In the Fall of 2012 during my second year of seminary at Pacific School of Religion, I was in my internship mentor’s office talking about the difficulties around being Wiccan Christian in a Christian congregation. The church I was doing my internship at, City of Refuge UCC, is known for being welcoming to the marginalized (which is one of the main reasons I wanted to do my internship there), but I was still running into a small number of people who were a bit freaked out about my witchcraft. I think my thought at the time was something like: “If this was such an open and welcoming church, why are people freaking out?”
In the course of the conversation, which, granted, I don’t really remember all of it, my mentor said something to me that became a pivotal moment, and concept, in my ministerial formation that I’ll never forget: “Even the margins have margins.”
Imagine, if you will, a series of circles radiating out from a center point. That center point is what is considered the societal “normal” (i.e.: white, male, cisgendered, straight, etc.). The circles radiating out from it are the different “margins”: women, people of color, different sexual orientations, transgender, and so on. Within each of those margins are another set of circles, with the center being what is see as the “normal” for that particular marginalized group.
Take paganism for example: The “normal” center of the Pagan Communities in the US can be seen as Wiccan, straight, white, men-worship-god, women-worship-goddess, cisgendered, and Celtic. Coming out from that are polytheists, heathens, pagans of color, re-constructionists, multi-faith and so on.
I know this is simplistic, but the reason that my mentor’s statement was so pivotal for me was that it broke the ideal that I had that everyone on the margins thought like I did. It really brought home to me that even though people could be collected in a marginalized group, and experience similar kinds of marginalization, we are all still a collection of human beings.
In other words, I realized that even though someone is in a marginalized group, it doesn’t mean that people don’t bring their baggage, prejudices, fears, and teachings from their previous traditions and life experiences. There will be people who will marginalize you if you don’t fit their “normal,” even in groups of people who are marginalized. Even within the most progressive groups, we can marginalize people without really thinking about it because that’s how we’ve been taught.
The challenge here is how do we, as marginalized people, work within our groups to foster inclusion over exclusion, and still allow for “The Other” within our own ranks? How do we allow for different ideas without resorting to “My way or the highway” or violent (physical, verbal, or online) actions and rhetoric?
If the marginalized keep marginalizing our own, where does it stop?
This is part of a series of writings on social justice for 30 days. You’re welcome to join me.
Also, a special thank you to Rev. Ann Jefferson of City of Refuge UCC and PSR for your amazing mentorship. You are an amazing blessing to this world, and I thank you!