America: Land of the Free?

Although the United States of America boasts of being the “land of the free”, various facets of oppression are present within the country. Iris Young describes what she calls the “five faces of oppression”: exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism, and violence, all of which I believe can be seen in America today.

Young attributes the first three factors to a social division of labor. She describes exploitation as the working class being used for labor while the rich own the means of production, resulting in a large class divide. Today, there is a large shortage of workers at virtually every fast-food restaurant as many become aware of how little they are being compensated for their hard work. Minimum wage has not kept up with the drastic increase in the cost of living, nodding to the notion that minimum-wage earners are treated as disposable and not as actual people. The dehumanization of workers with the wealthy at the top is something that is present in many dystopias. In addition to exploitation, Young mentions marginalization, where select groups of people are excluded from participation within various aspects of society. For instance, despite America’s somewhat progressive advancement towards more left-leaning policies, some workplaces are dominated by patriarchal ideas. They may deny a woman the right to work because of their false notion that she does not have the physical means to perform as well as a man. Young also explains the concept of powerlessness, which stems from the inability to directly participate in decisions that pertain to their own lives. An instance of such is the presence of illegal immigrants, who, though they live and work in America, are denied citizenship and thereby the inability to vote.

Cultural imperialism, as Young explains, is where a dominant culture or experience obscures one’s own culture, almost as if it is invisible. An example of such is the widespread construction of McDonalds’ throughout the country, which in a sense reinforces the concept of a typical American, despite the fact that the country is made up of people of many different backgrounds. Young further explains that cultural imperialism can also perpetuate dangerous stereotypes. These stereotypes may also tie in with violence, which causes various groups to fear unprovoked attacks on their own person. This is a serious issue present in America; communities such as African Americans, Asian Americans, and LGBT+ have suffered at the hands of close-minded individuals, causing many to become fearful for their lives. Thereby, the five faces of oppression are rampant within the country, highlighting the many problems America faces today.

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