By Erick Garcia MHA, CDP, and Monica Ibarra MSEd, CDP
“With lateral violence, the oppressed become the oppressors. We’ve internalized the pain [and trauma] of colonization and our oppression, and we’ve taken it into our communities. ”- Allen Benson, CEO of Native Counselling Services Of Alberta, Canada
Picture yourself in a space where you, as a person, experience bias or aggression and are unable to understand what has occurred because it is not ‘biased’ where you do not traditionally see microaggressions coming from a person who is similar to your culture or race or gender, and you are caught off guard. Authentically, this is precisely what you experienced.
As defined by Taylor Rae Almonte-Roman, a Brooklyn-based Afro-Latina actor, athlete, and activist, lateral oppression, or lateral violence, is displaced violence directed against one’s peers rather than adversaries. This construct is one way of explaining violence between marginalized groups.
Taking an example from the contemporary media, Marvel’s Black Panther Wakanda Forever paints a real-world picture of lateral oppression through a lens of two hidden cultures, Wakanda and Talokan. Each culture has a rich and vibrant story, on one side representing African roots and on the other a painful South American Mayan history of colonization.
While this film is a fictional representation of two cultures, it sheds light on two oppressed groups searching for a place in this world. Talokan starts as an underwater shelter for Indigenous people seeking refuge from Spanish colonization (Blanck, 2022), and it is now a sprawling civilization. Its leader, Namor, played by Mexican actor Tenoch Huerta, is angry about issues that matter to both civilizations and lead characters in this film, symbolizing real-world situations and emotions.
As each of these groups come to terms with their experiences of oppression, ultimately, they choose to battle each other, as opposed to their oppressors. As indicated, Lateral Oppression is a result of White Supremacy, where folks are seeking space to exist, and aggression is the method to achieve that outcome and has been viewed on a global scale for some time. We share a few international examples here:
The Russo-Ukrainian War, where both Russia and Ukraine were a part of Eastern Block, the former USSR. During a Direct Line interview, Vladamir Putin indicated, “When I was asked about Russian-Ukrainian relations, I said that Russians and Ukrainians were one people – a single whole. These words were not driven by some short-term considerations or prompted by the current political context. (Putin, 2021)”… the wall that has emerged in recent years between Russia and Ukraine, between the parts of what is essentially the same historical and spiritual space, to my mind is our great common misfortune and tragedy.” (Putin, 2021).
Another example in the Rwandan genocide Hutu-Tutsi strife stems from class warfare, with the Tutsis perceived to have greater wealth and social status (as well as favoring cattle ranching over what is seen as the lower-class farming of the Hutus). It is indicated in the New Encyclopaedia Britannica that “the Hutu and Tutsi adhere essentially to the same religious beliefs, which include[s]…Christianity” (Aakanksha et al., 2011)
The Korean War between North and South Korea was fought between two regions (now countries) that share the same geographical area, share the Demilitarized Zone, which is the border between the two countries, and speak the same language.
With awareness, lateral oppression or lateral violence is displaced violence directed against one’s peers rather than adversaries. This construct is one way of explaining violence between historically underrepresented groups. Fortified with these examples, you will now have a lens of understanding how to view contemporary violence scenarios in various media spaces, including publications, movies, social media, etc.
Aakanksha , G., Tikkanen Amy, McKenna Amy, & alsang Bhutia, T. K. (2011, March 25). Rwanda Genocide of 1994. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.britannica.com/event/Rwanda-genocide-of-1994/National-recovery
Blanck, N. (2022, November 10). The Mesoamerican Influences Behind Namor From ‘Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.’ The Mazatlan Weekly. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-mesoamerican-influences-behind-namor-from-black- panther-wakanda-forever-180981106
About the Authors
Monica Ibarra is an Equity, Inclusion and Diversity Advisor to the Research Shield, the Education Shield, the Health System, and Shared Services. She has worked extensively within Equity, Inclusion, and Diversity spaces over the last 15 years. Including within Wisconsin K-12 urban classrooms, Wisconsin and Minnesota Higher Education, and on various Equity Committees and Boards such as the Minnesota Association Of Professional Employees Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee (MAPE EDIC), Minnesota Association of Community Corrections Act Counties (MACCAC), the Ramsey Corrections Advisory Board (CAB), and the Volunteers In Corrections (VIC) board. Monica has a bachelor’s degree in Education from Carroll University, a master’s degree in Education with a focus on Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and a Diversity and Inclusion Certificate from the University of Minnesota. Monica spends her time reading, writing, as an urban gardener, and kayaking on the Chain of Lakes in MPLS. MSEd, CDP