How do we overcome divisions and perpetuated marginalisation?
Marginalised communities (including, but not restricted to, BAMER communities) are often seen as the ‘other’. Individuals are seen as fundamentally separate from the mainstream or majority of society. Reasons for this vary, depending on the person involved. Some may find it emotionally difficult to think of themselves losing everything and fearing for their lives, as many refugees do. Others may find it hard to imagine how different life may be in a less fortunate position. It is easier for one person to see disadvantaged groups as ‘other’ or completely different than to imagine being in that situation, or consider what that person might be doing to perpetuate such division.
A major factor in the division between majority and minority, marginalised and empowered, is the perpetuation of stereotypes, and the idea of difference as being negative. It is inevitable that not all areas are diverse. It is not inevitable that we perpetuate such division, or simply watch it happen. When we do not interact with certain groups of people, we cannot really learn about them, and so we take our information from what other people say or what we read. The problem with this is that sources often do not come from marginalised or BAMER communities. For example, there are very few journalists from marginalised backgrounds. News articles can easily reflect their personal views, or specific experiences of individual journalists. This can perpetuate unhelpful stereotypes or positions of power. People are naturally suspicious of the unknown, and may find it easier to fear something than try to conquer this distrust. This applies to groups of people as well. When this is perpetuated by political leaders and celebrities, it only becomes worse and more ingrained. Islamophobic discourse associating Muslims with terrorism is an example of this. We should speak out against unhelpful generalisations, and promote positive, accurate images of minority communities. Even more than this, we should make conscious efforts to evaluate our perceptions, and how harmful or inaccurate they be.
It is also easy for people to underestimate the struggles that marginalised groups face. They are often left behind by policies, and indeed often suffer the most from crises or policies that restrict public services. It can be extremely difficult for marginalised and minority communities to access the same education or resources. There is therefore a complete disconnect between their experiences, and the experiences of the non-marginalised. If people do not understand, the easier solution is to use the explanation that these people must just be different. Even if unintended, attitudes towards marginalised and BAMER people can result in “microaggressions” or “microinvalidations”. The former means frequent but individually short negative messages on a particular person’s (minority) characteristics, such as remarks on race. The latter is similar, but refers to concerns or experiences being undermined or denied. One incident alone may have a small impact in the long run. Yet it is never just one incident. The build-up of these incidents reinforces the minority or marginalised position. Every person should be aware of the impact that words can have. Attempts to accommodate or promote the interests of minorities can easily result in patronisation, as the disadvantaged party is addressed as if they were inferior. A more helpful and less insulting approach is empowerment: help marginalised and BAMER people gain the skills and knowledge they may need, whilst take their experiences and beliefs into account.
At JAN Trust, we know how important this is. We encourage, educate, and empower BAMER and marginalised individuals to learn life skills, and learn more about how to tackle issues within their communities. We fight against some of the important issues of our time, such as radicalisation and extremism, FGM, and forced marriage, but we do so through discussion, unity, and engagement with communities, rather than through conflict, patronisation, or imposition. Visit our website for more information.