Beyond Adaptation: Decolonizing Approaches to Coping With Oppression


  • Nia L. Phillips
  • Glenn Adams
  • Phia S. Salter


How should one respond to racial oppression? Conventional prescriptions of mainstream social psychological science emphasize the idea of coping with oppression—whether via emotional management strategies that emphasize denial or disengagement; problem-focused strategies that emphasize compensation, self-efficacy, or skills training; or collective strategies that emphasize emotional support—in ways that promote adaptation to, rather than transformation of, oppressive social structures. Following a brief review of the literature on coping with racism and oppression, we present an alternative model rooted in perspectives of liberation psychology (Martín-Baró, 1994). This decolonial approach emphasizes critical consciousness (rather than cultivated ignorance) of racial oppression, a focus on de-ideologization (rather than legitimation) of status quo realities, and illumination of models of identification conducive to collective action. Whereas the standard approach to coping with oppression may ultimately both reinforce and reproduce systems of domination, we propose a decolonial approach to racism perception as a more effective strategy for enduring prosperity and well-being.