NEIU Alum Gives Philosophy Lecture on oppression

Shane Dunn

NEIU alum and Marquette University professor Jorge Montiel held a lecture on campus on what he said are important aspects of contemporary social and political philosophy.

Montiel’s lecture is a part of the “Philosophy Colloquium Series” on NEIU’s main campus.

He said his opinion is rather than current academia continuing to focus on the various organizations and institutions that maintain the current status quo of oppression (minority groups being subject to subordinate control), they should instead focus on people, not as individuals, but as what he terms “bearers of social relations.”

Montiel said that instead of focusing on occurrences of racism by particular people what really needs addressing are the actions of individuals that don’t engage in these exceptional acts.

“Lately, the United States has had many moments in one way or another that has led things to be made about oppression, like reverse racism and reverse oppression,” Montiel said.

According to Montiel, this indicates that oppression is not determined by directly enforcing maintainers of the status quo. It’s as much as individuals belonging to social groups are seen as being “better” than or “lesser” than members of other social groups.

Montiel said, the enforcers “might be good fathers, good neighbors…but they stand in a relation of oppression if their position stands in the way of others that are oppressed.”

To further his case, Montiel used points that pull from a wide range of thought across the centuries, utilizing the work of many philosophers from Aristotle, to John Stuart Mill, to Friedrich Hegel and even to contemporaries like Sally Haslanger.

Montiel spoke about injustice and group membership, pointing that justice and injustice are relational, and that the creators of such are humanity, not what he calls natural phenomena: “If we reduce race to a natural phenomena, we wouldn’t be able to account for injustice.”

He used the example of the United States—Mexico border to indicate how the concept of a border is not natural and thus not observable. He pointed out social groups are much the same, and have no meaning beyond social relations. The status of oppressed groups, he indicates, only acquires significance when seen as lesser to a majority group.

“We need to be clear about what we mean by oppression… one stands in an oppressive relation not as an individual, but as a member of a social group; social groups acquire significance as subordinate or privileged in dialectical relation vis-a-vis [in regard to] one another; thus, one stands in a relation of oppression if one’s social position is dialectically determined in relation to other groups,” said Montiel.