Oppression derives from the concept of being weighted down, and is often depicted as such. Here, a political cartoon shows a Jew laboring under the metaphorical oppression of the RussianTsar
Oppression is the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner. It can also be defined as an act or instance of oppressing, the state of being oppressed, and the feeling of being heavily burdened, mentally or physically, by troubles, adverse conditions or people, and anxiety.
"Institutional Oppression occurs when established laws, customs, and practices systematically reflect and produce inequities based on one’s membership in targeted social identity groups. If oppressive consequences accrue to institutional laws, customs, or Practices, the institution is oppressive whether or not the individuals maintaining those practices have oppressive intentions."
Police and law themselves are often examples of systemic oppression. The term oppression in such instances to refer to the subordination of a given group or social category by unjust use of force, authority, or societal norms in order to achieve indoctrination. Through institutionalization, formally or informally, it achieves the dimension of systemic oppression. Oppression is customarily experienced as a consequence of, and expressed in, the form of a prevailing, if unconscious, assumption that the given target is in some way inferior. Oppression is rarely limited solely to formal government action: an individual may be the particular focus of oppression or persecution and in such circumstances have no group membership in which to share, and thus maybe mitigate, the burden of ostracism.
In psychology, racism, sexism and other prejudices are often studied as individual beliefs which, although not necessarily oppressive in themselves, can lead to oppression if they are codified in law or become parts of a culture. By comparison, in sociology, these prejudices are often studied as being institutionalized systems of oppression in some societies. In sociology, the tools of oppression include a progression of denigration, dehumanization, and demonization; which often generate scapegoating, which is used to justify aggression against targeted groups and individuals.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the concept of the "human rights" in general were designed to limit oppression by giving a clear articulation of what fundamental freedoms any system should allow to all of the people over whom it has power.
When oppression is systematized through coercion, threats of violence, or violence by government agencies or non-government paramilitaries with a political motive, it is often called political repression. More subtle forms of political repression can be produced by blacklisting or individualized investigations.
Several movements have arisen that specifically aim to oppose, analyze and counter oppression in general; examples include Liberation Theology in the Christian world, and Re-evaluation Counselling in the psychotherapeutic arena.