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Jay Pearson, Duke University

Bootstraps of Oppression: A Theoretical Framework of Structural Inequality in Policy Decision Making

In this essay, I introduce and explicate a theoretical framework of systemic structural inequality in public policy decision-making. I also highlight a number of routes by which structural inequality, independent of individual choice and economic inequality, persists in determining identity group level differences in social well-being.  The central thesis of this essay proposes that structural inequality is founded upon sets of historically rooted normative values justifying notions of inherent identity (un)worthiness and subsequent social (un)deservedness. These initial perceptions justified and rationalized biased policy decision-making precipitating and informing social institutions reflecting historical supremacy/oppression translating into contemporary privilege/discrimination. These combined phenomena manifest as stratified social hierarchies of differential human valuation advancing and promoting the interests, perspectives and dignity of majority populations while simultaneously constraining and undermining those of minoritized populations. 

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