The Cycle of Socialization

In the article "The Cycle of Socialization", Bobbie Harro explains that we are born into a specific set of social identities and that they predispose us to unequal roles in the system of oppression. "We are then socialized by powerful sources in our worlds to play the roles prescribed by an inequitable social system" (Harro 15). The author describes this process as pervasive, consistent, circular, self-perpetuating, and usually invisible.

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  1. The Beginning: Our identities are given to us at birth with no decision, choice, or effort from us. It is outside of our control. "There is, therefore, no reason to blame each other or hold each other responsible for the identities we have" (Harro 16). We fall into two groups: dominant (agent) groups or subordinate (target) groups. Assumptions (the norms) are built around the dominant groups characteristics. This group includes men, white people, middle and upper class people, abled people, middle aged people, heterosexuals, and gentiles. Target groups are "disenfranchised, exploited, and victimized by prejudice, discrimination, and other structural obstacles" (Harro 17). This includes women, racially oppressed groups, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people, disabled people, Jews, elders, youth, and people living in poverty.
  2. First Socialization: We are socialized by the people we love and trust the most from birth. We are exposed to a "strong set of rules, roles, and assumptions that cannot help but shape our sense of ourselves and the world" (Harro 17).
  3. Institutional and Cultural Socialization: We start participating in school, church, sports, work, etc. and the rules and roles of socialization are enforced. "If we are members of the groups that benefit from the rules, we may not notice that they aren't fair. If we are member of the groups that are penalized by the rules, we may have a constant feeling of discomfort" (Harro 18).
  4. Enforcements: People who go against the grain, so to speak, pay the price for independent thinking by being blamed for the "problem" in society or being seen as troublemakers. People who conform (whether they mean to or not) somewhat receive the benefit of being left alone because they aren't disturbing the cycle.
  5. Results: If we participate in our target roles, we are simply reinforcing stereotypes and adding to the cycle. Harro calls this "internalized oppression" because we are our own oppressors from within. If we take a look at our agent identities, we may feel guilt from our unearned privilege, our oppressive acts, or our obliviousness to what we are doing. If we are unwilling to break the cycle of oppression, we simply keep it going.
  6. Actions: Of course the simplest thing to do is nothing. But we have failed to realize that "we have become participants just by doing nothing" (Harro 20).
  7. The Core: We do not act because we are blocked by fear and insecurity. But as long as our core is filled with negative things, we will be too afraid to do something and will start the cycle of oppression again.

Prejudice and Discrimination


We hold onto our prejudices for many reasons:
  • To gain certain rewards and to avoid punishment.
  • To be liked.
  • Sense of purpose.
  • To protect our self-esteem against conflicts and weaknesses.
  • Don't want to be threatened ourselves.
  • Our tendency toward homogeneity.
  • To put our blame and guilt on someone else (scapegoating).
  • Personal insecurity.
  • To project anger and aggression on minorities.
  • Due to feelings of competition.