An official website of the United States government

Five ways to be an ally to marginalized groups
December 12, 2016

Who lives on the periphery of your community and why? Marginalized groups exist nearly everywhere. They are people who, for whatever reason, are denied involvement in mainstream economic, political, cultural and social activities.

Targeting or ignoring one group can ultimately affect the whole society. Leslie Lefkow, deputy director for Africa at the organization Human Rights Watch, said: “The problem of discriminating against or marginalizing minorities is one where you’re setting the precedent for the state to use discrimination. And in its most simple form, nobody should rest comfortably with that because you don’t know when that will be turned against you for whatever reason.”

The well-known “coexist” image in chalk
The well-known “coexist” image in chalk (Courtesy of The Wandering Owl)

Stress, anxiety, anger or depression are normal byproducts of being marginalized. Lefkow said grievances that remain unaddressed can also stoke fires of civil unrest and violence that could devastate the entire community.

“When you also marry that discrimination with a crackdown on freedom of expression so that marginalized groups have no ability to peacefully voice their grievances, what space do you leave for citizens to protest or raise their concerns?” she asked.

The best way you can help end exclusion and isolation is to work on being a strong ally. That means educating yourself on the privileges your own group enjoys to better understand the perspectives of members of marginalized communities.

Here are five things you can do:

  • Start paying attention to what you say. Most people already know to avoid generalizations and stereotypes. But most of us are still guilty of using language that causes offense even if we don’t mean to. Commonly used words like “gay,” “crazy” or “lame” are actually exclusionary, offensive and derogatory.
  • Be willing to accept correction. Even the most well-meaning people make mistakes and have misunderstandings about others. When someone points out your errors, offer a sincere apology and be ready to learn from the experience. It will earn you much more respect than responding with defensiveness or anger.
  • Be intolerant of intolerance. Are you willing to confront derogatory and hateful speech online? What about in person? What if the person is a friend or relative? The risk of staying silent is sending the message that discrimination and intolerance are values that you are willing to tolerate.
  • Seek out marginalized voices and perspectives. Go online and look for activists, bloggers, authors, artists and other voices from marginalized communities. Their personal stories and experiences will greatly inform your point of view. If you have the opportunity to spend time with someone from a marginalized group, your most important job is to listen to them and learn.
  • Educate your own community. Your voice is most effective within your own group since you are in the best position to confront its stereotypes and misunderstandings, some of which you may have overcome yourself. You also have a special access to them as an audience that other communities do not. Use it!

Take your pledge today for how you will help end violence against women and girls in your communities at https://yali.state.gov/4her.