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Within the past decade, we have participated in conversations about dismantling systems of oppression and recognizing problematic cultural attitudes. When discussing important issues such as colonialism, misogyny, and racism, we like to identify how we, ‘as a society’, treat groups of people differently. Recognizing social, political and economic inequality is a necessary part of solving issues of injustice. However, it is dangerous to refer to systems of oppression as issues caused by ‘our society’ because it allows us to sit back and complain about how we are unhappy about the world that we live in, as if we had no part in creating this social world.

Using phrases like ‘we as a society’ allow us to exclude ourselves from a narrative we are inherently apart of. If we are to address detrimental issues in our subcultures, we must first begin by recognizing our participation in our existing ‘societies’ and dissect systems of oppression by looking at how we as individuals perpetuate toxic mindsets and attitudes.

‘Society’ is not an independent leviathan ruling over all of us. Society does not control or shape us; it is us shaping and controlling society. We must understand broad issues plaguing ‘society’ by reflecting inwardly and understanding individuals create our collective entity, and we can change and shape the way it functions.

An uncomfortable part of dismantling the way we have been socialized to understand the world is recognizing that we all host prejudice and bias. Using finger-pointing language leaves us no room to understand our own role in perpetuating inequality. We like to think we are socially aware because we can make observations about how our cultures function and operate behind the scenes and we can identify systems which cause people to act the way they do. But we cannot make these observations, blame ‘society’ and ignore an opportunity to self-reflect. Our inability to recognize our own integral roles within ‘society’ makes us contributors to the issue we are so quick to blame what we believe to be an external, uncontrollable force.

For some demographics, this reality check is more necessary than others. It is even more important for those of us who possess levels of privilege to realize this truth. Recognizing the prejudices we have been socialized into believing is not just a matter of being ‘woke’ in an age of hashtag politics. We cannot continue to participate in politics when it is beneficial for us. We must pursue equality because lives depend on it. We have to understand how systems of oppression are perpetrated through our own actions so we may begin to dismantle a system based on colonialism, class privilege, and misogyny. We cannot sit back, send a tweet blaming ‘society’, then pat ourselves on the back for contributing to the discussion.

There is no ‘we as a society’ – it is only us. Problems are solved through action. Change begins with intrapersonal reflection, but is pursued when we stop inadvertently playing a role in systems of oppression. We must not ignore this inherent fact and we must take responsibility, and then action, to dismantle the attitudes we each hold as participants in the world and perpetrators of societal norms.

Lauren Stokes is a double major in journalism and political science at Carleton University.
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