One Way of Thinking about Marginalization

I recently refrained from posting anything about the #HeterosexualPrideDay Twitter hashtag designed, it seemed, to make people indignant. But I’ve been thinking about it. And I’ve been thinking about white feelings of marginalization and malinformed notions of fairness and came up with a kind of parable.

Is it a parable, Jesus?

Imagine you are a student in school, and this is the year you have the meanest teacher you ever had. She[*] gives demerits or detentions for the slightest note-passing, or talking to your neighbor. She grades on a 1-100 scale even though most of the work is qualitative and impossible to assign points to, and thus when you are handed a 73 on your paper and your quiet friend who never studies gets a 92 you have no understanding of what has happened.

In short, she’s a tyrant. You don’t have to be here. You could drop out of school. You could ditch most days. But you know that there are consequences for these actions, and you have a plan for your life that entails you passing this grade and eventually graduating. And so you’re stuck. You’re stuck with a very mean teacher who has all the power in the room.

One day, your teacher comes in with the principal behind her. She is shouting something about chairs. She has just one chair at her desk and one stool at the front of the room, whereas the twenty-five of you all have chairs behind your desks. There is an imbalance of chairs between teacher and students. Furthermore, she is forced to stand and write on the blackboard while you and your classmates get to sit all day. “It’s unfair,” she says. “Why should students get special treatment?”

The principal brings in a custodian and together they take away all of your chairs. You’re now forced to stand during class, while your teacher sits. Still, though, she hands out detentions left and right. Still, her grades seem punitive and unreasonable.

Any white person complaining about the lack of a White History Month or white representation in media or advertising or on packaging is this teacher. Every straight person wondering where the straight pride parades are is this teacher. From a fundamental inability (or outright refusal) to understand how she has all the power in the room, the teacher’s actions have made a bad classroom even worse.

And worse for everyone. No bad teacher’s job is going to get easier or more rewarding with twenty-five pissed off students glaring at her every morning.

I know it goes without saying to anyone reading this blog, but if you number among the majority in a situation, you have power those who don’t number among you can’t access or use in any way. When these people make something of their own (a holiday, a parade, a hashtag, a T-shirt) that doesn’t include you, it cannot take that power away from you. The only thing that can take power away from you is laws and policy.

But then again, you have all the numbers to vote against it.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. I am sorry to gender her female, but my meanest teacher was Mrs. Greenspan and so this helps me.

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