oppression as a Transformational Leadership Tool

Rashmi Dixit


Oppression is an unjust practice where a dominant group uses their power and privilege to oppress marginalized identities. This happens at both Micro and Macro level. Both Micro and macro oppressions are inter-related and indicative of each other. E.g. You would see a behavioral dynamic of oppression in a team (Micro) that would be indication of larger organizational dynamic and ideology.

Anti-Oppression practice is a practice that focuses to dismantle oppressive practices at both Micro and Macro level in order to create interventions for a more equitable and just world.

Anti-oppression practice is self-governing tool for everyday relationships and awareness.

Organizations are paradoxical, everchanging, complex and multidimensional. Anti-oppression work is a work in progress and not a silver bullet. Organizations and people are whole and complete and are always moving towards a greater sense of completion when working on Anti-Oppressive practice.

As oppression is ever present in our systems, we need to continue to learn and grow our anti-oppression practice and to do that we use the points of entry as Knowing, Doing and Being.

What do you need to know to increase your awareness of Anti-oppression, what are you doing to that effect as a daily practice and Who are you being? Always being aware that we are not being oppressor to the oppressed.

There are various ways in which oppression manifests itself. Being aware of privileges and marginalization that exist in our systems and that they create similar dynamics in our day to day relationships and interactions will support us to come from pause and choice in those interactions. Self-work on our biases and prejudices helps us create a clean container for Anti-oppressive practices.

Anti-oppressive Practice should not be perceived as an abstract thought, but it must be concrete and noticeable to our daily practice relationships. There must be an proof in our practice relationship that we function within an anti-oppressive apparatus to prevent implicit or explicit oppressive attitudes. Those oppressive attitudes that undermine our transformational authority to create and maintain change (For example, how we speak can either inspire change or further marginalize and dehumanize).

If Anti-oppression practice is to be effective it should be seen on the impact it has on the people we relate with. It becomes ambiguous and counter intuitive  if we want to empower and help change the lives, impact our organisation and world while our thinking, attitude, and action continue to maintain the status quo. If we desire to see real change in our everyday practice relationships the transformational change first begins with ‘Self’.

Challenge to anti-oppression practice

The biggest challenge to anti-oppression practice is the cycle of oppression that continues to manifest itself implicitly and explicitly and can only be interrupted with awareness of Self and its impact on the relationships as well as systems it inhabits.

As the cycle of oppression is all pervasive it is important for anti-oppression practitioners to be aware of how organizational politics and relationships can continue to manifest the core of fear, confusion, ignorance and insecurity. The collective movement should be to intentionally move towards the core of self-love, self-esteem, balance, joy, support, security and have a spiritual base to this practice. If we can have that we can then create movement and action in the organization that is towards anti-oppression liberatory consciousness.

Realm of Self work

To create the core of self-love, self-esteem, balance, joy, support and security, self-work is imperative. Anti-oppression practice requires a commitment to growth mindset, celebrating resistance. AOP requires us to hold ourselves and look beyond to influence and transform. To hold ourselves with love and self-esteem beyond ego and create an inclusive anti-oppressive space for healing and growth. This work is not easy and requires understanding of triggers, reactions, intent and impact.

I suggest following tools for an anti-oppressive practice

  1. Witnessing self (Practice derived from Sakshibhaav in Hindu Yoga tradition).
  2. Iceberg of behavior and belief
  3. Neuro-biology of triggers and reactions
  4. Somatic work for internalized trauma
  5. Practice of pause and generative meaning making
  6. Practice of curiosity, humility and self-management

Witnessing self: This practice is literarily the practice of self- observation. Almost like you are witnessing you own thoughts and biases. This practice is constant and iterative, in which you build muscle to reflect as you act. Some also call it being in the balcony to watch yourself in a dance.

Iceberg of behavior and belief: When we can notice ourselves the first thing, we notice is our behavior and thought. We can use Freud’s iceberg model to look at what are the underlying factors for our behavior. This cannot be used to judge others behavior but only to work on self and understand our motivations a little bit better.

Neuro-biology of triggers and reactions: If we understand our triggers and can find a pathway to create a space for an empowering meaning, we can truly liberate ourselves from the fear, confusion and insecurity that is harbored in our limbic brain.

Somatic Body work for internalized trauma: It is important to understand that oppression and generations of oppression manifests itself not only in the brain but bodies of color and culture. Stretches, Running, Dancing, Yogasanas as well as trauma release practices can be effective in releasing trauma stored in the body.

Practice pause and generative meaning making: Amygdala hijack takes about six seconds to manifest. If we are able to pick up a trigger before it takes over, we can then create a space of pause by generative meaning making. In generative meaning making, we ask an empowering question to engage our rational brain and away from short circuiting to the limbic brain. The empowering question allows us to become curious about the situation and the trigger itself, thus creating a detached space of self-care. Some of the questions that we can ask are: What meaning am I making of this situation? How can I create an empowering meaning that supports the core of Self-love and Joy?

Trigger + Pause (Generative meaning making) = Empowered Response

Practice of curiosity, humility and self-management: Always practice coming from curiosity, humility and self-manage to create anti-oppressive space.

Mindset and beliefs for AOP

Anti-oppressive practice requires that each practitioner comes from a systemic lens and understanding of Power, Privilege, Rank, Race and Culture dynamic. This allows for the practitioner to see the systems and create shifts in policies, structures and contribute in creating deeper shifts in consciousness.

Where there is oppression three characteristics are present:

Systemic: It is systemic, organizational and societal. It is not just individuals with prejudiced beliefs and actions, but rather is embedded within the structure.

Power imbalance: It involves a dominant or more powerful group exploiting a less powerful group based on perceived differences between the groups. There is always a power imbalance at play.

Denial: The powerful group often denies that oppression exists or accepts it as being normal or right.

Oppression can manifest in different ways. It may be conscious or unconscious. Unconscious oppression is especially hard to tackle, because it is less visible and overt. However, both conscious and unconscious oppression can manifest in one’s attitudes and beliefs or in one’s behaviour. 

My beliefs for my Anti-Oppression practice:

All humans are equal and have a good intent

All human’s are parts of each other and manifest in each other’s life for self-learning and growth, one human’s growth is part of collective growth (comes from my Hindu and Buddhist philosophy)

All souls are immortal and eternal, they are never born and will never die- (comes from philosophy in Geeta)

Lust, greed and anger are a path to self-destruction- (comes from philosophy in Geeta)

Celebrating resistance and challenge as an opportunity

Challenge has an exciting and pulsating energy and sometimes it can cause fear of the unknown, if we can look beyond fear and see challenge as an opportunity for our growth through disciplined effort, then we can move from the Unconscious competence of not knowing to the skilled application of Unconscious competence.

Anti-Oppressive practices and consciousness when used in leadership and organizational development can create ripples of transformation ranging from self, organization, society and our planet.


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