What Does It Mean to Be Marginalized?

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The word marginalized is one I hear used frequently in conversation these days, often used incorrectly. Marginalization is so much more than discrimination.

According to Google, marginalized is an adjective meaning “(of a person, group, or concept) treated as insignificant or peripheral:”members of marginalized cultural groups”.

Interestingly, the origin of the word was “notes written in the margin”. So these would have been words written outside of the normally written text. Which is a great description of the word’s current use if you were to substitute people for the words. It’s a person or people placed on the outside of the majority group of other people. It’s placing others in an unimportant or powerless position. They do not enjoy the same privileges as other people.

Frequently, this includes groups who are underserved, disregarded, ostracized, harassed, persecuted, sidelined. Consider this list as a starting point of groups who are marginalized in society:

  • Immigrants, Refugees, and Migrants
  • Women and Girls
  • Victims of Human Trafficking
  • Mentally Ill
  • Children and Youth
  • People of Differing Sexual Orientation
  • Transgender Individuals
  • People of Differing Religions
  • Developmentally Delayed, Physically Disabled, or Mentally Ill People
  • Incarcerated People (and their Families)
  • People Released from Incarceration
  • People of Low Socioeconomic Status
  • Unemployed People
  • People on the Autism Spectrum
  • People of a Particular Ethnicity/Country of Origin
  • People with a Differing Political Orientation

Why does this matter? Being marginalized increases an individuals risk of depression, anxiety and suicide. It decreases availability of educational, medical and legal services. It increases risk of homelessness and decreases access to healthcare. Marginalized individuals are more than 8x as likely to be the victim of a violent crime. They are more likely to live in poverty and have fewer job opportunities. And I could go on and on.

So where do we begin?

We need to be aware of who writes the laws and public policies so they reflect all people as well as how they are enforced so that all individuals are represented and provided equal treatment. As well, knowledge is required for decreasing prejudice, creating safe spaces, and creating safe reporting procedures. We must be aware of how to provide equal education of educators, law enforcement and medical personnel as well as for the services they provide to others. And we must take personal responsibility to create change.

Here are a few ideas to avoid marginalizing people:

1. Take note of who lies on the outside margins of groups you belong to. Educate yourself about these people and populations then take action to educate those around you. Be willing to confront your own stereotypes and discrimination and do the work to learn about the origins of your beliefs and how to change them.

2. Pay attention to what you say. Your words matter. Take note of words you use that stereotype or generalize others. Avoid words that are exclusionary, offensive and derogatory such as “lame”, gypped”, “crazy”, “lunatic”, “OCD”, “tranny”, “illegal”, “exotic”, “ghetto.” Do the work to know why your words matter and know that intention not to be offensive isn’t enough.

3. Seek our marginalized perspectives and voices. Take a look at your bookshelf. Are most of your books written by cisgender, heterosexual white men? Consider what you need to add to your knowledge base. How about your friend group? Are you hearing from a variety of voices and if not, what can you do to expand the perspectives you are being exposed to? People’s stories and experiences greatly experience our world view. Listen to them. Read them. Be open to them.

4. Be open to being wrong. Be open to being corrected. We are human and make mistakes. When someone points of your error, apologize and learn from the mistake. This may mean doing some research to understand wherenot only they are are coming from, but also you. Knowing the origins of our beliefs is important in making these changes.

5. Be intolerant of injustice. Confront derogatory and hate speech even when it’s uncomfortable. Staying silent implies that you are willing to tolerate discrimination and intolerance. This may be particularly difficult within your family and work settings. Practice language in a mirror, role play with others or search out videos to practice with on YouTube or other sources.

I work with individuals, groups, and business to improve their diversity, equity and inclusion around the LGBTQIA+ population. If this is something you are interested in learning more about and improving your personal or business practices, please contact me at sarah@sarahkennedycoaching.com. I provide 1:1 and business coaching programs as well as public speaking engagements.

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