Being in community with marginalized people in any capacity usually means recognizing that we often overlook the ways biases impact their day to day. For many, the fear is that you may say or do something wrong when trying to engage their experience—leaving our peers feeling triggered and even more vulnerable.
As noted in the first piece of this series, acknowledging their experience is the gateway to building a better relationship and connection with marginalized individuals, but there are additional things that can be done for them to feel whole. Taking responsibility and reminding ourselves that we all have a hand in shaping the experiences of marginalized people is key.
It is important to understand that one of the most important things that a person can do is not treat differences as a symptom. We must be aware that many of the experiences marginalized people have are key indicators of larger issues, often issues that are rooted in systems of oppression. Affirming them and their experiences by giving them space to speak freely about sources of harm reminds them that you are on their side and they can trust you in sharing said experiences.
Next, we want to remember that you must take the time to do your own work. This can mean reading up on a certain topic that you would not ordinarily approach. Something I have always valued as a marginalized person is not feeling like the “work” that needs to be done is being left up to me. Knowing that marginalized people are often overworked and taxed to end the oppression they face, doing your own work shows how much you value the energy of your counterparts.
Further, validating an experience of discrimination (whether overt or covert) can be more helpful than you think. Marginalized people are regularly gaslit into believing that the way they see or experience negative or challenging situations is “overreacting,” when they actually are experiencing a moment of violence. Giving them space to speak from a place of honesty is often one of the best things we can do to affirm marginalized voices.
In all, marginalized people truly want to be seen and heard. I often liken the concept of supporting marginalized people to the idea of being invited to a party and asking them to leave parts of them outside. Why invite them if they are not able to bring their whole self?
If we want to continue to learn about the ways that we can better support and advocate for the marginalized community (you can find that in the next part of this series), we must be comfortable with the uncomfortable and accept the ways that unconscious bias impacts our relationships. Affirming them starts with admitting that there is a problem and that you are doing the work to fully understand their lived experience.
Dr. Jonathan P. Higgins is an educator, speaker, freelance journalist, thought leader and critic who examines the intersections of identity, gender, race and media. Named Business Equality Magazine’s “Top 40 LGBTQ People Under 40”, their work has been featured on sites like NBC News, VICE, MTV News, Essence, Out Magazine, DailyXtra and more. They hold a Doctorate in Leadership for Educational Justice and write regularly about the liberation of queer people of color.