Social identities and special obligations
Blankschaen, Kurt Martin
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Oppression makes certain social identities morally significant. I argue in my dissertation that this relevance manifests in disparate ways and that we should develop a theory about three ontologically distinct aspects of a social identity in order to explain these differences. The way institutions define people in terms of race, gender, or religion matters because that classification plays a role in how individuals can or cannot participate in society. But oppression is not only a series of structural barriers: it also fosters demeaning stereotypes that distort the way we self-identify or how we form beliefs about others. Oppression can warp interpersonal relationships as well because it enables others to impose an oppressive social identity on to us. This interpersonal aspect of oppression depends on specific interactions because we can present distinct “public identities” across different social circles: someone can come out as LGBT at home, but not at work; to friends, but not family. I use each of these aspects of a social identity to illuminate cases where oppression creates similar experiences of subordination among group members that non-members do not experience. These shared experiences can constitute a special, if undesirable, relationship among the oppressed that generates a special obligation for the oppressed to resist their own oppression.