The Oppression Tree Tool

COCo developed the oppression tree based on the iceberg metaphor. We prefer to use the oppression tree because it is a clear visual that illustrates oppression, privileges, and power. One of the greatest advantage of using the tree is that it gets people to think about the root problem of a situation or system. People tend to focus more on the visible outcomes of oppression (represented by the leaves in the tree) and miss that it is the root that feeds the leaves.

We often use the oppression tree with groups to get them thinking about what is really the base of the problem, what is feeding the oppression in their workplace or communities and introducing them to change their underlying systems by doing root cause work.

The oppression tree is often used to describe and understand colonial oppression but it can totally be used for other systemic oppression like racism, homophobia, islamophobia, white supremacy, etc.

Click to access the oppression tree

The leaves are the visible outcomes (racist and homophobic slurs, jokes). They feed the tree by reinforcing the systemic structure overtly. Think of this reinforcement as being akin to photosynthesis.

The trunk is the Practices & beliefs (idea that POC need to be saved). It supports the main structure of oppression and serves as a conduit
between the systemic & visible outcomes (roots & leaves).

The roots are systemic (colonialism, white supremacy). Without the roots, the whole tree will die.

Download (PDF, 748KB)


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